Andrea Comer is my friend. Her friends are many. Her reach is far. She lives the legacy of the United States’ history of discrimination, segregation, insults, and injustice toward the “other” through her and her family’s experiences. It’s personal. It matters. It hurts.
This past year I wrote several blog posts about racial and religious discrimination, many of which were prefaced in their titles with “Essential American History.” History matters. True and documented history provides important verifiable facts and details. Details leading to context, insight, and, we hope, a true, unvarnished account of the what, why, and how a people, a country, a world got to where they are today — history ultimately serving as a compass that could point a path to positive change.
Andrea’s Op-Ed in The Hartford Courant (August 19, 2017) describes what I suspect is just a small portion of the deeply personal history of someone I respect and admire. Someone who has helped me navigate my understanding of Hartford’s social and political issues — all of which spill over into the broader context of our country’s current reality. The personal histories of our friends, neighbors, newcomers, and those too often unjustly defined as the stranger, the enemy, or the “other” are what help us understand that history is more than a chronicling of what happened. It’s about the actions and events, the triumphs and tragedies, the joys and sorrows that led us to the lives we live today. Personal histories define us. Personal histories define the world. Below is a bit of Andrea’s history.
Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor
Rising Voices Of Those Who Hate The ‘Other’
By ANDREA COMER
The Hartford Courant, Saturday, August 19, 2017
My mother’s 83-year-old cousin recalled traveling in the 1930s and ’40s with her Brooklyn family to visit relatives in the South, only to be stopped and harassed by police because of the color of their skin and the car’s New York license plate. While there, my cousin went into town to shop, only to be told she could not try on dresses or hats.
My parents, despite their income and education, were denied the right to buy a house in Westchester County, solely because they were black.
A few years ago, two of my friends and I were ejected from a restaurant in Greenwich Village for demanding equitable treatment. Once outside, the manager, inches from my friend with his spittle spraying her face, called her a nigger.
My daughter, while waitressing at an establishment, after singing happy birthday to one of her customers, was praised with the statement “You coloreds have so much talent.”
I recount these instances as a reminder to myself that I shouldn’t be surprised at last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va. I shouldn’t. But I was — largely because it was a painful realization that racism has not and perhaps will not ever go away.
The voices of those who hate anyone who is “other” have never been absent. They were muffled perhaps when Barack Obama was president, but that only made them angrier. Once the White House became occupied by someone they perceived as sympathetic to their cause, they no longer felt the need to be silent.
I know there are folks who voted for Donald Trump because they felt he was a better alternative to Hillary Clinton. I believe them when they say they do not ascribe to nationalist beliefs, that they felt the swamp needed to be drained, and the businessman turned reality star turned president was the way to address what they felt needed fixing in this country.
I read “Hillbilly Elegy” in an effort to understand, and to an extent, I did. J.D. Vance’s narrative is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ narrative (“Between the World and Me”) on the other end of the pendulum.
Here’s the problem: When Steve Bannon, who until Friday was the chief strategist in setting your administration’s course, is admittedly and proudly the founder of a platform for the alt-right; when your staff includes a man who spent his high school years bemoaning the presence of Latinos with limited English skills in his midst; when the commander in chief himself has been sued by the federal government for denying people of color access to properties he managed for his father, separating oneself from that narrative is a heavy lift.
And all the Ben Carsons and Omarosa Manigaults in the world cannot undo that.
My grandmother and parents had passed away before Barack Obama was elected. I imagine they would have been proud — even my father, who was a registered Republican.
I think about what they would feel today. I weep for their bravery and conviction in the face of racism and discrimination, only to know just how little progress we have made.
Andrea Comer lives in Hartford.