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WBUR Poll Finds 8 In 10 Bostonians Say Racism Is A Significant Problem03:09
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Hundreds of staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital participated in a kneel-in acknowledging the injustice of systemic and individual racism in America at the Bulfinch Lawn outside of the hospital entrance in June. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Hundreds of staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital participated in a kneel-in acknowledging the injustice of systemic and individual racism in America at the Bulfinch Lawn outside of the hospital entrance in June. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The vast majority of Boston voters believe racism is a serious issue facing the city, according to a new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs).

Gail Coutain of Mattapan — originally from Trinidad and Tobago — says she has experienced racism first hand. Like when a man at a gas station recently told her to go back to her country.

She even hears insensitive comments from white colleagues at her job in state government.

Coutain recounts: “Statements like, ‘I’m so sick of hearing about Black Lives Matter... who really cares?' So I looked at her and I said, ‘Do you realize I’m Black?’ [And she says] ‘I don’t mean you, you're fine.’”

“I excuse some of it because it's unconscious, but it's there."

Coutain says her department has yet to offer racial sensitivity training to employees - but she's hoping that changes soon. While racism isn't new, she thinks she's seen a clear increase in anti-Black racism since Donald Trump was elected.

(Courtesy MassINC Polling)
(Courtesy MassINC Polling)

Overall, roughly 80% of respondents said racism was a very serious or somewhat serious problem in the city.

The survey also found 44% of Black Boston voters — and 33% of Hispanics — said they have experienced discrimination over the past year, compared to 10% of white voters. (The poll did not include large enough samples to provide similar statistics for other race and ethnic groups.)

Take Sergio Asturias, a janitor with the Boston Housing Authority and an immigrant from Guatemala. He says he regularly faces racial hostility - from white and Black people alike.

"Many of these people have become disrespectful to people like us," Asturias says in Spanish. "They make rude gestures at you at the stoplight, they say things to you inside the train. They look at you with contempt."

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Asturias has lived in Boston for 16 years, but like Coutain, he thinks racism has gotten worse over the last four.

"The other night I was walking near Macy's," Asturias says, "and a guy came up and asked why I was walking near him — and he put his fists up like he was going to attack me. I pretended not to understand and walked away, but he kept following me."

People across the country also say racism is a serious problem. A national poll by Monmouth last summer found 92% of Black non-Republicans identified racism as a problem — up significantly since the start of the Black Lives Matter protests last Spring.

But Elizabeth Corbett of Dorchester is among the 1 in 6 white voters in the WBUR poll who said racism in Boston is not a serious problem.

"I don't see or hear racism as a problem daily here,” she says. “It's definitely a problem in America, but as far as the city itself, I don't feel like it's as bad as it is in many other states."

The WBUR survey included 552 Boston registered voters. The poll was co-sponsored by the Dorchester Reporter and the Boston Foundation, and conducted by MassINC Polling Group. The poll had a 4.9% margin of error for the overall sample.

Racial inequality has become a defining issue in this year's mayor’s race, with candidates competing to offer the most convincing version of a more inclusive city.

This segment aired on April 15, 2021.

Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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