I grew up in “the whitest town in America” – not just a town with one of the highest Caucasian populations, but one in which lacrosse, Vineyard Vines, and “my dad’s yacht” frequently came up in conversation. Even Googling Marblehead, Massachusetts pulls up a picturesque New England town one would struggle to picture a person of color in.
Marblehead is also lucky enough to house one of the best public school systems in the state, which is the draw of most families who move there. As a result, the city of Boston chose my town to be one of the host school systems for their METCO program, which was established in 1966 and bussed inner-city kids to our schools every morning from kindergarten to graduation. As a result of this “inner-city” eligibility, these kids were all black, usually from a bad part of town (mostly Dorchester).
I never questioned this growing up – these were just the kids who went to my school, even though they never lived in my town. They listened to different music, had different hairstyles, and experienced life struggles – muggings, drug-addicted parents – that I couldn’t relate to; but we played sports together, did our homework together, and giggled behind teachers’ backs together. There was always a bit of a divide in the cafeteria, but honestly, I mostly attribute that to the fact that it is hard to become close friends with someone who lives over an hour away as opposed to two streets over. Some METCO kids ended up moving in with their Marblehead friends.
It wasn’t until college that I realized others saw this program as weird. When I mentioned it early my freshman year, a Chicago friend was incredulous: “Your school does bussing? I read about that in my history book. Aren’t there, like, race fights and stuff?” This question confused me. There had never been an issue related to race at my high school, at least one large enough to affect my perspective. Now, I realize how unique this experience must have been for kids in the program. I had gone to school with these kids for 12 years and never thought to ask what it was like coming from a poor, black neighborhood in Boston to a wealthy white suburb every day; maybe this would have been awkward or unpleasant to ask, maybe they would have appreciated someone wondering.