I find it really hard to understand when people rabidly hate their hometowns. It’s not that I haven’t been to lots of cities I’d gladly see sink into the earth, or even whole states--sorry, Florida—but in the way that the Trump children will cringingly defend dear old dad, I would rally to find a way to defend any of those places if I’d actually grown up there. Even Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three (and subject of multiple documentaries) who was falsely convicted of murder at 18, sent to death row, and released 17 years later, has nice things to say about West Memphis itself in his memoir, Life After Death (although the people, not so much).
After living in New York for nearly as long as I lived in New England, I’m used to defending my hometown, Boston, even though I will gladly concede to the city’s faults. Still, I’m so used to hearing nasty things about Boston that when New Yorkers were so kind to the city after the recent marathon bombings, I wasn’t exactly surprised.
The fact is, the two cities aren’t really that different. Boston has testy natives, obnoxious sports fans, and, oh yes, our utterly shameful history of racism, but it’s not like New York doesn’t have its share of issues in those exact same areas. Boston might not be perfect, but the city’s imperfections are far from unique.
The Sports Fans: Boston sports fans are seen as particularly obnoxious, not just in New York, but all over the country. In reality, any time you have a rabid fanbase, they’re going to be annoying; when the Red Sox and Celtics weren’t winning, the fans were pathetic, but when all our teams started winning, we became assholes (though we’ve always been Massholes). Fans get especially annoying when their teams win multiple championships, which makes Yankees fans at least equally annoying as those in Boston. Plus, since sports and booze go together like peanut butter and jelly, almost anyone in the midst of watching a game and cheering for a team, especially in a social setting, is not being their best, most-charming self.
A lot of Boston hate comes from how overexposed our teams and fans are, but that’s the fault of the press, not the Massholes. All we can control is our behavior, which, really, is no better or worse than that of fans around NYC. Ignoring the dubious New York Times trend piece about the popularity of Yankees hats among criminals, there’s the infamous Gate D at Jets games where men would stand around and yell at women to flash their tits. There was the time in 1995 when Giants fans knocked the Chargers’ equipment manager unconscious from the bleachers by pelting him with ice. Just recently, a group of angry Knicks fans beat a up a gay couple because they were upset about the team’s loss.
If all sports fans have a tendency to be loud, rude, and unbearable, than the only thing that makes Boston fans unusual is that they do so with a unique accent. I think everyone can agree that being a loud sports fan is intrinsically awful (and that Philly fans are the absolute worst).
The Local Attitude: A large percentage of Boston-haters I meet here formed their opinions when they went to college in Boston, so I can’t blame them for their disdain. One sad irony about Boston is that for a city that contains approximately two million colleges, it is one of the least young people-friendly cities in the US; public transportation doesn’t run late at night, blue laws make buying booze nearly impossible for a good chunk of the weekend, and, most importantly, the locals view harassing college kids as the most beloved hometown sport outside of Fenway. As much as I can’t blame former-Boston college kids for hating the city, I can’t blame native Bostonians for hating the kids, either.
While New York’s population has an age-old reputation for being rude, I’ve always maintained the opposite is true; because New Yorkers have to share almost all of our space with strangers, from our buildings to our sidewalks to our subway cars, the adult population at least follows a very strict code of conduct. We just have no problem calling out anyone who isn’t following the rules.
That’s why the tourist who stands in the middle of Broadway and Prince or drives in and tries to take a right turn on red is going to get scolded, loudly-- because if the outsider wasn’t being so rude in the first place and disrupting the polite order of things, nobody would have to point it out.
Boston, in many ways, has a similar vibe. Just as very few people living in New York at any given time are real New Yorkers, Boston’s also flooded with students, older academics, and loads of other people who have no idea how to drive in winter weather. I’ve lived near NYU for too many years, so I know how entitled, loud, and exhausting college kids can be anywhere. I can only imagine how much more unbearable their attitudes would be if NYU were a super-elite Ivy League college with an equally elite/elitist college next door and a handful of normal colleges in spitting distance. Sure, there’s Columbia, but it’s far enough uptown from me that it might as well be in another world.
Boston is a small city, so all those brats are clustered together, and unlike New York, Boston is not easy to navigate. It’s the anti-grid, with streets based on cow paths, many of which share names, are arbitrarily one-way, and have almost no parking. If you don’t take the time to learn the roads and their rules, you will be in for a world of pain, as will every driver around you, but a lot of these kids don’t seem to care. Bostonians as a whole might normally have an elevated level of rage--Louis CK once said, “I grew up in Boston, and...people just beat the shit out of each other for no reason”--but I think they do have a reason, and it’s dealing with the people who aren’t from Boston. Surely, New Yorkers can relate. After all, Louis, who’s lived in New York for most his adult life, concluded that statement by saying, “but I kinda think you need that to keep quality control 'cause in places [that don’t] have it, they're too free.”
The Race Issue: Growing up in the liberal enclave of Brookline, years after the busing crisis of the ‘70s, I was blissfully unaware of my city’s shameful racist reputation. It wasn’t until I moved away that I learned about the riots in South Boston during busing, or the fact that the Red Sox weren’t only the last team to embrace integration (twelve years after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers), but that Fenway Park was last in baseball to have an integrated staff, according to this PBS special. The success and deification of Larry Bird, “the great white hope” of basketball, and the whitest line-up in the NBA in the post-busing era didn’t help the city’s reputation, either (although Bird wanted no part of it, bless his excellent soul).
The city’s history of racism, however, is as real as it is complicated; South Boston, a.k.a. Southie, is like the city’s own mini-Appalachia, an insular, clannish community on a peninsula that was for many years set apart from the rest of the city by the Central Artery, the elevated highway that was moved underground by the 20-year Big Dig project. It was a backward small town in a big city, with the same small town reverent respect for their high school football stars and open tradition of nepotism. Historically, Southie residents rejected outsiders indiscriminately, so their violent reaction to busing went far beyond a hatred of black people specifically (though there was plenty of hatred toward black people), but to the notion that their community was being destroyed.
Southie is no longer the urban backwoods stronghold it used to be, however; as chronicled in Susan Orlean’s 2004 New Yorker piece, “The Outsiders,” the post-busing white flight, along with the Big Dig and the shuttering of several Southie parishes after the Catholic Church abuse scandal of ten years ago, have opened the area to the outside world at last. Once a crumbling community surrounded by water and an an enormous roadway, it’s been discovered by developers as attractive waterfront property in the heart of the city, so those older residents who hadn’t already left to avoid integration or when their parishes were dissolved now are being priced out by gentrification.
Besides, New York isn’t without its own, less-racially-friendly neighborhoods (hello, Bensonhurst) or issues of race and intolerance. While I was born post-busing, I was around to read all about the racial turmoil in New York during the ‘90s, from the Crown Heights Riots to the Tawana Brawley case to Do The Right Thing, as well as the incidences of race-based police brutality in the ‘00s involving Amber Louima and Amadou Diallo. Even now, the racial profiling of the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” policy is a frequent topic of debate. This city is far less segregated than Boston, but with income disparity on the rise, New York risks pricing out much of its poor and minority population and becoming far more divided than it’s been in the past.
Southie certainly isn’t Boston’s only source of racism, and the city has a long way to go, but Boston’s progress is undeniable. Besides, it’s easy to see Southie as the main scourge because the state overall seems to fall in line with Brookline’s more left-leaning beliefs, from Massachusetts being the first state to legalize gay marriage and create a universal health care plan to the election of Deval Patrick, the state’s first black governor, in 2006.
After the recent marathon bombings, both novelist Dennis Lehane and former Boston Globe writer/editor Bob Turner wrote editorials that illustrated the city’s unity after the bombing by invoking the divisions created by busing so many years ago. Putting busing in that context shows, not just the amount of remorse Bostonians still feel, but the amount of hope they have in their eventual ability to put the city’s racism behind them.
After the bombings, New York stood with Boston, and even with everything the two cities have in common, I know it won’t last. I take heart, however, in the fact that I’ve yet to hear someone here complain about Boston since the tragedy, and I’m enjoying it while it lasts.