Do we really have to explain why honoring Red Auerbach for Black History Month was a bad idea?
After the Boston Police Department lauded the late Celtics coach and executive on Twitter for helping to integrate the sport — even though Auerbach was white — a swift and well-deserved backlash emerged.
But nothing ever ends there these days.
Anyone who claims they don’t understand the problem with the tweet is either arguing in bad faith or took a few too many elbows to the skull in last night’s pickup game at the Y.
“There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell them,” said Louis Armstrong (who was actually black, if the police department is looking for someone to tweet about).
But I’ll explain anyway, in three simple steps:
1. February is Black History Month.
2. Black History Month was created to honor the accomplishments of black Americans; it is not Some of My Best Friends Were Black History Month.
3. Red Auerbach is not black.
The tweet reduced the only named black person in it — Bill Russell, to whom a monument exists outside City Hall — to a closing parenthetical. And while it’s true that the department had tweeted an appreciation of Russell himself a week earlier, it’s also true that this was the department’s second Black History Month tweet of a month that is nearly half over.
The department totalled exactly one black honoree and then it was on to someone white, while conspicuously suggesting that a benevolent white man was responsible for the success of the only black man the department had honored.
Even the specific choice was a little strange. Auerbach is an important figure in the history of basketball and its integration, yet those who knew him best say his guiding philosophy was not equality or diversity but winning basketball games. Had he not drafted and played and employed black players and coaches, he wouldn’t be Red Auerbach — not because of any societal impact he may have had, but because his teams wouldn’t have been as good.
Was Auerbach responsible for Russell’s success? Maybe to some degree, but it would be a lot easier to make the opposite case. Auerbach’s Celtics won exactly zero championships in the six years before Russell arrived.
The tweet was hopelessly tone deaf at best, and antagonistic trolling at worst.
It would be a lot easier to give BPD the benefit of the doubt if it hadn’t been repeatedly sued for discriminatory practices. In 2016, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination found that the department was disciplining minority recruits more harshly than white ones. Last July, a federal judge once again ruled that the department’s exam for promotion to lieutenant had a discriminatory impact. And the city spent well over $1 million to defend a lawsuit over hair follicle drug testing that many say results too often in false positives for black officers. Those are just the recent examples.
In that context, it’s a lot harder to the see the tweet as an innocent mistake. Even if it was, what does that say about a department that we expect to navigate sensitive issues of race in the era of Black Lives Matter?
In a statement on Monday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the tweet “completely inappropriate and a gross misrepresentation of how we are honoring Black History Month in Boston.”
But to many, it looks like this is precisely how Boston is celebrating: By telling people of color to stop being so sensitive about race.
Online, a mob of dense or disingenuous tweeters descended, as they always do, to tell those raising earnest concerns that they need to lighten up, pipe down, and stop being so offended by everything.
They don’t speak for everyone here — not even close. But wade into social media, where a steady stream of white guys with sports logos in their profiles post ungrammatical tirades about “social justice warriors” and “snowflakes,” and you might start to wonder.
In Boston’s battle against its reputation as a racist place, these anonymous jackals seem intent on solidifying that ugly view.
If these guys care about Red Auerbach, they sure have an odd way of showing it.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.