What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Connecticut’? Possibly, you think of a 43-year-old Puerto Rican man who arrived here with his family following Hurricane Maria. He works full-time as a machinist at the Sikorsky plant, and he coaches a prizefighter on the side.
Or maybe you think of a 35-year-old Ghanaian dietary aid, in the U.S. on a work visa. At her nursing home job in Stamford, she picks up an impossible amount of overtime. Then she saves all year for a plane ticket to fly her from Stamford and across the Atlantic Ocean, to her birthplace. She spends most of her time, during this annual two-week visit, with her husband. Almost a year has gone by since they were last together in-person —celebrating their 2-year wedding anniversary.
Or maybe it’s a 90-year-old working-class white woman. She knows a couple of third-degree Masons, but if you ask her, she’ll probably pretend to have forgotten their names. She’s the former president of her union Local, which she helped organize into being. To this day, she lives in the same modest four-bedroom home in Hartford, where her father raised her; his equally modest earnings from his job at a nearby defense plant managed to eventually pay off the mortgage.
Yet, many of us know that the picture often painted by the word ‘Connecticut’ is a brutally well-kempt green and sunny pasture, serving as the white elite’s private golf course. That preconceived notion, often depicted in an oil-and-canvas ‘Connecticut,’ casts a shadow across the hard realities of the other Connecticut, a shadow which conceals the pitiless and oppressive sea of poverty. Treading at varying depths in these menacing waters are millions of working people — leading lives of God-sized courage, incomprehensible pain, and relentless love. But repeatedly, their remarkable stories are drowned out by the nauseating conceit of the rich and powerful. This might help to explain why, in the pale monied glow of plutocratic vanity, many still exchange the gleaming part for the unpolished whole.
Of course, when someone invokes —‘Connecticut’— it isn’t the unpolished to whom they refer, but the gleaming. For example, let’s take our 29-year-old Black dishwasher living in the Bronx. Getting off from a double-shift at 3 a.m. in mid-February —with the long walk to his train ahead of him— he might direct ‘Connecticut’ mockingly toward his employer. Our dishwasher’s skill in performing certain ‘unskilled’ labor furnishes him with a certain income. This income then provides, materially, for his wife and young daughter, including an inhaler for the latter’s asthma.
At the bottom of our dishwasher’s deficient paycheck is an employer signature belonging to a born-rich white man. This man owns a gourmet restaurant in mid-town Manhattan and is what they call an “avid golfer.” This man, our restaurant owner, will throw his top-of-the-line clubs into the back of a sleek and abundantly impractical vehicle. He will take a weekend trip home, to Connecticut’s Gold Coast —the agonizingly pleasant refuge of American aristocracy. Meanwhile in Mid-town, our dishwasher has been working double-shifts at a restaurant where he cannot afford a meal. The cost of his daughter’s inhaler keeps rising. So, the number of hours he puts in every month just to keep pace keeps rising too.
On the minimum wage paid to him by our restaurant owner, his range of motion within his own life is severely limited. On minimum wage, he spends his time on guard against the predatory pitfalls of white financial powers, whose prey consist of the Black, brown, and poor white. On minimum wage, his life is a battle. He prays every night at the base of a foxhole for his daughter not to inherit the same.
With a few pen strokes, our dishwasher’s standard of living could be drastically improved. But our restaurant owner would rather keep down his labor costs.
Let’s say our restaurant owner decides on Greenwich —home to the most callous of the American pharmaceutical barons— for his next golfing getaway, although he feels just as much at home in New Canaan, where the median income is close to $200,000. He also enjoys Fairfield, where a white, protestant, expensive-looking man, driving a rose gold Escalade, may try to run you off the highway. Should you choose to acknowledge certain facts about his wealth, be cautious in your approach —you may enrage, embitter, or embarrass him. Red-faced and triumphant, spilling out of the driver side window from his soft-leather interior, he asserts that our dishwasher neither needs nor deserves anything more than the not-enough he’s already got.
Our dishwasher’s existence is bound and locked by the sadistic chains of white supremacy. Each link has its origin, but the lock itself is forged on the pristine marble patio of an exclusive country club. Designs for him and his family are drawn up here. His life is in the guilty hands of an unhumbled King Midas, and once turned to gold, it will be melted down and molded into the shape of a glimmering Rolex to be worn on the wrist of a well-manicured white hand. And, wielding a hefty 9-iron by the Bentley brand alligator-skin grip, our restaurant owner takes a swing —with the business end pointed squarely at all that our dishwasher loves.
Connecticut is a place of cruel extremes. If the white leisure class in Greenwich spends their day reclining on beds of luxury, then it’s only because the Black and brown working class in Hartford spends their day stretched between second and third jobs. To make no distinction between ‘Connecticut’ and the other Connecticut, between Greenwich and Hartford, would be to equate the oppressed with their oppressors. This polarization of allegiances might seem overly stark, but it’s not of our making. It was created and is recreated by an undemocratic distribution of power.
A block or two from my apartment is the broken beautiful skyline of downtown in the Capitol —a place called Hartford. As the poorest city in the state, the average person’s yearly income is $16,798. It has a population of roughly 123,000, of which approximately 80% are Black or brown. But take an hour’s drive South and you’ll reach the town of Darien, where the average person’s yearly income is $105,846. With a population of around 20,000, of which over 96% are white, Darien received in 2018 the esteemed ranking of “the nation’s wealthiest community.” We see this vicious contrast repeated over and over — between Bridgeport and Westport, between Waterbury and Middlebury, between Norwich and Simsbury. Visible here is a pattern of systematic racial and economic inequality, reinforced at the highest levels of state government.
Connecticut is where the ruling class keeps its summer homes and educates its children. If not the American empire’s seat of power, it’s at least the featherbed. Yet, as always, just beyond the worldly splendor of the citadel, are those who will inherit victory. Their numbers are superior, and their spiritual strength is indomitable.
Not only are those who share their lot in common with our machinist and our dietary aid, our dishwasher, and our retired Local president, the ones carrying our fight for freedom and equality, they are the ones leading it. Their daily sacrifices are honorable and unglorified. They weave an ethno-national mosaic spanning the short but bloody history of this nation. In daring quests for survival and salvation, they come here from across the globe —leaving homes at once tragic and magnificent. Their eyes tell the truth, and so do their picket signs.
This place is their home, and their battlefield. It is the ground on which they stand. They are the other Connecticut —the Connecticut of the vast majority. We hold a hope that at the end of our long struggle for human freedom, theirs will be the Connecticut left standing.
Ezra Karpov lives in Hartford.