Chin: BLM: Why N.H. Should Care

Understanding Black Lives Matter ties us to the national community.

by Clara Chin | 9/22/16 12:30am

Martha Rosler created a photomontage called “The Grey Drape” (1967-72). The piece shows a woman in a silky dress pulling open a window frame in her modern American home, smiling placidly despite the soldiers marching on a battlefield outside her window. This image appears in my head whenever I contemplate the collective attitude in New Hampshire toward the Black Lives Matter movement. Like the woman in her utopic home, Dartmouth and New Hampshire as a whole tend to evade the issue of police brutality due to a false perception that it doesn’t concern New Englanders, white people or students at the College. According to those with this mindset, race doesn’t matter in a state like ours.

At the surface level, this “colorblindness” seems plausible. In the 2015 census, New Hampshire was roughly 93.9 percent white. Black Lives Matter is never a prominent issue in state elections here, even in the Senate race. Neither of the senatorial candidates, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte nor Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, appear to have publicly commented specifically on Black Lives Matter.

Both politicians have taken a generic stance ­— but only on attacks against police, not the more complicated and controversial issues of police brutality and racial profiling. A July 2017 Union Leader article notes that Hassan has said that “an attack against members of law enforcement is an attack against the very fabric of our society. The heinous attack on members of law enforcement in Baton Rouge is also a tragic reminder of the danger that all of our brave law enforcement officers face to keep our families and communities safe.”

Similarly, Ayotte said, “as former attorney general, I know full well the dangers faced by law enforcement each and every day on the job. They encounter the worst of the worst in our society, and I stand fully behind our brave men and women and their families. There is no justification for violence against police and these horrific acts must end immediately.” The article appears in the “Public Safety” section of the Union Leader, not the news or politics sections, again suggesting how politically unimportant Black Lives Matter is considered in New Hampshire. This is a subtle but dangerous implication. When politicians avoid commenting on the national movement of Black Lives Matter while commenting on other national, political issues, they give permission for their constituents to do the same.

This type of thinking can be dangerous. It is especially important for people in New Hampshire, as residents of a country much more diverse than their state, to give credence to this and similar issues. Minority groups in cities such as New York and Los Angeles benefit from a larger presence. Because these communities hold enough political weight, politicians in those cities and their respective states pay attention to race-related matters. They are also more likely to receive support from constituents who are not people of color.

Yet in New Hampshire, minorities risk having their concerns ignored. Racism clearly exists in New Hampshire. In a 2009 survey on racial profiling in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire conducted by Dr. Susan Manfull at the University of New Hampshire, all African American participants said they experienced one or more instances of racial profiling. While groups such as Showing Up for Racial Justice and campus organizations at Dartmouth sometimes stage protests or demonstrations, their support is less widespread than it is in areas where the demographics are more diverse. In homogenous states like Vermont or New Hampshire, especially outside of the relatively diverse bubbles at campuses such as Dartmouth, erasure is a common experience for minorities and those who care about police brutality.

Race is one of the upcoming presidential election’s primary issues. This is partly a result of Donald Trump’s inflammatory, racist comments on issues ranging from immigration to police brutality. How can politicians and citizens in New Hampshire avoid discussing Black Lives Matter when it is one of the most salient topics regarding race in the national arena?

New Hampshire is a strikingly different state from others. It is often described as smaller, quainter and less diverse, and I have heard people offhandedly joke that it is not important once the presidential primary is over. It is true that different regions of the country are so distinct that, once you settle down in one place, it can be difficult to understand the struggles of those who live elsewhere. The issues of urban city dwellers or Southerners can seem distant to those living in New Hampshire, or any similar New England state, but finding empathy for them will help bridge the gap caused by political misunderstandings between different regions of the country. By understanding the issues of small voting groups in our own state, we can truly become part of the national community, aware of all its conflicts and disputes.

ZY