I wrote a post last Tuesday entitled “Exposed on Winthrop Street, Roxbury” and, as a result, I was labeled a racist by some people and I’ve been carrying it around with me since the first negative reaction on Twitter came my way. I’ve been very upset since then and I wanted to let it die but I got an email through LinkedIn today, letting me know that the issue still persists, so I want to clear the air. This is going to be long and rambling and probably isn’t appropriate for a real estate site but here I go.
I started selling real estate for Jack Conway & Co., Inc. out of its now closed Milton office back in 1999. I could’ve concentrated on Milton and Quincy but I kept on getting pulled into Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury time after time and I liked it so I’ve kept on working in those neighborhoods through the years. I don’t know why I liked it but I think that I liked meeting all types of different people because I’m curious about different cultures. I could meet people from so many different places like:
- Dominican Republic
- Viet Nam
The people who I’ve met have probably come from almost every country in the world! I love to watch Anthony Bourdain and the neighborhoods like Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury are like my little own episodes of: A Cook’s Tour; No Reservations; The Layover or; most recently, Parts Unknown. I’ve learned some words in Vietnamese while selling a two-family property at 40 Whitten Street, Dorchester in 2008; words like “dầu”,which means “oil” although when I say it native Vietnamese speakers think that I’m saying the Vietnamese word for “gold”, and “cam on” which sounds like “come on” but means “thank you”.
I sold a single family property at 48 Church Street, Hyde Park in 2012 and the new owner’s wife, originally from Ethiopia, was nice enough to give me two types of spices, one called, if I remember correctly, berbere, which I sometimes still use in my cooking although I don’t know if I’m using it correctly. I’m always careful because the spices are so hot!
I sold a three-family property at 36 Mozart Street, Jamaica Plain last year and the smells coming from the pots in the back yard of the house next door were intoxicating and I demanded, nicely, that I get a plate of whatever food it was that the ladies were preparing and it turned out that the Ethiopian women were preparing a traditional dish that included injera and wat and it was delicious; I’ve never seen my future father-in-law, he spent time living in Morocco, eat a plate of food with such gusto so I hardly got to eat any of it.
I’ve learned that Buddha likes gifts of alcohol and bananas during my time in unsuccessfully trying to sell 6 McDonnell Drive, Randolph earlier this year.
I’ve learned through selling 58 Hollingsworth Street, Mattapan that three scars on each of the cheeks of a Nigerian woman of a certain tribe, I’m not sure which tribe, means that she’s the oldest daughter although that practice of scarification seems to be dying out. I’ve learned through recently working with some buyers from Guyana that the Chinese and the Indians were falsely lured to Guyana in search of gold by the British; I don’t know how true that statement is but it seems feasible to me.
What I’m trying to convey is that I enjoy learning about different cultures. I like meeting people. I like learning about people. All people.
I feel comfortable selling real estate in neighborhoods like Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury because I have a bit of a different background than most people who look like me. I grew up in East Boston in the 70s and 80s but East Boston, at the time, was almost all Italian. I lived in Orient Heights and it was very insulated but I did go to school in Chelsea and Chelsea was, even in the 80s, highly Hispanic; there were hardly any Hispanic immigrants living in East Boston and, if they were, they were living in Jeffries Point and Maverick Square. I took the bus and the train almost every day from Orient Heights into Chelsea; it was a gritty city and I experienced the grit almost every day. I knew how to behave, I knew how not to behave, where to go, where not to go, who to talk to, who not to talk to. I saw grown men get the shit beat out of them outside of the restaurant that my mother managed which was located on the corner of Bennington Street and Breed Street in East Boston and which now houses El Paisa Butchershop and I didn’t want to end up like them.
I was street smart and I still think that I am today because of my time on the streets of East Boston and Chelsea. I made friends of many nationalities during my time at St. Rose Elementary School in Chelsea including a kid from Central America named Christian; he was my buddy for years through sixth grade until I moved to Hanover. I wonder how he’s doing?
I moved into my father’s house at 573 Broadway, Hanover in 1986. My father had already been dating a woman with a biracial son from her first marriage; she had met her first husband while living in St. John. I had been visiting my father, his girlfriend and her son at a house that my father rented at 41 Sea Avenue, Quincy for some time before my father bought the house in Hanover. I remember the first time that I experienced overt racism which affected my family. We were having dinner as a family at a place called the Barnside Tavern in Norwell sometime in the mid 80s. The Barnside Tavern, located where the now closed Joe’s American Grill was later housed, skewed to an older crowd and it was definitely all white. I don’t know if there was another black person beside my brother, he legally took my father’s last name although he was never legally adopted by my father but I usually called him my brother nonetheless, within miles of that restaurant. We walked in and it seemed like every person in the dining room turned around to stare at us. It was like they’d never seen a black person in their lives. What was he doing sitting down to dinner in their restaurant? Why was he sitting with white people? Why wasn’t he serving white people? Maybe they thought that my brother was past of Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s family since he had bought a house in Hanover with his family at about that time. We all made some jokes at our table but I still remember that night to this day. I felt the weirdest feeling that I still can’t quite pinpoint but my brother must’ve felt awful. It got even more strange when we moved to Cohasset in 1987. My brother, I think, was the only black person living in the entire town! We got used to the looks and the questions over time so much so that it didn’t bother us and, at some point, we just disregarded them but some silent racism was usually present. I haven’t seen my brother in over twenty years due to my father’s second divorce but the memories of racism still linger.
I understand why some people would read that post and think that it came from a racist point of view. I used the term “do rag”, a term that could be associated with black people, and the anecdote took place in Roxbury. The story was written by a white male. All the signs point to a racist, right? It couldn’t be farther than the truth. I’m disgusted by what’s going on in this country. The blatant murder of Eric Garner still pisses me off; how those police officers weren’t indicted is beyond infuriating. I watched the video of Sandra Bland’s arrest; how she ever made it into prison in the first place is beyond ridiculous. You can look at the history of my Facebook page or my Twitter posts and you will see that I am generally disgusted by the way that black people are treated in this country. Even I was naive enough to think that black people were blowing their issues with cops out of proportion but story after story and video after video over the past few years is proving that we have a serious problem in this country and it needs to be fixed.
I may have a different philosophy when it comes to people than you. I try not to see people as black or white or anything in between. I try not to put people in boxes or categories including: race; religion; or sexual orientation. I try to see people as individuals and I try to judge each person by their individual actions. Isn’t it better that way?
Some people have claimed that I shouldn’t have felt intimidated. That my safety was never in danger. But those were my feelings. I felt them. They were real. I still believe that I was in trouble. Do you know that feeling when the hairs on the back of your neck bristle? When your body tingles with adrenaline? That was it. The story could’ve taken place in any other neighborhood. It could’ve taken place in South Boston. The story would’ve been the same.
I never disclosed the races of the men that were on Winthrop Street so you don’t know the races of the men. The races of the men don’t matter. That’s not what the story was about. The story was about my experience in relation to safety as a real estate agent. You’re probably not a real estate agent but that’s who the story was targeted toward. As I mentioned in the post, too many real estate agents have been robbed, raped or murdered lately and it’s a big concern in the real estate community these days.
I know that some of the neighbors surrounding Winthrop Street weren’t happy to read the post. The neighbors that have expressed concern to me are claiming that the neighborhood is safe. I get that question quite often through my job as a real estate agent: “Is this neighborhood safe?” We, as real estate agents, are taught never to answer that question because your perception of safety and another’s perception of safety could be completely different. Safety is generally a comparative question. We generally refer those questions to the local police department, which is admittedly a bit silly, or we tell people to go back to the neighborhood when people are leaving for work or coming home from work but there’s no good answer for that question. Some neighbors have questioned my ethics. Am I trying to devalue the neighborhood? I have to tell you that I don’t have the power to do that even if I wanted to and, moreover, I don’t want to.
I not only sell real estate in the Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury neighborhoods but I’ve, de facto, become a part of them. I’m not a religious guy but I was invited by some of my clients to join them at the Jubilee Christian Church on Blue Hill Avenue a few times and I had a blast! The services were much more lively than I’ve been used to while attending Catholic services. The preacher, I think he’s called, got the packed room into a tizzy while the band was blasting and literally dropped the microphone and walked off the stage. You want to talk about being a minority? I think that there were about 2,000 black people and maybe three white people in the room. I counted. I was a bit nervous but I was comfortable. I got a few funny looks but the people there were, overall, happy to see me. I asked the people with whom I attended the service with what was next and they told me that the service was over. I was disappointed that there wouldn’t be more but I was charged up!
I have compassion for the people in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury. I remember that I was showing one of the units at 5 Hallam Street, Dorchester on, I think, the night before Thanksgiving in 2004 and the first floor tenants didn’t even have a damned turkey. I went shopping for them and brought back a turkey and all the other Thanksgiving stuff that they didn’t have. I felt so good about myself. I worked hard for the seller of Hallam Street but was never able to sell it for the owner.
I work hard for my clients. Period. A client asked me to investigate some properties on Winthrop Street. I did that. If you hire me as your real estate agent then you are getting one of the brightest and hardest working real estate agents out there. I investigate and then I investigate more. I give you my opinions even when you don’t ask for them and even when it puts my commission in jeopardy. I put your priorities over mine, every time.
I hope that you’ve learned more about me. I hope that you understand why I’ve chosen to work in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury when I could’ve worked in towns like Cohasset, Hingham or Milton. I’ve never been called a racist in the fifteen years that I’ve been working in those communities and I thought that my track record had preceded me but I guess that it hasn’t and that makes me sad.
Thanks for reading…