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Gentrification From A Dorchester Family's Perspective

By Joye Williams for the Boston Compass (#127)

September 21, 2020

When I was a child taking a drive with my family, I remember thinking we were in a completely different town. I asked my father, “Daddy, where are we?” He answered “Dorchester.” I replied, “but Daddy, this doesn’t look anything like where we live, and I thought we lived in Dorchester.” “Well Joye,” he said, “this ain’t our part, this is the white part.”

My sister was interviewing for her medical residency. Everyone was sharing where they were from. Upon my sister saying Dorchester, a white male turned to the table and said “don’t ever go there, it’s really dangerous.”

White flight is white people moving out of urban areas with a significant amount of racial minorities and into suburban areas. My family moved out of Boston due in part to the racist brutalities during Boston Bussing (1974-1988) which was enacted to desegregate Boston public schools. When my mother would go out in these suburban areas, she was met with distaste and police being called on her for going on an afternoon stroll with her babies.

A large part of this racist system described above is gentrification. It is alive and well here in Boston.

When white people move into predominantly minority neighborhoods, why do we as a city encourage it when all it seems to do is create larger separations in racial demographics?

I’m asked, “don’t you want the neighborhood to be better? Isn't it good that they’re fixing things up?” Most definitely! Not in promoting separation but inclusivity. Where is the city when predominately minorities live amongst the abandoned buildings, lots, and deteriorating roads? Why is there now this urgency to “build a better Boston,” only when it’s apparent that Dorchester is suddenly attractive to more of a white demographic. It’s amazing the swiftness in development that can happen when white people start to take an interest.

My family’s journey to property ownership was not easy. It involved endless calls to bank presidents and lawyers to get a reason why we got rejected during the buying process, because they just labeled their rejection as “other”. Knowing and over-explaining our rights, sending letters, stressing, fighting, and most importantly not accepting “NO” for an answer to finally get what seems so easily accessible to the white demographic.

Gentrification looks like the defamation of predominantly minority neighborhoods being suddenly changed to praise when non-white people are pushed out. It looks like luxury condos next door to the projects. It looks like the beginning of Centre Street from Jackson Square in Jamaica Plain, going towards Forest Hills, with Whole Foods as the landmark for the obvious separation. The lack of safe street signage and street maintenance in my neighborhood never seemed cause for concern to the city while I was growing up.

These decisions are based on what is similar to colonization. The changes for the “better” are not for all but for the demographic of white occupancy. Now the minorities should leave, and they should longer benefit in the neighborhood they are from? Why? Because it feeds into a system that has historically displaced minorities through strategic and intentional efforts that perpetuate segregation based on the racist thought that we are not equal, that we are inferior and therefore considered undeserving. This dangerously dumb thought translates into housing discrimination, redlining, and community displacement.


Check out all the art and columns from September's Boston Compass at


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