Sunday’s lesson from the ghetto

Brian has been reading a book–“The Children of Room D4”, I think–which discusses the life and schooling of Hartford’s inner-city poor children. The book had made Brian curious about the neighborhood of Hartford’s north end; North Albany–a notorious ghetto. (According to Brian’s source, half of the State’s homocides occur here.) We decided, since we had nothing else to do, to see it for ourselves.

We descended eastward down Albany Avenue from Avon into West Hartford, some of the wealthiest communities in central Connecticut. On both sides of the road were lush manicured lawns and beautiful homes. There were large tudors, victorians, and colonials in shades of white, tan, and blue. Majestic oaks and elms lined the road. It is a prosperous community: the Governor’s Mansion sits on the Hartford side of the border, and it is here that the wealthiest residents of Hartford reside.

Once we passed the intersection of Prospect and Albany Avenues, it changed. First is a short stretch of empty land; a grassy meadow where the Park River runs. It is a narrow meadow, a tenth of a mile wide, perhaps. The river is a thin rivulet surrounded by weeds. On the other side of that water is the outskirts of the ghetto. Low buildings of brown brick and barred windows to the left, a gas station to the right, and a patchwork road ahead.

We drove into it, aimlessly, looking around. We went past Keney Park (where murdered people are often dumped), and then eventually onto Vine Street. We saw a welcome sign, old and faded, with the words “Neighborhood of Choice” in flowing script. The sign was stained with fading grafitti. At some point, we had entered the ghetto proper. The houses around us were old and worn–tired, in need of paint and repair. On Vine street alone, I counted no less than three burned out homes, and two boarded up, falling down.

The abject poverty stood out in glaring opposition to the affluence displayed so proudly just a mile away. If it weren’t for the screen of trees, the Governor herself could see the ghetto at the bottom of the hill. All the rich folks on Prospect Avenue could see it, if they cared to look.

But there was more than just the juxaposition of affluence and abjection that stood out to me. There was also a strong racial divide–a complete and utter segregation. Once we crossed the river, there were no white people anywhere to be found. No one even of hispanic persuasion–the people we saw driving and walking around were of African descent. The only exception were the two cops investigating an incident that had occured only recently, on the corner of Albany and Vine (which incidentally, is one block down from Milner Elementary School, a depressing edifice of grey stone, guarded by a tall fence of black iron). At that corner, a cluster of flashing lights, excited residents and two white faces amidst a crowd of black.

As we left North Albany, I was struck by the realization that here–and likely at many other places as well–there was no difference between race and class. This is the truth the residents of North Albany know, the lesson that struck my gut: if you’re black, you’re poor. You’re stuck in the ghetto, while up the street, on the hill overlooking all, and seen by all, are the rich white folks who are blind. Perhaps not out of ignorance–but because they refuse to see. For to see is to realize the injustice of it all, that whites and blacks should be segregated by reason of class as well as race.

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