The City of Boston is changing the name of Yawkey Way for the wrong reasons.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (April 19, 2012 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)
On Thursday, April 26th the City of Boston announced that they would change the name of Yawkey Way to Jersey Street. The same stretch of road, originally named Jersey Street, was changed to Yawkey Way in 1977 to honor Tom Yawkey. The city made the announcement after a public outcry over Yawkey’s allegedly racist tenure as the Red Sox owner. While Yawkey could have done much more to bolster race relations as team owner, it’s blatantly unfair to suggest that Yawkey was personally a racist, as Bill Nowlin’s new biography on Tom Yawkey suggests.
It’s hard for me to accept the idea that the Red Sox are changing the name in an effort to be more progressive. If they cared about this issue they would have changed the name of the street long ago. But as a close friend pointed out, it’s as though the Red Sox are still trying to quell the controversy from last season when the Orioles’ Adam Jones became the target of racial taunts at Fenway Park. If that’s part of their rationale then fine, but why did they wait so long?
Writers like me face two challenges in protesting the renaming of Yawkey Way. The first is that anyone who protests the decision to change it back to Jersey Street risks being labeled a racist themselves. Asking hard questions about the legitimacy of the name change means entering into a cloud of controversy thick with accusations, misinformation, and misinterpretation. Simply arguing “There’s no evidence that Yawkey was personally a racist” invites an onslaught of name calling and labeling. It means irrational and emotional outbursts from people who can’t consider a more rational conclusion. But it’s these reasons that incline people to support the name change. It’s as though they’re afraid of what others might label them if they don’t go along with the name change.
The second challenge comes with the association with racists. Unfortunately, many of the comments I see condemning the name change have racist overtones. Less enlightened people seem personally offended by the city’s decision to change the name. It’s unfortunate that irrational comments disproportionately outweigh constructive criticism. It’s a personal struggle too because I agree with those who think that Yawkey Way shouldn’t be renamed. We just differ on the reasoning.
Those who are against the renaming efforts criticize organizations like Black Lives Matter, which I donate to annually. They refer to supporters of the name change as “snowflakes.” I disagree with those who pushed for a name change. That doesn’t mean I disregard the thoughts and feelings behind their opinions though. It is possible to respect someone’s opinion while disagreeing with them. Those who pushed for the name change clearly have merit behind their reasoning.
Trolls who cry political correctness over the name change shout down those who see this as a more complex issue. On a larger level, this issue exemplifies people’s unwillingness to accept the good with the bad. People see renaming Yawkey Way more as a binary issue instead of an issue about a problematic man.
Personally, I don’t think the street should be renamed. While Yawkey’s legacy as the owner of the Red Sox is riddled with questionable actions that he’s responsible for, it’s wrong to ignore the contributions he made to the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and the City of Boston through his generosity charity, especially since he wasn’t the blatant racist many think he was. One could argue that Yawkey relied on the wrong advisors who told him not to integrate. In that case, while Yawkey should have been more cognizant and proactive about integrating the team, blaming Yawkey solely for the Red Sox lack of diversity completely ignores other key players like Eddie Collins who were more likely to be the racist ones encouraging Yawkey to remain exclusively white.
It is possible to credit Yawkey for his contributions AND hold him responsible for his actions. This doesn’t need to be a binary “You’re either with us or against us” issue. It is possible to rectify the sins of the past without erasing them. But calling someone a racist because they oppose the Yawkey Way name change, or calling someone a snowflake for supporting the change, isn’t a mature way to approach the subject. If you truly think that changing the street name was the right move then I completely respect that. But personally, I feel that the Red Sox are doing this in an effort to preserve their own image than they are concerned with promoting diversity.