From Boston

On Stephen Brophy

I knew Stephen Brophy for about fifteen years, but I only knew him well in the past three or four. It was my great pleasure to have coffee with him several times a month at Pavement and later in his apartment at our co-op. He was my neighbor, my friend, my mentor in radical politics, and my advisor in love and life. So I want to tell you a little about my experience of this extraordinary person. Read more

Trump hates literature!

This is what has befallen the Little Free Library near my house since it was erected by the Mass Historical Society about two months ago.

  1. Its glass door was broken.
  2. Its replacement Plexiglas door was broken.
  3. Its replacement cellophane door was ripped from the staples.
  4. A large quantity of water was dumped into the library, damaging its floor as well as the books inside.

Who does this to a little free library? Who?

(a) Drunken Red Sox fans?
(b) Trump!

I consulted T, who replied, “I’m thinking either someone who hates libraries, or someone who hates free things. An illiterate capitalist.”

Me: A nice segue into the title of this post.
T: It could be someone who hates little things too.

Overheard on Visiting Day at The City School

“White people are like, oh, I had a good day. They think that’s it, they had a good day. They don’t understand they had a prescribed good day. You had a prescribed good day and we had a prescribed bad day. We wake up and we know we’re going to have a bad day. We know somebody’s going to yell at us, somebody’s going to call us a name or look at us funny.”

Learn more about The City School and its Summer Leadership Program here.

The backpack incident

Ever been smacked in the head by your own whiteness, assuming you are white?

I’m in the supermarket waiting to buy a pound of salmon when I realize someone is trying to get my attention. “Ma’am? Ma’am?” she says to me. She is a brown-skinned woman with her hair in a ponytail. “I was just admiring your”—here I assume she’s going to say “coat,” as I am wearing a truly awesome garnet-colored vintage bouclĂ© coat—“backpack.”

The thing about my backpack is until recently it said “Black Lives Matter,” discreetly, in Sharpied letters on gray canvas. Last week I got a paint pen and operated on the letters until they were much more noticeable. Aha! I think. “Oh, thanks!” I say. Read more

Racial justice is not a zero-sum game

On Friday I took a pleasant walk down Garden Street in Cambridge to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I was there to facilitate a discussion about whiteness with students and professors at the Banneker Institute, a summer research program for students of color led by Professor John Johnson. I arrived ready to lay down knowledge. But, of course, I was the one in the room who learned the most. Read more

Alison and the Number One bus

At a Fenway literary evening in April, I read with my publisher Letta and another writer-neighbor, Alison Barnet. I had never met Alison in person before, though I knew her name. She seems quiet at first but has fiery opinions. I took home a copy of her book, South End Character: Speaking Out On Neighborhood Change, and was delighted with its deft mix of the graceful and acerbic. Here she is reflecting on public transit: Read more

What is white confession for?

I. Me versus the Y

Man, the problems I’ve had with the YMCA. So often I’d show up to swim and find the pool closed for this emergency repair or that, and insufficient signage to let me know before I changed into my suit and swim cap (the swim cap looks particularly stupid). There was that time they ended towel service, and the time they decided to close the women’s locker room for cleaning during the exact hour every day that I would be there, and what about the time a photographer came to record the old pool before it was demolished, and swimmers weren’t notified, and she snapped at me for getting her camera wet when I came over to inquire what she was doing? And what about the scale that doesn’t work and the showers that dribble rather than shower and the swimsuit extractor thing that’s always broken? Oh, it gets me so mad. I fly into a rage, in fact. In fact, a disproportionate rage. Every time.

This came home to me while I was talking to the aquatics director a few weeks ago. I was bitching about the situation at my home branch, which has been under construction for some years, and she shrugged and said, “An urban Y.” Something small unlocked inside me. I went and showered and got back into my clothes, and the whole time I was thinking: it’s my white privilege. That’s what makes me so angry. That’s why I have so much rage when I can’t get what I would consider to be adequate customer service at the Boston YMCA. It’s because on a deep level I expect the Boston YMCA to be like a health club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (where I grew up, and certainly never went to a health club). I expect the world, at every turn, to give me the attention, the consideration, and—frankly—the service that I was always encouraged to expect. Read more

Me versus the press

I
I’ve stopped reading Bay Windows. Not because of editor Sue O’Connell’s political missteps; frankly, it would take a lot more offensiveness to get me to abandon the LBGT weekly I’ve been picking up for fifteen years. And not merely because of the atrocious copyediting. No, I’ve stopped reading Bay Windows because the atrocious copyediting plus the evident carelessness with which the paper is assembled make me feel deeply disrespected as a reader. All too often, it’s obvious that articles have been cut and pasted from e-mails or internet posts, like the item about a voicemail left by the Southie St. Patrick’s parade organizers for a gay group which included the words “audio attached,” or the news briefing which read: “. . . and makes crimes committed against guest blog transgender people subject to treatment as hate crimes.” And, of course, this (the glaring error appeared twice, once on the front page and once in the headline of the editorial). Read more