In the hours that followed the Boston Marathon bombings, the hashtag #BostonStrong spread rapidly via Twitter and other social media outlets as a way to deal with the fear and trauma brought on by the attacks and to show solidarity to its victims. Since then, it has been adopted for charity and for profit, both as a way to direct funds into charities like the One Fund (set up to help victims and their families) to a quick way to sell t-shirts, bracelets, and anything else you can put text on.
I see #BostonStrong, both the words and the sentiment, manifest itself in as a mob mentality, seasoned with narcissism and FOMO. A branding so ubiquitous and successful that it transcends its own meaning. It feigns community engagement and reeks of the pursuit of social capitol.
I understand what #BostonStrong has done; what it was meant to do. In a moment of violence and terror that gripped the entire city at the same time, it helped organize a cacophony, from tweets to official statements, into a singular narrative. It told you where to donate, be it for someone else’s recovery or your own, and has raised millions to benefit those who were most directly affected that day.
But Boston doesn’t fit neatly under a single umbrella.
In 2009 I came here for college, and almost half a decade later I am still not sure that I’ve seen Boston. I’ve seen the landmarks and I know the history, but most of what I have engaged in here is something other than Boston. Boston Lite. Maybe even Boston Elite, or at least the twentysomething version. I don’t think I’ve really engaged with many Bostonians, or travelled consistently to where they reside.
I feel like there are these bubbles of Boston, where the the upper crust and the college kids and those with the Southie accent and the working class people of color can maybe see each other, but little else. We can walk in each other’s neighborhoods, but there’s little mixing going on here. The bussing crisis of the 70s and 80s planted a seed of segregation that still flourishes today. Communities like Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan become afterthoughts, even though that’s where constant violence is happening. According to Blackstonian, there have been 235 shootings since the Boston Marathon bombings. Thirty-five people were fatally shot. A majority of those shootings happened in neighborhoods with the largest populations of color.
For Boston to be strong, Boston (and its guests, like me) need to own up to its weaknesses. I want a One Fund for the victims of racial and economic violence. I want the families and victims of gun violence to have the resources to recover. And I want those neighborhoods to have the support they need to avoid violence all together.
Then maybe we’ll be #BostonStrong.