Segregation, Then and Now

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I just read this article on the New York Times website, about one of the many public swimming pools closed in the 1960s. The article’s tone was so funny to me, funny strange not funny ha-ha, because it talked as if the covering over of pools and the taboo on “race-mixing” is a relic of the past.

But the truth is, when they open that pool, only black people will go there. All the white kids will go to the pool at the local country club or other unofficially segregated entity. Just like all the public schools in Mississippi educate mostly the black children, while the white children attend “Christian” segregation academies. In most nominally integrated Mississippi high schools, the school-sponsored prom is attended by the black kids, while the parents of the white kids throw them a separate prom at the country club.

Probably not a lot of people outside the South know this. Here in DC, it would be thought outrageous — and yet, the schools here are just as segregated. There just isn’t the same overt racism here as there is in Mississippi, where teachers at the seg academies use the “N-word” with impunity and Dixie flags are everywhere because, you know, it’s our heritage.

Segregation doesn’t have to be enforced by law. People will always find a way to flee from what they fear. Digging out a pool can’t make racism a thing of the past.

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5 Responses to “Segregation, Then and Now”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Excellent post, Sandi.

  2. juvenal_urbino Says:

    The Confederate battle flag thing has always perplexed me. Southerners — white men, especially — tend to be very victory-oriented. Nothing counts more than winning, and a loser is a loser is a loser. This is true in contests of any kind: sports, bar fights, elections, arguments, business dealings, “scoring,” drinking, or anything else. Yet, for some reason, they are dead set on celebrating the outclassed, vanquished CSA as their heritage. “We’re the people who got our butts kicked! Woo!!”

    It makes no sense. Which is why the “our heritage” rhetoric is so easy to see through. They aren’t celebrating their losing heritage. They’re saying what Trent Lott momentarily forgot has to be encoded: “This country would be better off if Strom Thurmond [or the CSA] had won.”

  3. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Sandi,
    First, I’ll just echo Juvenal’s comment. Good post.

    Despite what some might like to believe, the ugly truth is that prejudice is present in all of us to one degree or another. Some prejudices are considered quite legitimate and normal while others are considered hurtful and destructive. It’s also quite true that the prejudice in question here is more open and visible and tolerated in some areas than others. Such is the world and human nature, sad to say.

    To say that race relations have undergone a lot of change in the last 150 years or so would be, of course, a vast understatement. At the end of the Civil War, with the freeing of the slaves, there was still, even in the North, a big disconnect between the idea that slavery was a great evil that had to be eliminated and the idea that the newly emancipated African-Americans could actually live as equals in American society. The practice we call “Segregation” was wide spread far outside the conquered South. It has taken all this time to change people’s minds, and , as the article you posted points out, it is still a work in progress.

    I’ve heard the argument for years that segregation is a personal right. In a free society, you should have the right to associate – or not – with whom you please. From a Libertarian point of view, it makes sense. Saying that one family, who may have the means to do so, is somehow doing something wrong or anti-social or racist by sending their children to the best school they can find – whether it be secular or “Christian,” – while another in more modest circumstances who must “settle” for the public system, provided by tax revenue, is somehow discriminated against seems fundamentally at odds with the basic concepts of Democracy and personal freedom. Of course, many times the practices (as with the school thing)are not so much condemned as the preceived motives behind them as in:

    That white family can’t really have their children’s best interests at heart. It must be a racial thing.

    Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

    Having said that, I also agree with your statement at the end of your post:

    Segregation doesn’t have to be enforced by law. People will always find a way to flee from what they fear.

    I would, however, go a little further and say that, in the final analysis, Segregation can’t really be enforced by law. Law can only serve as a stop gap measure while people’s outlook and experience is changed enough to make Integration seem the more normal way to live. Unfortunately, I can tell you from personal experience that Segregation is probably the most effective device to prevent that from happening.

    IMHO, the only way people can become comfortable with an integrated society (overcome that fear you mentioned) is by getting to know people of other races on a personal level, and this is the thing Segregation prevents. I grew up in the South in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I never even spoke to a black person my own age until I was in college. It wasn’t that I was so much afraid as that the opportunity just never came up. The society was designed that way. Over the next 40 years or so, I lived in a wider world, my experiences broadened, and my thinking changed. I now understand that people of other races are pretty much like people of my own race – some are just outstanding individuals, some are pretty much worthless, and most are flawed but basically decent folks just trying to get by, like me.

    Again, IMHO, law is often necessary to control practices that society has decided are not to be allowed, but only time and experience can change people’s behavior. Unfortunately, “Society’s” idea of what should be allowed and condoned and what should be prohibited changes over time, as we’ve all seen. Whether those changes are for better or worse depends on your own conscience, and whether – or to what extent – you will abide by “Society’s” standards is your personal decision.

    I guess that’s part of what makes free societies so messy.

  4. Sandi Says:

    The libertarian view of associational freedom is utterly at odds with any commitment on the part of our society to ensure equal opportunity (itself a loaded term, but let’s just assume I don’t mean equal results) for minorities. Period. I’m not saying that I blame each individual personally for sending their child to whatever school they send them to — I will probably end up doing the same thing every other well-educated white parent in D.C. does — move to a suburb into a “good” (read: white) school district since I’ll be damned if I pay for private schools. It’s a collective action problem — no one is going to do something that could negatively impact their child’s life chances. I would prefer to home school, but that’s a separate story. However, the fact that I will do it doesn’t mean I’ll feel good about it. It hurts me every single time I see examples of segregation (residential, educational, occupational) in my everyday life. I feel so powerless and wrong for being in the position I am in — the white lawyer in the conference room ignoring the African American woman who comes to clear our lunch dishes.

    So I’m not going to go out of my way to say “oh, that’s just the way it is and everyone does what they have to do” as if it’s okay. It’s not okay.

  5. Sandi Says:

    JU, I agree about the Dixie flag — that is precisely what they are saying. It’s really a sick message. There are some who would admit to it (Trent Lott and his ilk, a bunch of backwoods crackers with no teeth who don’t know any better — and I can say this because I am related to some of these folks), but most probably wouldn’t. That’s why I made a very big deal in both high school and college of telling people who flew the flag or had a bumper sticker or whatever that, no matter what they said to try to rationalize it, yes they were big old racists.

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