Defending my vibrant neighborhood

Recently four people were killed about ten houses away from where I grew up in Mattapan, a neighborhood of Boston. The neighborhood was maligned by the media coverage which plastered the headlines “Massacre in Mattapan” in large print across the 6:00 news every night. That image of Mattapan was permanently emblazoned across the minds of the nation.

I was born and raised in Mattapan. It was a predominantly white, Jewish, working-class neighborhood, until it was red-lined. The bankers, the realtors and the politicians tore my vibrant neighborhood apart and made a fortune for themselves.

When I was 15, my parents divorced and I moved to Brookline, a rich neighborhood bordering Boston. My mother had no bedroom for herself, but slept on a couch in the living room of our tiny apartment so we could have access to “good schools.” As an adult, I chose to live in Jamaica Plain, a Boston community close to Mattapan, but later I moved my own daughter to Brookline, again “for the schools”, abandoning the Boston Public Schools and my Boston neighbors.  But I chose to work in Mattapan with a grassroots organization for economic justice. Mattapan is still a vibrant neighborhood.

About a month after the incident in Mattapan, my eleven-year-old daughter was at school in Brookline, talking in a small group meeting, with a teacher present, about my Mattapan accent. Two young girls in the group said, “Mattapan, do you mean Murder-pan?!” They kept repeating “Murder-pan” and laughing at her. She responded that they were being racist, but they kept insisting they weren’t — and the teacher did not intervene.

My daughter is white but has been taught to recognize racism. And she knows classism from personal experience all too well. I’m proud of my daughter for speaking up and angry that the teacher didn’t know enough about racism, classism and bullying to intervene, but I’m not mad at the two little girls. They’re pawns in institutionalized classism and racism just as we all are.   They see no images of my vibrant Mattapan community, only death.

Education about racism and classism needs to be taught to all ages, in every community.  Mainstream media is making money off the backs of my community and my people. We all are suffering in every community from the loss of a balanced perspective and a chance to know the whole truth.


Julie Joy is a community activist and the mother of two daughters. She is a member of Survivor’s Inc, a group of low-income women and their allies who organize and educate about poverty, welfare and low-income survival issues.

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