This past December, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team came out with a series on the current state of racism in Boston. The data, surveys, and interviews gathered reflected the national perspective that Boston is the “most racist city” in the United States.

The articles came as a shock to many white Bostonians, but black Bostonians were not surprised. How has Boston—a revered liberal safe haven—gained and retained this racist reputation? Despite steps forward in attitude and prejudice from the Jim Crow Era, structural inequality remains for black people in Boston. The future success and prosperity of our city depend on how we respond as a community. It is imperative that we as individuals do not ignore the power we have to affect how our communities operate and move forward.

The most shocking news from the Spotlight series was the data comparing the finances of white and black Bostonians. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that the average net worth of a black person in Boston is $8, while the average white person has a net worth of $247,500. This means that the average black Bostonian’s debt is nearly equal to the total value of their possessions (for example, the combined value of a car, house, and savings). The colossal disparity between these two numbers is inexcusable.

Boston has made great strides in perspective; we are in a much different place now than we were in the 1970s when white Bostonians’ riots against desegregating schools made national news. However, our approach to solving structural inequality has seen little change. Residual sentiments from segregation have subconsciously affected the city’s approach to interacting with the black community.

The Spotlight team compared data collected on inequality in 1983 to what they had found in the last few years, and the similarities are depressing. Unemployment for black people has risen from around twice as high as white people in the early eighties to more than twice as high as of 2014. The small percentage of black workers who were managers or officials in 1983 has only increased from 4.5% to 4.6% as of 2015. Black workers and white workers in Boston are not on an equal playing field. This division has helped create an isolating and alienating environment in Boston.

Boston is not as warm and fuzzy towards its black residents as it may think it is. In a national survey of eight of the largest cities in America, Boston was ranked as unwelcoming to African Americans by 54% of respondents. Only two black people have been elected to a statewide office in the last 50 years. Opportunity and responsibility are not equally accessible to black Bostonians, and black individuals and families are suffering the financial consequences.

Furthermore, Boston was found to have an unusually large ratio of white to black people throughout the ten biggest metro areas in the United States; 73% of the population is white while 7% is black. This imbalance stems from the low numbers of African Americans who came during the Great Migration of the Jim Crow Era. As easy as it would be to say the low black population excuses the lack of black success, the inequality that persists in Boston is not rooted in our racial makeup. American cities with smaller black populations such as Minneapolis, Denver, and Seattle have still succeeded in electing black mayors while Boston has yet to elect even one. Cities across the country with smaller black populations are facilitating growth and development and giving agency to their black communities. Ultimately, our lack of support for black Bostonians risks losing black professionals and families to cities like Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York, all cities that are centers for black culture and community. By remaining passive, we are only hurting our own potential for growth and economic prosperity.  

The bottom line is that it is much more difficult to be black in Boston than it is to be white. And this is the cold and hard—yet unsurprising—truth for black people throughout America. The Globe’s Spotlight series should not just be a wake up call for white Bostonians but for white Americans across the country. Our city needs to be held accountable for its systematic inequalities, but it also shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat for the remaining racism in cities across America. As issues of inequality are becoming once again prevalent throughout the country, we as a nation need to be responsible not just for what’s taking place around us but for our own actions.