Bolton held a rally to support Black Lives Matter today on the Town Green. Turnout was impressive for our sleepy town: well over 100 (maybe 150–200?) people of all ages. Speakers were passionate, raw, thought-provoking, and inspiring. The key takeaway was that Bolton needs to do better. I am hopeful that the energy shown today will translate into Bolton actually doing better.
During the rally, I shared the following comments:
Bolton is an overwhelmingly white community in one of the most segregated states in the nation. As a result, some of us might feel less pressure to reflect on the present moment, to consider our own biases, to take action. We are insulated here in rural Bolton, right? We don’t like it when the world intrudes; we claim that our local politics is different—somehow, someway—from our national politics.
And, yes, perhaps we are more neighborly than many communities. Bolton does many, many things right. But we are not an island. Our students share school with students from Columbia, from Hartford. Our adults spend their working days in Manchester, Hartford, East Hartford, and numerous other towns, most of them far more diverse than Bolton. Our seniors have sent their children hither and yon across the nation.
All of these points of contact bind us to the wider world and make what happens out there of relevance here. To believe otherwise is to be willfully blind, to set our own privilege above all else, to sell our children’sand grandchildren’s future well-being so we can put off for a few more days, weeks, years the discomfort of an honest reckoning with our own role in creating and sustaining the inequities of the world beyond our doorstep.
We need some deep introspection. We need to ask ourselves what we truly value. Is it life or is it property? I’ve lost track of the number of times people in this town have advocated or implied violence as an appropriate response to the car break-ins that have been occurring throughout the capital region.
I understand that it’s alarming, can feel like a violation, to come out to your car in the morning and discover someone has been through it, has taken your spare change and other small valuables left inside. But is the appropriate response to such violation really death or physical maiming?
Think about what this reaction says about who we are, what we value, and to how great an extent we’ve allowed our sense of ourselves to be determined by the things we have rather than the relationships we’ve built, the experiences we’ve lived, the communities we’ve helped sustain.
Does this mean we have to accept that our things will be rifled through? No, but if our first instinct is to turn to a gun, to penalize, to condemn—then we are missing what is, I think, one of the core lessons of Back Lives Matter. Namely, the need, especially acute among white communities, to listen, to empathize, to see the world from the perspective of people we largely ignore and frequently see only as a nuisance or worse.
This work is challenging, uncomfortable. But if we refuse to do it, if we allow our commitment to Black Lives Matter to end with this rally or with a few tweets or Facebook posts, we will only be right back here at some unknown future date, responding to yet another travesty of policing, miscarriage of justice, or obscene racial bigotry. And once again, we will have only ourselves to blame.
To advance the cause of antiracism, we cannot see this moment as isolated, we cannot look at bad policing as the only thing that needs to change. And we certainly cannot take the attitude that what needs to change is only “out there.”
Similarly, the goal of change cannot be, as Audre Lorde once cautioned, “a mix of indistinguishable particles resembling a vat of homogenized chocolate milk.” Too many among the white community assume, whether explicitly or implicitly, that change for the better means change that dulls or even erases difference. This, in part, is what inspires the “all lives matter” retort to “Black Lives Matter.”
White America wants the emphasis to be on “all” because it is still uncomfortable with the idea that “all” can no longer be accepted as a linguistic sleight-of-hand for “white.”
To again quote the Black, lesbian, feminist activist and scholar Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
At the time she spoke these words to students at Harvard University in the early 1980s, she meant that those pursuing the cause of Black liberation, Black rights, could not afford to turn their backs on the struggles of other oppressed groups, of whom Lorde herself was a dual representative. She campaigned for Black rights, the rights of women, and the rights of gays and lesbians. The last, especially, sat uncomfortably with many of her comrades in the struggle for Black rights.
For Lorde, however, “any future vision which can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve. The answer to cold is heat, the answer to hunger is food. But there is no simple monolithic solution to racism, to sexism, to homophobia. There is only the conscious focusing within each of my days to move against them, wherever I come up against these particular manifestations of the same disease.”
Covid-19 has revealed the myriad upon myriad of invisible lines that link us, often in communities of which we are only dimly aware, making a mockery of the notion that white, rural Bolton is immune from the world.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice spread in similarly systemic fashion.
We are not immune.
But we are often only dimly aware, if that, of the workings of these prejudices in us, around us.
Foremost among these, and one of the hardest to recognize, is the pervasiveness of whiteness, the extent to which whiteness is allowed to be a neutral category, the background against which all else is revealed.
Our call today is to move beyond dim awareness; it is to see prejudice clearly, to expose it in all its manifestations, to examine how it seeps unnoticed into our daily lives, to interrogate our own role in its propagation, to understand its destructive force—both on others and on ourselves—and, finally, to rise above. Bolton can do better. Bolton must do better.
Bolton Democrats are committed to change. We support Black Lives Matter. We meet monthly, and we want to hear your voices. For change to take hold, it must, at some point, involve our local, state, and national representatives. We welcome your help in finding and electing those leaders who are committed to antiracism, to working for social justice, environmental justice, police and prison reform, housing and education reform. To get involved or to be added to our mailing list, please reach out!
—Christopher Davey, Chair of the Bolton Democratic Town Committee