Tuesday, July 27, 2004


An anonymous (read: cowardly) poster from Boston left this comment for the posting regarding the recent fight between white Southies and Boston Asians that left a Vietnamese youth dead:

    "Although it is sorry that a kid died, hopefully someone learned something from this bullshit kiddie fight. I hope those asians learned to respect girls and not to fuck with Southie. These kids went out of their way to go to another community looking for trouble. It is not smart to do that in Southie. Southie people are raised to have a shit load of pride in their community and loved ones. Southie folk are very protective of their nieghborhood( A characteristic that the U.S. is losing due to racial blending). If The Asian kids didn't want their friend to die they should never of left their block."

This is not a unique view. I remember hearing similar arguments when Bensonhurt youth killed Yusef Hawkins in 1989. It was a bullshit argument then and it is now. Basically, this poster is defending racism by saying that it's ok to kill someone for crossing into your neighborhood. No wonder people call Boston the most racist city in America: if this person is any indication, it clearly seems to be a continued hotbed for ignorance.


Ok, let me chime back with something. Jeff offered this food for thought: "what happens when you replace white with black and southie with bayview/hunter's point?"

Just to lend some context, Bayview/Hunter's Point is a traditionally black neighborhood in San Francisco and, like South Boston, has been disproportionately affected by economic deindustrialization over the last 30 years. Also like Southie, BVHP has the reputation of being the type of neighborhood "you wouldn't want to go into if you're not from there."

One of Jeff's points in raising this query is that he's wary of the impulse towards nationalism, that it becomes "them vs. us" and this has not been my point at all. I stated, quite plainly, that there is a very ignorant, kneejerk reaction within me to want to start shouting "race war! race war!" from the rooftops but I'm not remotely agitating or advocating for that.

This said, what I don't understand is this argument that some have pulled out that the Asian youth involved "went to Southie looking for trouble." This incident, according the news reports I've read, was initially sparked by a Vietnamese girl getting jumped by white girls in Southie; then there was a retaliation attack by Asian teens on a white girl and then this all lead to the showdown in McCormack. This is not the equivalent of Ulster Loyalists marching into a Catholic neighborhood in Northern Ireland. People are making it sound as if Asian kids from Dorchester and East Boston are invading Southie. Sounds to me, if anyone's invading Southie, it's the forces of gentrification, including by local politicians and developers. If Southies are so protective of "neighborhood character," it seems to me they'd be out firebombing Starbucks rather than picking on South East Asian teens.

Let's also just look at the numbers: Southie lost 2800 white residents b/t 1990 and 2000 but the neighborhood is still 84.5% white, making it one of the least racially diverse neighborhoods in Boston. Hardly sounds like a neighborhood whose character is being radically changed by ethnic influx. I'm not disagreeing that South Boston probably was made to bear the brunt of integration plans in the 1970s, an idea where, nationally, execution rarely lived up to its principle and in many places, didn't improve educational opportunities for anyone. But I'm not understanding how that connects with a convincing argument or evidence that Southies have a legitimate right to harass or attack "outsiders" who cross into their 'hood. Local media has noted that relations in the area have largely been improving prior to this incident so I don't get this "we're trying to protect our neighborhood" bullshit that others are selling.

As for Jeff's original question: it wouldn't make a huge difference to me what the make-up of the neighborhood is. If a Vietnamese youth had been killed in a racially tinged brawl that went down in Roxbury - or BVHP for that matter - I wouldn't find it any less problematic, nor would I be more willing to accept the idea that these youth somehow "deserved" their fate for daring to cross the tracks and go into another neighborhood.

By the way, speaking of South Boston, Susan Orlean wrote an article about the changing face of "The Town". I wonder what Orlean would think of this recent conflict: her portrait seems to suggest that most of the racist elements in South Boston simply moved out following mandatory school busing in the 1970s...but she doesn't really talk about who was left behind and what kind of tensions still linger (clearly, enough do).