Plenty of people tell me I’m wasting my time talking about merging Hartford and several surrounding towns. They say it will never happen.
When I ask them why not, some give me reasons why merging is a bad idea, but it’s pretty easy to show them that it’s actually a good idea. We derive very little benefit keeping Hartford and seven or ten towns separate, and together we could accomplish some great things that are practically impossible separate.
Ultimately, I’m told that people just “like their town the way it is.” Of course, the “people” they are talking about are the people who live in towns like West Hartford, Wethersfield, Newington, Windsor, South Windsor.
What does it mean to say “I like my town the way it is”? What does “the way it is” actually mean?
In a nice town, there are a lot of things one might mean: I like my town because the taxes are under control, or because the schools are good, or because there’s not a lot of industrial activity.
I’d ask you to consider another possibility. Consider that in fact, people like their town the way it is because it’s segregated. That may sound like an outrageous statement, but I’d ask you just to consider whether that isn’t the practical effect of what they mean.
First, let’s understand what “segregated” means. It means set apart, isolated, or divided. People can be divided in a variety of ways: randomly or by wealth or by educational level or by race. When we’re talking about greater Hartford, it’s clear that we’re not separated randomly. We’re separated politically, by the boundaries between the towns. We have separate places we call Hartford, Windsor, etc. We are separated by wealth – we all understand pretty well where we can find wealthy people and where we can find poor people. And we’re certainly separated by race. We know where the white people live and where to find the Blacks. So, let’s first agree that greater Hartford is segregated.
Second, let’s recognize the substantial overlap of our political separation and our racial and wealth separation. That is, let’s recognize that to a very great extent, our white population and our wealthy population live in certain towns, and to a very great extent our non-white population and our poor population live in certain other towns. It’s undeniable. In other words, by definition, greater Hartford is segregated by race and by wealth, and that segregation largely follows town lines.
Let’s stop there. No guilt. I’m just stating the obvious: Greater Hartford is segregated by race and by wealth, and to a great extent that segregation is defined by town boundaries.
I submit that when we say “I like my town the way it is,” we’re saying that we like the things about our town that result from racial and wealth segregation.
I’m not saying that people actually think and say, “I like my town because there are no Black people.” We don’t think about it that way, and we’re all too well socialized to actually say that. I’m asking that we think about what the reality is, not what we say or think.
Let’s look again at those reasons why “I like my town the way it is.” My taxes are under control. Why? Because my town doesn’t share in the cost of maintaining the City of Hartford, the urban area on which my town depends. My town leaves that cost to be borne by the City, where the people of color live, where the poor people live. In other words, my taxes are under control because my town is segregated.
I like my town because the schools are good. Why are they good? Because my town isn’t spending tax dollars to support Hartford. Because my town is populated by relatively wealthy people, and schools populated by wealthy children function better than schools populated by poor children – it’s an oft-demonstrated fact. In other words, I like my schools, well, because my town is segregated.
I like my town because there’s not a lot of industrial activity. That activity is in Hartford. No landfills in Wethersfield. No power plants. No sewage treatment facilities. I like my town because it’s, hmmm, here’s that word again, because it’s segregated.
I know. These are all just negative inferences I’m drawing. “I like my town the way it is” could mean any number of things other than “I like living in a white town.”
Whatever reasons we might have for liking it the way it is, let’s not ignore the fundamental fact: “The way it is” is segregated, with white people in the wealthy surrounding towns and Black people to a very great extent in poor, undefunded towns.
“I like my town the way it is.”
“The way it is” is segregated.
If we don’t like living in segregated towns, if we don’t want to live in segregated towns, we should do something about it.