Editorial: With Charlottesville, we must do more than just remember

The elephant head statue that adorns the entrance to Dowling Hall, home of the Career Center, is pictured on Aug 20, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive

The white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville is not hard to condemn. Torch-bearing individuals, as seen in VICE’s documentary, paraded through the streets yelling “Jews will not replace us.” Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan supporters spewed veiled (and not-so veiled) threats of genocide, including David Duke championing “ethnic cleansing.” “White pride” rooted in racism and anti-Semitism manifested in violence, most potently in Heather Heyer’s death.

On our campus, it would be hard to find someone who does not see these acts as despicable. But that does not mean racism and anti-Semitism do not rear their heads in seemingly tolerant places like Massachusetts — even in Boston, and yes, even at Tufts.

This may come as a surprise to you, just as Charlottesville did. But as a community, we need to be wary of distancing ourselves from tragedies like Charlottesville, when simmered versions of that same bigotry are not far away.

Boston has a reputation for being a bubble of left-wing intellectuals, even ranked by The Economist as the fifth most liberal city in the United States in 2014. Less than a month ago, however, the New England Holocaust Memorial was vandalized for the second time this summer. In May, Fenway-goers yelled the N-word at Orioles player Adam Jones. These are not isolated incidents. One could argue they are deeply rooted in Boston’s systemic segregation. For example, The Boston Globe reported that only 13 percent of Boston Public School students are white, even though Boston’s white population is 54.48 percent. The Boston-Cambridge-Newton metropolitan area ranks as the nation’s seventh-most segregated city with the average white household earning more than double that of the average Hispanic household.

And yet most Bostonians are unaware of the way their actions and society at large affect people of color. The Boston Globe polled Bostonians on whether or not they thought their city was racist: 37 percent of the white population polled said Boston was racist compared to 57 percent of blacks polled. When asked whether they had faced discrimination in their workplace over the past 30 days, the rate was three times higher for blacks than for whites. While these discrepancies are not surprising, they do illuminate how majority-white places are often not aware of the extent of their own bigotry.

Tufts University certainly falls into this category of a white-dominated space. According to Tufts Admissions, 56.6 percent of the undergraduate students enrolled in Fall 2016 were white and 74.1 percent of faculty were.

While Tufts, like Boston, has an extremely liberal reputation, our student body still faces real setbacks due to race, ethnicity and religion. Just last year, students of color on the Tufts in Talloires program were barred entry from a nightclub in France, with the bouncers blatantly citing their skin color as the reason. These students penned an open letter to Tufts students, firstly to explain the situation, but additionally to criticize the administration’s opaque and lackluster handling of it.

In 2015, Tufts students staged a walkout due to rising racial tensions on college campuses across the United States. The group, called #thethreepercent because of the approximate three percent black population at Tufts, Boston University, MIT and Northeastern University, demanded better representation and treatment for black students. Students of color called out the Tufts administration, tired of being “silenced, forgotten, heard and ignored.”

The more liberal, educated or tolerant our environment may seem, the easier it is to distance ourselves from people like those in Charlottesville. But by ignoring the discrimination, whether subtle or active, that we see in our own city or on our own campus, we are complacent in letting it continue. Do not just remember Charlottesville — fight to keep it from happening again.