Earlier this week, the Boston Bruins hockey team was knocked out of the NHL playoffs when Washington Capitals Winger Joel Ward scored a game-winning goal in overtime. And true, the Bruins were the defending champions. But, as the saying goes: too bad so sad. That would have been that. Were it not for the fact that Ward was black, and all but a small percentage of other NHL players and Bruins fans (and hockey fans in general) are white. And while most of those white fans are likely reasonable people who believe in good sportsmanship and racially-integrated teams in what Black Sports Online just called "the least racially integrated of the four major American Sports", over three dozen Bruins fans immediately started spewing forth some of the most vile racist sentiments on Twitter in recent memory. All directed at a black player who had the temerity to play to the best of his abilities and beat their beloved team.
Much commentary has blazed across the globe since the incident in question. And all but 11 of the guilty parties have deleted their Twitter accounts in response - or perhaps Twitter deleted the accounts for them, that's not entirely clear yet. I know this because I found a list of all the original offending tweets and checked all 39 accounts. Four were listed as deleted by their owners. Another 24 were simply gone. And 11 were active.
It was interesting to note that six of the active accounts listed the whereabouts of their owners, and that only one of those accounts indicated that its owner lived in Boston. The rest were from "Massachusettes" [nice spelling, no?], "Canada", "CT", "Danvers", and "Vernon, CT" respectively. Anti-racist sports fans thought they tracked down a seventh active account holder to Miami, but that has not been confirmed as of this writing.
So it seems like my suspicions that most Bruins fans are from outside of Boston holds true at least for this small subset of racist fans. And I feel quite sure - having grown up in a "hockey town" north of Boston, and having been at North Station (which, for out-of-towners reading this, is directly under the TD Garden where the Bruins play) during many a Bruins home game and watched the spectacle of a sea of white fans coming in from the suburbs on the commuter rail - that the vast majority of Bruins fans are from the suburbs. Which calms me some that maybe white Bostonians are perhaps not quite as much to blame for this latest incident as everyone is once again saying - this hardly being the first time that Boston is accused of being a straight racist city. Although, I'm perfectly well aware that Boston is still a racist city in many ways. But from long personal experience, I am also well aware that our suburbs are even worse. Since white people can still live their whole lives without dealing with people of color in any meaningful way in many Boston suburbs. And all too many of those people are terrified about coming into Boston at all. For fundamentally racist reasons. Which is why so many of those Bruins fans leave for home from North Station (and also South Station, in fairness) as fast as they came in. They're scared of the city because black people live in the city.
For example, for the first 17 years of my life in a working-class Boston suburb from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, I - a white "ethnic" (Greek) kid - had precisely one black friend. The only black kid in my Catholic high school. And he wasn't from my town. There were no black kids at all in any of the public schools I had attended prior to that. There was one Chinese kid. And there were a handful of Puerto Rican kids. Out of thousands of students.
Things have certainly changed demographically in some suburbs - especially working-class suburbs where one now finds significant numbers of Latinos, Brazilians, Caribbeans and Asians.
But even when neighborhoods grudgingly integrate somewhat, social segregation continues. A historically white neighborhood might have a couple of black families now, and/or a few Latino or Asian families, but the white families will still continue to socialize with the other white families - even as their work and school lives become gradually more integrated over time. And they might frame their segregation in terms of "townies vs. newcomers", but I think in all too many cases that's just a nicety that proves the old saw that the only difference between Northern racism and Southern racism is that white people are more open about it in the South than in the North. Especially in matters like the response to the Bruins loss, when area racists allow their emotions to get the better of them, drop their guard, stand up and let anti-racists like me count them.
So more than anything else this incident reminds me of how important it is for anti-racist progressive activists to make a much more serious effort to organize Boston's suburbs. Because if we had a much larger bunch of progressive organizations in the suburbs, I think we'd find that a whole large group of inactive philosophical progressives and political fence sitters in those communities would get more active on issues like fighting racism and nativism in their hometowns. And maybe less people - especially white sports fans living outside the city - would feel it was somehow ok to propagate racist views in any forum. Twitter and other potentially viral social media maybe least of all.
Just some food for thought. Naturally, this is not to say that Boston is some kind of beacon of racial justice because there are quite a lot of anti-racist progressive non-profits, unions and religious denominations operating in the city. Rather this is another way for me to telegraph my longstanding belief that if the left continues to abandon the suburbs as a site of political struggle, we will see more and nastier conservative organizations rise up from those quarters. Which need never happen. If more progressives spent more time dialoguing with people outside urban areas like Boston.
In closing, please enjoy this list of racist Bruins fans' Twitter handles - and maybe say hi and invite them to rethink their views on race
Active Twitter Accounts
@AndrewDulac6 - Massachusettes ·[sic]
@K1NGOFCRAZY - Canada
@ThattxSpicc - CT
@Spee_Durr - Danvers
@colinalexanderr - Boston
@Mr_filthy - vernon ct
@BradenAxtman - (possibly from Miami)
Inactive Twitter Accounts
[deleted by account owner]
[all other account deletions]
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston