Sisters Challenge Culture Of Silence About Racism In Their Massachusetts Hometown

Caroline and Emily Joyner say they’re not activists or experts on combating systemic racism.

But they do know what it’s like to grow up Black in a place like Southborough — a town 20 miles west of Boston that’s more than 80% white and less than 2% Black, according to recent U.S. census estimates.

“I think I sort of made my Blackness smaller, growing up, just to sort of get by, as a way of survival. And that’s something that I’m sort of getting closer to understanding and sort of unlearning,” says Caroline, who’s now 27 years old and works as a performing arts publicist in Brooklyn.

Emily is two years older and is working on a doctorate in psychology at Boston College. “That white-centered perspective can get so internalized as a Black person who grows up there,” she says. “It’s like you learn, ‘Yeah, I’m other.'”

he sisters are biracial, but Caroline says their lighter skin tones didn’t shield them from white high school classmates using racial slurs around them and mocking their natural hairstyles — while also appropriating Black culture.

“I remember kids being like, ‘Do you know how to teach me how to Dougie?’ ” Caroline recalls. “Like dance moves? And I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’ve grown up in the same environment as you.’ Or this one girl was like ‘Black Power, Caroline! Am I right?’ or something like that where I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ “

And Emily says the environment in the classroom wasn’t much better as teachers avoided broader discussions about race.

“Seeing Black culture commodified and held up in that way, while also feeling … like my own Blackness was shameful, different and embarrassing. And don’t bring it up because it’s rude, you know, was just such a lot of contradictions to hold.”

The Joyners are processing these memories all over again this summer as America’s reckoning on racial injustice continues after the killings of George Floyd and other Black people by police.

Read the rest of this story at WBUR’s website.