I’m taking a break from writing a blog about regionalism. With all that’s going on in our world and our country, it just feels like now is not the time to write about fixing local government to help our region thrive.

I have written because I had things to say, and I still have things to say. I wrote about trash several weeks ago, and I wanted to follow up. MIRA now has given up on trying to put together a long-term solution to the region’s trash disposal problem. The state won’t solve the problem, and it shouldn’t – trash is a classically local issue. Ten or fifteen separate towns won’t come together to fund a major project; instead, we have chosen a solution that is worse for the environment and will cost us tens of millions of dollars more. If we had one city of 350,000 or 400,000, we’d solve it.

I wanted to write about the futility of both Buffalo (thanks, Susan) and Hartford spending time, energy and money trying to drive growth by making their downtowns more accessible for pedestrians and two-wheeled vehicles. Our future is about jobs, not bike lanes. If The Travelers leaves town, we won’t need the bike lanes; if Google moves to town, we will have time – and money – to deal with transit problems.

I wanted to write about the little article in The Economist (thanks, Wilson) discussing dysfunction in American cities because their boundaries are irrational. The dysfunction of cities cited in the article is minor compared to what we have in greater Hartford.

I’m taking a break because none of it seems important at the moment. I kept writing through the first couple of months of COVID-19, because the pandemic is a short-term problem. Sure, it might take a few years to recover from the disruption we’ve seen, and the pain caused by loss of life will last longer than that, but there is a future after the pandemic. If we’re proactive and strategic, we can make greater Hartford a winner, despite the disruption.

But now white America has been reminded, again, that our future is about racism. Black America needed no reminder, because African Americans live with racism every day of their lives. A white friend in Simsbury told me the other day that he thought all these problems had been taken care of. Of course, that is precisely the problem. White America is free and has no daily reminders of the problem. Black America isn’t free; African Americans arise each morning to the knowledge and expectation that they will be treated differently because of their color. Police assaults on black people are a symptom of our racism, but racism in America is so much more than just that.

Racism is a pernicious, ugly habit that white America developed during 250 years of African slavery on this continent. It’s a habit we haven’t broken. It’s a habit almost all of us learn at an early age; it takes hold of us and doesn’t let go. We often don’t see it in ourselves. I’m not self-righteously pointing fingers here; racism is my habit, too. Some people who know me don’t understand why a white man with a black wife would say he is a racist; they don’t understand that prejudging me in that way is itself another symptom of racism. Racism is everywhere in our lives, and we don’t see it.

White Americans haven’t had the patience to listen to and understand people who are different, people who have tried to explain just how crushing racial oppression continues to be. If you’re white and want to try to learn, read Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson. You may want (as I wanted) to throw it against the wall in disgust, but keep reading. Just listen and try to understand the world that white America has created for black America, try to understand the lives black Americans are condemned to live, lives that white Americans conveniently don’t see.

Black Americans aren’t immune. This country teaches them to be racists, too, and they have some work to do. They get a pass for now, though, because black Americans are powerless to do anything. If they had power, they would have stopped the police assaults, the discrimination, the daily slights. White America has the power, and white America has to get to work. African Americans will have plenty of time to join in.

I’ve written occasionally in these essays about de facto segregation in greater Hartford. I haven’t said much about it because, frankly, I didn’t want to argue about it. People get defensive quickly when they think they’re being accused of racism. In polite company, there is almost no greater condemnation. In the 1950s, nothing was worse than to be called a communist; now we have virtual communists who are accepted as legitimate presidential candidates. But calling someone a racist – whoa! – those are fighting words. So I have tread lightly until now.

Who are we kidding? Greater Hartford is segregated by race. White greater Hartford supports and perpetuates that segregation. Greater Hartford has one of the most effective, completely legal structures for maintaining racial segregation – we have separate towns! All us white folk in Wethersfield can rest comfortably, telling ourselves that those brown people across the line are not our problem. The schools, the housing, the poverty, it’s all Hartford’s problem, and Hartford and their police force should deal with it. We just need our police to be sure that “those people” stay in their place. Face it: Hartford is Wethersfield’s ghetto, and Newington’s and West Hartford’s. It’s where we allow “those people” to live.

If you’re reading this and getting defensive about your town, it’s time to recognize that you’re part of the problem. If you believe in human rights and freedom and equal opportunity and are opposed to merging your town with Hartford, you’re part of the problem. The truth is that black and brown people live disproportionately in Hartford and Bloomfield, and our town lines make it easy for all of us white folk to continue to live our segregated lives, relegating minorities to perpetual second-class citizenship or worse. Separate is not equal. If you don’t want to fix it, you’re part of the problem.

I’ve been saying for months that the best thing greater Hartford could do to improve its future, maybe the only thing that would work, would be to merge Hartford and eight or ten or twelve towns. I’ve argued that it would give us more jobs, a better economy, a positive future.

But now I’ll say what I’ve left largely unsaid: It’s time for greater Hartford to eliminate racism in the very fabric of our society. Anything less is racist hypocrisy. It’s time to eliminate our town boundaries, the artificial legal barriers we white people hide behind. Let’s look our neighbors in the eye, those white and black and brown and Hispanic and Asian neighbors from East Hartford and Newington and Windsor and Hartford and West Hartford, and say, “Tear down the walls! Let’s live together as one community, under one government, in one city.”

Regionalizing Hartford is a problem I can get my head around, so I’ve been comfortable writing about it. I can defend what I say, so I was willing to be a self-appointed spokesperson for that which no one believes greater Hartford can accomplish. Racism is completely different. It is enormously complex; it’s multi-faceted; it’s hiding in plain sight. I don’t know nearly enough to carry on a monologue, week after week, about what we in greater Hartford should do about racism.

And so, because today I feel that racism is the only thing worth talking about, and because I won’t presume to be able to manage its nuances in a weekly column, I’ll take a break from Hartfordtodayandtomorrow.com.

Thanks for listening.

5 Replies to “TAKING A BREAK”

  1. I don’t say this often but you are absolutely right. There are racial implications to our living patterns. Confining the disadvantaged, who are mainly people of color, to the central city and saying take care of their needs with much of the City’s tax base exempt is at the heart of the matter. While the state does direct money to Hartford, it is nowhere near enough. If Hartford’s tax revenue takes a hit, the crisis will be here within the year. This is one opportunity to address the issues underlying the unfair treatment of the disadvantaged. I think we will have an easier time changing policy than changing attitudes, at least until the younger generation takes over.

  2. Mark –
    This is the most powerful and compelling of your essays that I’ve read. It’s unfortunate that you think that you “don’t know nearly enough” to write on the subject of racism in greater Hartford. Who do you know who is more qualified?
    I’ve been impressed by your weekly essays and I’ll miss them. I’m very happy that you reached out to me.
    Best regards to you and Carolyn (sp?). Stay safe and well.

  3. Well said, Mark and Bob. The disparities are obvious – education, healthcare, incarceration, jobs – and our geography exacerbates this. As whites, we are privileged; many people who depend on Hartford corporations, culture and hospitals manage to avoid seeing this. I suggest one simple test: are you afraid to go out for a jog or break a minor traffic rule? Are you afraid your child might, and die for it? Do you understand black people live with that fear? That’s built-in racism and white privilege. We need to fix it.

  4. This was an Excellent article. In fact, I read them all so I get that you need a break. I hope you continue to use this platform to continue this past over due conversation. It is about black and white to some degree. But at the end of the day it boils down to right and wrong.

  5. Excellent, Mark, and thank you for shining a light on the fact that racism is at the core, if it is not THE core, of the balkanization of central CT

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