After one of the briefest retirements in modern history, I’m back. Just two weeks ago I announced that I would take a break from HartfordTodayandTomorrow.com. I received some nice emails in response, including a few encouraging me to continue. It wasn’t exactly a standing ovation with smartphone flashlights filling the darkness, but encouraging nonetheless.
The events of our time have brought me back. Since George Floyd’s death, I’ve thought a lot about racism. I’ve decided I must speak and continue to speak. It just so happens that I have a convenient platform, so I’m back.
I will write about racism, not regionalism, although as I discussed two weeks ago, greater Hartford’s current city-town system fosters and preserves uglier racism than exists in most parts of the country. Racism is every bit as much about greater Hartford today and tomorrow as our governance structure, so although I’m heading in a new direction, I’m sort of on the same playing field. Greater Hartford needs to talk about racism.
I’ve been remarkably stupid about race for a long time, remarkably stupid about race in the same way that most other white Americans have been stupid. I’ve been stupid because African Americans have been telling us about racism for decades, and I haven’t been listening. I’ve begun to listen, really listen.
Much of what I write will not be unique. Some of what I write won’t necessarily be correct, because there’s so much that I don’t understand. So if I’m barely a novice on the subject of race in America, why do I presume to write about it?
In the last few weeks I’ve finally understood that racism in America is a problem created by white people and perpetuated by white people. It is a white problem, and only white people can solve it. All white people.
In the last few weeks I’ve learned that white people hear only white people. In 1952, when Ralph Ellison told us in Invisible Man that white Americans couldn’t see him, it turns out that white Americans couldn’t hear him, either. Since we hear only white people, white people must talk about racism and must continue talking about racism.
In the last few weeks I’ve learned that we need multiple white voices saying what needs to be said. When we hear white people say it, we will begin to be able to hear black people say it. What we say won’t always be correct, but we have to keep talking. As we talk, we will learn, and as we learn, we will begin to understand. The solution will come from understanding.
White Americans can’t solve this problem alone; African Americans have some work to do, too. But it has to start with white Americans actually seeing and understanding what black people already know. African Americans have been waiting for us for 400 years.
I’m calling these essays “Letters from White America.” They are borne of one white man’s experiences in this country, and one white man’s perceptions. The letters will speak for no one other than myself. They are written to anyone who will listen. They are written in the hope and belief that white Americans will continue to talk about racism in order to fix the problem that lives at the core of our culture.