TW: racism, derogatory language
I am truly, honestly petrified to write this.
I left Braintree to move to Washington, DC in August of 2015. I had no job, no friends, no sense of “social status.” It was a clean slate. It was then I started to think really introspectively about myself — why I always had the desire to be popular. And what the fuck being popular even meant.
I met my first Black friend in 2015. A few months after I moved. Aaron Green. He followed my blog for a while, we shared some discourse back and forth via the interwebs. When I moved down here, he reached out to see if I wanted to grab lunch.
I didn’t really think too much of it that he was my first Black friend. I just blamed it on the environment I grew up in. I mean, my high school was mostly white kids. So were the popular kids — white. It wasn’t my fault.
It’s our fault.
I have always been one to worry about what people think. In high school, I was admittedly so focused on being popular. An invitation to a party with all of the “popular” kids was an infectious boost to my lacking self-confidence. I once made out with one of them at a Dave Matthews Band concert — he had dip in his mouth, and it was fucking gross. But I still made out with a popular boy. Points for me.
Anyway, this is a “me” problem. I hate lumping people into categories. It’s juvenile and well, very high school. I don’t write this to say if you were popular, you were a problem — and I hope that’s not what you take from this. Just know that I always wanted to impress you. I always, and still sort of care what you think. And that’s a problem.
My desire for higher “social status” didn’t stop in high school. It continued through college — while less so — I wanted to be that girl who was invited to the hockey house by an athlete (it never happened), I wanted my name to be recognized at a school with over 20,000 undergraduate students (it wasn’t).
I had spent so much focused on social status and how I can move “up the ladder” — but even if I had made it to the top of said ladder, I probably would hate it. Social status and being popular was so surface level to me — so much so that I wished for so many years to be thinner or “prettier” to help leverage my way up. If I was skinny or pretty, then I’d get the invite to party — or maybe I’d get to make out with that guy again (even if he had dip in his mouth). I minimized myself so much to fit in this mold — to get people I truthfully didn’t really care about to notice me.
I put myself in a cage. I did what I was supposed to do. This is how a girl should act. This is the body you must have, this is how you feel — this is what you’ll believe. You should love these people, and fear these other ones. You should strive to be like them. You should suppress anything that tells you to live a different way.
“Make yourself fit. You’ll be uncomfortable at first but don’t worry — you’ll forget you’re caged. Soon this will just feel like: life.” – Glennon Doyle
After about a year of living in DC, being exposed to a much different and diverse way of living, I took a trip back up to Boston for the weekend. It was a little over a year since the 2015 Baltimore riots had occurred.
Side note: for those who don’t remember this was a result of police brutality as well, but we didn’t really get to hear that side of the media at the time.
That weekend, my friends and I went to Boston Beer Garden (now known as The Broadway, #RIP) in Southie — notoriously known for the very white, Irish Catholic area of Boston — which now inhabits many more younger, well, white people. I went up to the bar to refresh my Tito’s and soda. A white man standing gave me a quick up down and started a conversation.
“Well, I’m originally from Braintree, but I now live in DC,” I explained, welcoming the conversation.
“Ahhhh home of the Wamps! You kill it sportswise,” he exclaimed, “well, besides football.” we both laugh in agreement.
“Once a Wamp, always a Wamp!” I say.
“So you live in DC now? That must be different.”
“Extremely different,” I respond.
“Yeah, you uh, must live around of like, you know…”
“Around a lot of what?” I inquire.
“Well, I mean you know, those people that destroyed the city of Baltimore.”
“Are you referring to Black people?”
“Yeah, Baltimore is a straight monkey cage right now.”
I remember my mouth literally dropping and verbally letting out a gasp. What the fuck? I don’t remember what I said next — probably nothing — but I do remember that I thought that was the first time I had witnessed blatant racism in my community. I was 23.
News flash: it wasn’t the first time.
I studied abroad in Cape Town in college. Famously known for the Apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s. Years prior, I had done an entire National History Day project on it — even made it to regionals (remember, Marisa?). I remember being so proud of our foam display board — but also more worried about how straight the cut-out paper edges were and if the Word Art-created headlines were aligned rather than the actual content.
“Cape Town is pretty westernized, but they are like ten steps behind America. I mean, the Apartheid wasn’t that long ago! Racism is a huge problem here, it’s crazy!” – a journal excerpt of mine.
While in Cape Town, I lived in a house next door to a bunch of South Africans. One side of the house were Afrikaners (white South Africans) while the other half of the duplex were black South Africans. They were all friends — but their humor towards each other was pretty jarring.
Racist remarks were exchanged pretty frequently. At parties, I was actually approached by an Afrikaner asking why I was wasting my time talking to this “piece of trash” — referring to a Black man. I pause. They both laughed. “Shut up bro” the Black man said, and playfully pushed him away. “You know there’s a ton of suitable white men here for you to talk to,” he continued.
A couple of months later I asked one of my Black Cape Town friends, “How do you deal with this racism? It’s a pretty big culture shock for me.”
He let out a laugh. “Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry, no offense, but this is why Americans are annoying and ignorant. You’re so quick to judge other cultures without taking a look at your own. America is just as bad, but you pretend that you’re not. White people here just have more balls to say what they are actually feeling.”
I hopped on the internal defense. My brain thought of several “comebacks” to this statement — “Like, I’m just NOT RACIST, OK?!?!?” — but I stayed silent to avoid conflict. I mean, at the time, I was even afraid to describe people as “black.” Everybody was an African-American to me, and I had to catch myself many times from referring to non-American black people as such.
In recent years, I have felt a strong disconnect from my hometown, Braintree — for a few reasons. At first, it was just sort of a natural thing. I moved away, gained a new, fresh perspective on life and like most people, changed how I identified myself. I got new friends, still stay connected to some of my high school friends while growing apart from others. It happens.
I was always conditioned to identify myself as a Wamp. Our mission statement in high school was P.R.I.D.E. — standing for Partnership, Respect and Responsibility, Involvement, Diversity and Educational Excellence. We said the “PRIDE Pledge” during homeroom after the Pledge of Allegiance.
I know we had “I” and “E” but I’m not sure about the rest.
Here are some stats from my high school’s enrollment (courtesy of Department of Education):
I’ll be honest, disassociating myself from Braintree over the years has been awkwardly difficult. I felt like I was…abandoning something? Or like, disappointing people???? I don’t really know how to explain it. For so many years I convinced myself that I was so proud to call myself a Wamp — and the school district convinced us of that too. Like, fuck, I even wrote this article in 2010. MAJOR YIKES.
Actually no, fuck the disappointment and abandonment issues. I was flat out scared to be completely booted out of the circle I had tried SO hard to enter into. Excommunicated from Wampville. A circle that I embarrassingly cared so much about. Craving more social status felt like an integral part of my being. I had spent most of my life being caged into who I was supposed to be, going against the grain scared the shit out of me.
Again, this is a me problem.
Being a Wamp super-fan was cool. Wearing headdresses and painting your face during Spirit Week was the popular thing to do. So, I did. If I didn’t, I was weird.
Being white was also “cool.” Apparently.
So if you aren’t from Braintree, you’re probably wondering why we call ourselves the Wamps. Here’s a brief history lesson — most of this information I just learned recently, after years of chanting, Once a Wamp, always a Wamp. SMH. And if you type that phrase into Google, my tone deaf article is the first one to show up.
Anyways — history.
“Chief Wampatuck (Wompatuck) (1627-1669), also known as Sachem Wompatuck, Josiah Wompatuck and Josiah Sagamore, was the grand Sagamore of the Massachusetts tribe of Algonquin Indians of Greater Boston and New England. In 1684 and 1685 Chief Wampatuck signed various deeds and confirmatory deeds affirming his grandfather’s transfer of Boston, Stoughton, Dedham and other areas to the colonists decades earlier.” History.com
Based on numbers above, .1% of our school identified as Native American. Technically, we weren’t Wamps, and never will be a Wamp. He died in 1669. Yet, we still wore headdresses during Spirit Week, painted our faces and mocked tribal chants.
Let’s talk about Redface. Or rather, let’s touch upon Blackface first.
Blackface, dating back to the mid-19th century, was when white actors would darken their skin with polish and cork to look stereotypically “Black.” These “Black” actors were usually portrayed as lazy, ignorant, cowardly or hypersexual. The shows were intended to be funny for white audiences, but was extremely demeaning to the Black community as it reinforced white supremacy.
Most (hopefully all of us) know that Blackface is just…not ok. More than not ok. It’s racist.
Ok, so what’s redface? Maybe you can guess based on context. I’ve dressed in redface. It started in preschool. Some dressed as Pilgrims, others dressed as Native Americans. We all sat happily at a table together eating Thanksgiving food with our families. Does anyone else remember this?
The OG Thanksgiving Feast 1621 feast first was first glamorized in the 1850s in the journal of William Bradford — but this “peace” was temporary, as the next 50 years were flooded with skirmishes over territory. The way colonialism has been taught is whitewashed — like many things in this day and age. If we’re being honest, it’s why we celebrate Thanksgiving.
Before I relive AP US History, I’ll just drop this quote:
“Blackface and redface are not the same, but they are fruit of the same poisonous tree — namely, white supremacy.” Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press
But, Beth, we are HONORING the Chief Wampatuck by dressing as him.
Chief Wompatuck and his tribe were victims of colonialism. They gave away land to white people and worked out treaties, but only after years of conflict — with many more years of struggle to follow. Additionally, they actually helped these white colonists survive and build infrastructure on this land.
And just to add — the history of Chief Wompatuck tribe was far from integrated into our school system and education curriculum. As was learning about Black culture (I don’t recall learning anything about Juneteenth) — yet we were allowed to have a “gangster day” during Spirit Week. This day has since been banned, but the pillars of racism and racial disparities in the school system still exist.
I was the Editor of my yearbook. I happily placed photos in their proper placeholders — seeing no issue with the fact that there was not a single Black faculty member. Not one. And I was damn proud of my school — or at least I thought I was. I was more just passively ignoring the real issues at hand, I guess.
Braintree has a racism problem. It’s highlighted in the @bipocatbraintree Instagram if you want to read some of the experiences of these marginalized communities if our mascot isn’t enough for you.
Let’s back up to why I’m terrified about writing and publishing this.
“You literally made an Instagram story about me like 7 people sent it to me. [after me posting a story about cyberbullying]. Beth, be serious — what percent of those things do you think are real? [in reference to the @bipocatbraintree account] The teacher calling a student the N word? Like come on Beth. You’re smarter than that. You think a teacher called a student the N word and nothing happened. Beth! Do you think a BHS teacher called a student the N word and nothing happened. It would be NATIONAL news. I’m sure some stuff on there is true. Kids say and do very dumb things when they’re 16.”
“Can you just shut the fuck up?? You don’t even live here anymore. Your opinion is invalid and you’re an idiot.”
“Are you about to have another psychotic break? [I’m assuming in reference to my mental health issues while at BHS] Chill the fuck out. Stop calling Braintree racist when you clearly have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Here goes another white pretending to be a social justice warrior. Go complain about something more important, like idk, maybe the pandemic that is killing people right now. Fucking liberal snowflakes.”
The first time someone came for me was over an Instagram post where I called out Braintree for racial disparities in the education system. I was fed some false stats about METCO students, which I should have fact checked — but it doesn’t change the very jarring truths of the racial injustices that bled through our high school. I watched his comment calling me out for false statistics garner likes from other popular (white) kids followed by the statement, Braintree is far from racist — it was then I knew we were both fed false information at some point.
The DMs then started flooding in from boys I hardly spoke to in high school, but alas, still always sought after validation. I was anxious as fuck about this for several days — which annoyed me.
Almost a decade out of high school, I realize that I still care about what they think about me.
I archived the post. I was literally scared of this town. Because, you know, I still have this weird desire to gain their approval — and as I write this, I’m still scared. But not scared as in like, scared-for-my-life scared, just like a superficial level fright of not being accepted by my hometown peers.
Hey Beth, I read your Instagram post about Braintree. I know we didn’t talk too much in middle or high school, but as a METCO student, I did experience a lot of racism. I had a hard time getting out of Level 3 and 4 classes despite my good grades. And I didn’t feel like I fit in with anyone besides other METCO kids and I didn’t really feel supported by BHS faculty either. Definitely felt like the “other” during my entire time in the Braintree Public School systems. – a previous METCO student from Braintree High
After I read this, I realized that through all my advocacy/listening/learning during this time, I was still being complicit. It’s a damn privilege to be able to speak out and have other white people listen to you — regardless if it’s a positive or negative reaction. It’s a privilege to take false statistics about METCO students as fact because they were never in your AP or honors classes — or integrated into any of your classes for that matter.
It’s a privilege to be scared of what the popular kids will think instead of being scared for your life based on the color of your skin.
Before you all come for me — and by “you all” I am talking about the people who believe Braintree is far from racist, let’s just equal the playing field for a second.
I was and am a part of the problem — and if you are reading this as a non-BIPOC person, you are too. We can’t erase the past. We can’t change what we did, what we said or how we dressed during Spirit Week when we were 16 but here is what we can do:
- Listen and believe our BIPOC community
- Approach the education curriculums with more of a holistic approach towards racism. Believe that Black history is American history.
- Ask ourselves why programs like METCO still exists, and why we aren’t seeing more BIPOC in higher level classes
- Stop calling yourself a Wamp (or any label that denotes you are a different race than you are) if you are not actually Chief Wompatuck himself — or a member of his tribe for that matter
- Be open and receptive to difficult conversations about your role in racism and white supremacy
Here’s what we shouldn’t do:
- State that we have other “more important” problems to worry about — moreso, say we have “more important” problems to worry about without actually doing anything to help solve other said problems
- Claim, as a non-BIPOC person, that BIPOC experiences are actually “made up” – major yikes!!!
- Become a pseudo keyboard warrior cyber bully with little to no merit to our arguments
- Claim ownership or make generalizations over a community we don’t actually represent
- Be complicit with our current racial climate
- REFUSE TO LISTEN, LEARN + EDUCATE OUR DAMN SELVES
I don’t really feel connected to Braintree anymore. And if you still feel very much connected to Braintree, that’s cool too. Regardless, admitting your own flaws is hard. Admitting that you were a part of the systemic race problem in Braintree is harder.
We live in a fucked up world — I don’t think any of us will live to see the world we hope for.
But we need to start.
To the Braintree BIPOC community, I know an apology is well overdue, but I am genuinely sorry if I ever made you feel “lesser” or the “other” and I’m sorry for not speaking up when I should have. I’m sorry for being complicit. I’m sorry that the town of Braintree has not been more supportive of you. In the same breath, I know that you are looking for less apologies and more action amongst your non-BIPOC peers.
To my non-BIPOC peers, thanks for listening. I hope it made you feel something — sad, angry, disappointed, motivated. Something. And before you @ me, please read White Fragility. I would be happy to send you my copy. There is much more to the world than the confines of your comfort zone.
BHS 2011 Graduate