[Editor’s note: See Part I here]
Promoters of “contact theory” believed that through forcible school integration, children of all races would discover their common humanity, and racial prejudice would disappear. This would lead to integrated housing and large-scale intermarriage. Instead, whites abandoned many schools, and even at integrated schools, students seldom mixed. Now that forced integration is coming to an end, neighborhood schools reflect segregated housing patterns that have changed little in the last half a century. Integrationists now argue that there must be housing integration in order to promote school integration.
Theoretically, integration could have been promoted on two fronts, with forcible integration of both schools and housing. Many intellectuals claimed they knew better than parents how to regulate a child’s contact with other races. The same arguments could have justified forcing families to choose housing in ways that increased integration. No one seriously considered this, partly because there would have been furious resistance, and partly because integrationists believed residential integration would naturally follow school integration. It did not.
The reason it did not is that the basic assumption of “contact theory” was wrong. Racial mixing does not usually improve race relations, as Gunnar Myrdal believed, and as his current day followers still seem to believe. For 20 years, during the busing era, millions of American students were forced together with people of other races, but this did not necessarily mean they made friends or became neighbors. There are no signs that busing led either to improved attitudes about race or to increased residential integration. Most Americans still live in neighborhoods that are sharply defined by race.
One large-scale study carried out by the State University of New York at Albany measured integration by means of a “segregation index,” which runs from zero to 100. Zero would mean completely random housing patterns, or complete integration, while 100 would be complete separation. Any number over 60 is considered “highly segregated.” According to this analysis of 2000 census data, the national segregation index dropped during the 1990s from 69.4 to 65.1. However, the segregation index for children rose from 65.5 to 68.3. As the researchers noted, single people are more willing to live in mixed neighborhoods, while parents want a more homogeneous environment for child-rearing.
A different census data study, carried out by the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research, concluded that segregation increased during the 1990s. “We’re not more integrated—that’s the bottom line,” explained John Logan of the center. He argued that in cities like New York and Chicago, black-white housing patterns have not changed since the 1920s. “You might have thought the black civil-rights movement or the rise of the black middle class or changing racial attitudes surely by now would have made a difference,” he said, but they have not. The Christian Science Monitor concluded from this study that “children of the early 21st century will likely grow up isolated from people of other ethnic groups—much as the children of the early 20th century did.”
Research that covered 240 metropolitan areas during the 20-year period from 1980 to 2000 found that black/white segregation, already high, increased in just 15 areas. Hispanic/white segregation, however, increased in 124 and declined in 86, and Asian/white segregation increased in 69 metropolitan areas and declined in 47. The study’s author, Brian Stults of the University of Florida at Gainesville, found that although blacks made considerable economic gains in comparison to whites during the 1990s, “it was particularly surprising that we saw no [neighborhood integration] effect from the growing convergence of black and white incomes.”
As with schools, housing integration can mean physical proximity without contact. The Mount Pleasant area of Washington, DC, has been home to many Hispanic immigrants who live so close to blacks they can often hear each others’ voices through thin apartment walls, but the two communities have essentially ignored each other. Omar Zavala is a Latino activist who has tried for years to build bridges between the two groups. “There’s minimal contact,” he says. “The dialogue is nonexistent.”
One town famous for bucking this trend is Shaker Heights, Ohio, which continues its unparalleled, decades-long commitment to integration. Since the 1960s, it has fought white flight with task forces, oversight committees, community associations, social events, and student groups, all designed to monitor and maintain integration. The town of 30,000 has even been known to check on block parties to make sure they are suitably integrated. In 1985, corporations and philanthropists established the Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights, which offers subsidized loans and down payments for home purchases that will mix the races. Judy Rawson, who was mayor of Shaker Heights in 2002, said her job was a constant balancing act. “It’s something you have to be sensitive to, and this community talks constantly about race,” she explained.
With its well-established reputation, Shaker Heights has attracted people who very much want integration to work, but success is never assured. The black population is rising—from 24 percent in 1980 to 34 percent in 2000—and in 2000 the high school was 50 percent black. The part of town bordering on Cleveland has become heavily black, and demographers see trouble. “The biggest threat to an integrated community is resegregation,” said Chip Bromley, a fair housing advocate and executive director for the Metro Strategy Group in Cleveland Heights. “There’s a sense of fatigue of it all and a sense that whites will give up on it . . . that they’ll escape.” Even in Shaker Heights.
Most whites live far from the constant vigilance of Shaker Heights, and rarely think about how segregated their lives are. Emily Hauser described what it was like to walk into a black neighborhood just a few blocks from her upper-middle-class Chicago suburb of Oak Park:
“[A]s I stepped over the curb, I became excruciatingly aware of my skin color, and my heart pounded with social anxiety. In going around a single block, I got stares. Mine was the only white face around, and for five minutes, five blocks from my home, I was a stranger in a strange land. . . .
“The stares I got were from a woman in a high-end SUV and a man on a high-end motorcycle. No matter our class status, I was out of place. We’re not integrated. We’re strangers.”
Most whites would never express the desire to live away from non-whites, and they attribute their housing patterns—if they ever think about them—to class differences. There is considerable hypocrisy in this. Probably not one white journalist in the country would say he chose his house because it was in a white neighborhood, but that, in effect, is what they do. Peter Brown of the Orlando Sentinel looked up the zip codes of 3,400 journalists, and found that they cluster in upscale neighborhoods, far from inner cities. More than one-third of Washington Post reporters live in just four fancy DC. suburbs. Television personality Chris Matthews routinely promotes integration, and Ted Koppel has hectored whites who live apart from blacks. Where do they live? Mr. Matthews in 95-percent white Chevy Case, and Mr. Koppel in 99-percent white Potomac, both in Maryland.
Perhaps these men thought they lived in TV-land. Sociologist Charles Gallagher of Georgia State University has noted that television advertising is a “carefully manufactured racial utopia . . . that is far afield of reality,” where everyone has black and Hispanic neighbors with whom they discuss which brand of toothpaste is best. Jerome D. Williams, a professor of advertising and African American studies at the University of Texas at Austin also laughs at advertisers’ depictions of American life. “If you look at the United States in terms of where we live and who our friends are and where we go to church,” he says, “we live in different worlds.”
The public pretence, of course, is otherwise, and there is considerable pressure to deny reality. ABC Television had to drop a reality program that let a white family outside of Austin, Texas, decide which of seven competing families would get to move into a free, four-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath house next door. Through interviews, competitions, and contact of various kinds, the white family had eliminated all the “diverse” options—blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and a homosexual couple—and was going to choose the white family as their new neighbors. When word leaked out about this entirely realistic ending, “fair housing” activists badgered ABC into canceling the program.
The impulse to separate has not changed from the white flight days of the 1960s, but the shifting population of the United States means it happens differently. Whites are steadily being outnumbered, and to get white neighbors it often takes more than a move across town. William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, is perhaps the leading expert on the increasingly regional nature of residential segregation. “In the past, people could move to a community five minutes away,” he explained. “Now, those communities aren’t very different from the places they are trying to get away from. So they have to move a much longer distance, even to another state.”
If California is the future of the United States, Los Angeles may offer a lesson. In 1960, it was 72 percent white, but in just ten years that figure dropped to 59 percent, and by 2000 the city was only 33 percent white. During the 1980s, while every other racial group was gaining in numbers, Los Angeles County lost 330,000 whites, and a startling 570,000 during the 1990s. Where did they all go?
Beginning in the 1980s, California saw a major shift of population from southern, immigrant-heavy regions to the white north. Many moved to Nevada County, which Mel Mouser, the police chief of the town of Grass Valley, called “the largest concentration of Caucasians in the state of California.” In the 15 years ending in 1995, the county’s population grew by no less than 65 percent and remained 93 percent white. The newcomers were looking for the kind of homogeneity they grew up with but had lost to immigrants. As Chief Mouser explained, “Those people that do come from all these other jurisdictions and areas, cities and communities from throughout the state and even other states, they bring with them the common strain of thought: Don’t let it be like where I came from.”
Many ex-Los Angelenos were candid about what drove them away. As one 1990s transplant to Nevada County explained, “People come here for a timeout, to go some place where racial problems don’t exist. . . . And when they find it here, they’re pathetically grateful. They want to protect it.” Another explained: “I’d look at my daughter’s classroom and see two blondes. There were a lot of Vietnamese and Asians coming in. That’s one of the reasons we moved out. It seemed like there was more of everything else but whites.”
When whites did not get out of Southern California entirely, they increasingly locked themselves in private, walled-off communities. During the early 1990s, an estimated one third of all new real estate developments in the area were gated, self-policing enclaves.
Many Californians left the state entirely. “This used to be a white, middle-class, bedroom community,” Cloyd Moody said of his native San Gabriel in Southern California. “Now, you go down the main street and virtually every store sign is written in that Oriental chicken scratching.” In 1996 he moved 1,000 miles to a town outside Seattle. “I’m livid that I had to leave the place where I was born and raised,” he added.
California used to be a magnet for Americans from other states, but no more. Even as immigrants poured in during the 1990s, the state lost more native-born Americans than it gained. Seventy percent of the people who left the state were white.
The same process is at work elsewhere. From the 1940s to the 1980s, rural America lost population, 1.4 million in the 1980s alone. Now it is gaining population. Between 1990 and 1995, there was net migration of more than 1.6 million people to rural areas and small towns. Most came from cities and suburbs, and almost all were white. John Kasarda of the University of North Carolina says, “It is a move to remove as far as possible from the inner-city poor areas. It’s both avoidance and flight.”
Herbert Johnson sells real estate in the small Alabama town of Bayou La Batre to newcomers to the area. “People don’t put up a billboard and announce that they are leaving because of immigrants,” he said, “but you can tell what’s on their mind.”
From 1990 to 1996 3.3 million new immigrants streamed into just 10 metropolitan areas. During the same period, 3.6 million people, most of them native-born, moved out to other states. Demographer William Frey called this the “push factor.”
Many of the natives who left these areas were seeking white majorities. Journalist Jonathan Tilove notes that of the 157 counties that grew by 40 percent or more in the 1990s, more than two-thirds were at least 80 percent white, and more than a third were at least 90 percent white. Mr. Tilove writes that these places “could be called white meccas.”
Robert Bullard is a sociologist at the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. He says the white exodus is simple to explain: “It’s driven by the same things that led whites to leave the central city. Now they are moving farther and farther out, and the counties that are now the growth machines are the ones that people know: ‘That’s not where people of color are.’ ”
Calvin Beale, a Department of Agriculture demographer, noted that whites are not always candid about why they are moving: “They talk about getting away from urban crime, drugs, congestion and school problems. But it also means getting away from areas that have significant percentages of blacks, Hispanics and Asians.”
It would be wrong, however, to assume that everyone displaced by immigration is white. Aldra Henry-Allison, who is black, spent her whole life in South Central Los Angeles. In 1998 she moved to the suburbs, complaining that the neighborhood had completely changed. “The only people left are elderly blacks my parents’ age and young Hispanic immigrants,” she explained. “I feel out of sync here.”
Rebecca Watkins is of American Indian heritage, but moved out of a small town near Yakima, Washington, when she had a violent encounter with Mexican immigrants. Her mother expected to follow her to Idaho. “We lost our country once because of immigrants,” she said. “And now I feel like we’re losing our country again.”
In the Washington, DC, area, whites have continued a long march to increasingly distant suburbs. As the Washington Post explained:
The demographic shift is transforming the map of the Washington region into something like a misshapen pizza, with counties such as Calvert, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s in Maryland and Fauquier and Culpeper in Virginia forming an increasingly white crust around the region’s multicolored inner counties. In each of those five majority-white outer counties, the proportion of white residents has increased at least slightly in recent years.
“‘There is this kind of hopscotch effect where people keep moving out,’ noted William Frey of the Brookings Institution.”
Who Wants Segregation?
It is conventional to assume that segregation is caused by the refusal of whites to live with non-whites, and by malign forces that confine minorities in enclaves. But how realistic is it to think that all blacks want white neighbors, or that Asians want to live with Hispanics?
When asked point-blank, ordinary Americans do not show much reverence for integration. A statewide survey of California conducted by Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies in late 1997 found that a majority of whites, Hispanics, blacks and Asians agreed with the statement that “people are happier when segregated.”
When the NAACP and Hamilton College commissioned a poll of “Generation X” opinions on race, they found that about half of 18- to 29-year-olds (52 percent of whites, 40 percent of blacks) agreed with the statement that “it’s OK if the races are basically separate from one another as long as everyone has equal opportunity.”
Scholars are finally beginning to understand this. A study by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council reported in 2004 that “choice plays an important role in persistent boundaries of segregation,” adding that people commonly seek “cultural affinity” when they look for a place to live. William Tisdale, president of the council warned that researchers should not overlook the fact that some people—and not just whites—prefer segregation.
Once blacks succeeded in eliminating legal segregation, the question of racial mixing took on a new dimension. Blacks fought for integration when segregation meant washrooms, lunch counters, hotels, and swimming pools were closed in their faces, and when restrictive covenants kept them out of entire neighborhoods. Now that blacks can eat, sleep, live, or be entertained wherever they can afford it, most want racial mixing on their terms, not those set by whites. This means blacks want entrée into white institutions and white society, but insist on the right to withdraw into black enclaves if they prefer.
Many middle-class blacks have enough money to live in white neighborhoods but prefer to live among blacks. In the Atlanta area, blacks are self-segregating in suburbs southwest of the city in DeKalb County. “It’s not a separatist thing,” says sociologist Robert Bullard of Clark Atlanta University. “It’s a choice to be whole.” He says many blacks “lost some of their identity” through integration, and now “want to build something on their own terms.”
An analysis of Northern New Jersey by the Newark Star-Ledger found a similar trend. Of the 13,000 black families in the area making more than $114,000 per year—which put them in the top fifth on the state’s income scale—two thirds chose to live in mostly black neighborhoods. “This is surprising to people,” said sociologist John Logan of Brown University, “because we’d like to believe that (neighborhood) differences are mostly based on market capacity and whether you can afford to live here, and it’s hard to accept that race is still a very important barrier.” Professor Logan got it wrong. Race is not a barrier to these black professionals. It is a choice, just as it is for whites.
Azurest is a seaside community of 119 families near Sag Harbor, New York. It was established in 1947 as a vacation retreat for blacks who were not welcome at white resorts. It is now the preferred summering spot for wealthy blacks who can afford to go anywhere but prefer to vacation with other blacks. Among those who have owned property in Azurest are Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine and Alma Brown, widow of Ron Brown, who was commerce secretary in the Clinton administration. Helen Marshall, Queens borough president, and Cecil Broderick, the deputy mayor of Sag Harbor have also been owners. The New York Times quoted one resident on the psychological peace he found in Azurest. “When vacationing among our own, in places that have been embraced by us for so long, there is a comfort—and a sanctity—that makes it possible to forget that there is a white power structure touching our lives at all.” “This is a historically black community,” said Lynn Hendy, president of the property owners association. “I’d like it to stay that way.”
Blacks in other enclaves feel the same way. A black journalist wrote about a backyard gathering in an affluent, all-black Atlanta suburb. The party suddenly went silent when a realtor’s car, bearing a white couple, cruised slowly down the street. “I hope they don’t find anything they like,” said one of the guests; “otherwise, there goes the neighborhood.”
In southern California it is Hispanics whom blacks want to keep out. They do not like Ranchera music or neighbors who keep chickens, or who park their cars on the front lawn. They resent soccer players taking over public parks. As one president of a black homeowners association in South Central Los Angeles described the influx, “It’s a different culture, a different breed of people. They don’t have the same values. You can’t get together with them. It’s like mixing oil and water.”
Most black neighborhoods grew out of segregation or developed haphazardly, but some have been designed to be black from the start. A brand new, up-scale St. Petersburg subdivision called Ahali (the Swahili word for family) filled up immediately with the black elite: the head of the NAACP chapter, school principals, doctors and lawyers. As each new home sold, residents gathered for an impromptu celebration of their growing “family.”
One argument blacks give for living in black areas is that this guarantees black political representation. Michael Bennett, an associate professor of sociology at DePaul University, explained the risks of living with whites: “You’re not going to have the same kind of political clout to elect reps or run for office in [largely white] Barrington as you would in the south suburbs [of Chicago], where you can elect a Jesse Jackson, Jr. That could be interpreted as a deficit to integration.”
Ultimately, blacks simply want to be around other blacks. As one reader wrote to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
There is nothing wrong with segregation. Most African Americans with good sense want the same social relations that most whites want. We don’t want them living in our neighborhoods. We don’t want our children going to school with theirs. We don’t want our daughters and sons marrying their sons and daughters. No thanks . . . we don’t want or need social integration. We want economic and political integration. . . .
“We don’t need tea and cookies and fireside chats with white people. We don’t have to pretend we like one another to have good relations.”
Separatism has come full circle, and blacks are now its most vocal spokesmen. In the past, many blacks were convinced that in order to get a fair share of the money spent on public education—or even a proper education at all—their children had to go to school with whites. Now, with many states ensuring equal funding for all schools, and with many blacks in controlling positions on school boards, this is no longer so great a concern. By the 1990s, many blacks were openly critical of integration. If the funding and educational opportunities for blacks that were to be achieved through integration could be achieved without it, increasing numbers of blacks saw no inherent value in racial mixing per se.
In 1997, Amos Quick, a member of a citizens committee appointed to redraw school districts in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area, expressed an increasingly typical view: “Separate but truly equal would not be so bad.” In 1995, Edward Newsome, a black member of the Kansas City, Missouri, school board went further: “I think desegregation is dead and should have died a long time ago, if the focus is on trying to have a physical mix of the races.”
Likewise in 1995, a black law professor, Alex Johnson of the University of Virginia, went so far as to say “Brown [the 1954 Supreme Court desegregation ruling] was a mistake.” He argued that school integration “fails to respect both the African-American community as a distinct cultural community and the concomitant plans made by individual African-Americans to protect that unique community.”
Harry Edwards, a black sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, put the case as bluntly as anyone. Integration, he explained, “has not been approached or achieved because nobody wants it. Blacks have always wanted to associate with themselves.”
This sentiment is on the increase. Doris Wilkinson was the first black to enter the University of Kentucky after the 1954 Brown decision, but lost faith in integration, which she calls an “absolute, abysmal failure.” Now a sociologist at the University of Kentucky, she said she looked forward to neighborhood schools that reflect the racial patterns by which people live. “I hope we get those schools with all deliberate speed,” she said, quoting the Brown ruling.
Leslie Innis, on the faculty at Florida A&M, was one of the first blacks to integrate New Orleans’ Catholic schools, but now thinks the struggle was misguided. She believes that so long as it is voluntary there is nothing wrong with segregation. “What I have young people telling me is the whole thing about a comfort zone,” she said. “That they prefer to be around people they feel more comfortable with.”
Even the NAACP, which was the plaintiff in hundreds of school integration cases, no longer has its heart in the struggle. At its 1997 national convention, the NAACP questioned the goal of school integration for the first time. Although the group decided not to change its official position, it is significant that a heretofore sacred goal of the civil rights movement could even be debated. In other respects as well, the NAACP is vastly different from the early days when blacks and whites worked together for equal rights. Many local chapters are now 100 percent black, and by 1995, the number of whites on the 64-member board had dwindled to three. In 2007 there were still three.
Many blacks think the NAACP is hopelessly stodgy and out of touch. There are, for example, many private black-run schools that are aggressively Afrocentric and would not welcome white students, and there is also a growing movement to set up all-black, Afrocentric public schools. The way to get them past white liberals who are nervous about black segregation has been to start charter schools. They are supposed to improve education by giving schools greater independence, and letting students profit from the variety that results. For many black administrators, a charter is a license to separate. Seventy percent of blacks who attend charter schools are in student bodies that are “intensely segregated,” compared to 34 percent of the blacks at non-charter public schools.
By 2007 there were 3,500 charter schools, but many were struggling because their innovations had failed. Not the black charters, said Michael Piscal, whose Inner City Foundation operates schools in Los Angeles. “The momentum we’re building is tremendous,” he said, noting that there were thousands of names on the waiting lists of black schools. Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men on the South Side of Chicago is typical. It opened its doors in the fall of 2006 to a student body that was 100 percent black.
Roland G. Fryer, a black who teaches at Harvard, has what may be a sound educational reason to separate the races. He thinks the stigma against blacks who get good grades—they are taunted for “acting white”—is absent in black schools. According to his research, in integrated schools, above a 2.5 grade point average, the popularity of white students rises with their grades, while that of blacks and Hispanics drops. Prof. Fryer did not find this popularity decline in heavily non-white schools, and thinks the “acting white” stigma is an important reason for lagging black and Hispanic performance.
Many blacks like segregated schools because they can control them. As the sole black man in the Nebraska state house, Ernie Chambers spent years supporting busing and school integration. In 2006, however, he was the driving force behind a bill that broke up the Omaha school district into three racially identifiable zones for blacks, whites, and Hispanics. He explained that his constituents were for “carving our area out of Omaha Public Schools and establishing a district over which we would have control.”
Blacks in other countries want separation, too. Wade Smith, vice principal of St. Patrick’s High School in Halifax, Canada, said in 2006 that blacks were isolated in the school system, and would be better served by a separate, all-black school. Likewise, George Dei, who teaches at the University of Toronto, has proposed alternative schools for blacks, with black teachers, black counselors, and an “Africa-centered” curriculum. The chairman of Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, announced in 2005 that racial problems in integrated schools were so bad that the time had come to “embrace some new if unpalatable ideas,” in particular, setting up separate schools for black boys.
During the civil rights era, churches made a passionately moral case for integration, but they have not practiced what they preached. Unlike schools or businesses, which must follow civil rights laws, congregations gather voluntarily, entirely free of government control. As a result, churches are some of the most racially exclusive institutions in the country. According to one study, nearly 95 percent of American churches have congregations that are at least 80 percent one race or ethnic group. A different study found this to be true of 96.5 percent of congregations.
Churches have tried to fight this tendency, mostly without success. In 1965, New Covenant Presbyterian Church was the first church in Miami established specifically to encourage integration. It prompted glowing news stories about its integrated congregation, choir, and administration. By 2006, all but one white member had died or moved away.
Fred Caldwell, bishop of Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, got so tired of seeing only black faces in his congregation of 5,000 that he started paying whites out of his own pocket to show up for services: $5.00 a hour on Sundays and $10.00 on Thursday evenings. “God wants a rainbow in his church,” explained the bishop.
God seldom gets one. There are now nearly 4,000 Asian congregations in the United States (3,000 Korean, 700 Chinese, 200 Japanese). Most are heavily segregated—often because they conduct services in an Asian language—but even the English-speaking ones are segregated. Victor Kim, pastor of the mostly-Korean congregation at Remnant Presbyterian Church in New York City did everything he could think of to change that. He barred Korean food at church functions, and refused to make announcements for Asian events. He even discouraged members from going to nearby Koreatown for lunch. Six years later, his church still had only a handful of blacks or whites. “I just never really fit in,” explained Kyle Allen, who attended for a while and dropped out.
Stacy Heisey-Terrell, a white woman married to a man who is half-black and half-Hispanic, says racial reconciliation is a big part of her Christianity. She and her husband drove half an hour every Sunday to attend Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California, another Korean congregation that was trying hard to integrate. It didn’t work out. “I can’t take this anymore,” she said, of being the only white woman. “There’s no one like me.” She was mortified when she organized a church picnic, and the Koreans would not touch her bean salad.
People don’t want diversity at church any more than they do at school or where they live. Northwoods United Methodist Church was a staid, white congregation north of Atlanta until immigrants began to move in. Members professed themselves delighted until some of the young arrivals wanted to sing the Lord’s Prayer to a calypso beat. “I don’t like all this jumping around,” said Margie Schwab, a long-time member. “I like formality.” Jamaican-born Joy Magnus likes to jump. “It makes the service more lively,” she said. “It doesn’t take away from the reverence.”
Many Christians simply accept separation. In Beaumont, Texas, two United Methodist congregations—one white, the other black—merged because both had declining memberships. Most members of both congregations stayed despite the merger, because the newly-united church held two separate services, one for whites and one for blacks.
Some blacks view churches as they do schools: They want control. “It’s an issue of power, to be very honest,” said Rev. T. Vaughn Walker, professor of black church studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. “If that [the segregated black church] was lost somewhere in the blending of congregations, the African-American community is concerned that its last, viable, free voice would be lost.”
Ultimately, however, it is a matter of pure preference. Rev. John Crittenden, Jr. of Forest Missionary Baptist Church, also of Louisville, explained that he was comfortable with segregated church services because “it’s not a mandatory thing, it’s a choice thing.”
Many Asians feel the same way. David Ahn is a Korean who grew up in America and attended a white church in San Francisco before ending up in a Korean congregation. “In general, Korean people and white people just act very differently,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see them as good or bad, just very different than I am.” David Kang, is another Korean who does not apologize for his preferences. “Where else can I go to feel Korean, or feel Asian?” he asked.
There is self-segregation in many other areas of American life. Bereavement is traumatic, and people need solace when they face it. Funeral homes, therefore, are often even more segregated than church congregations. Segregation is so taken for granted that black and white undertakers have separate professional organizations. Over the years, mobility has made the profession even more segregated. In a small town that could support only one funeral home, all races had to use the same establishment. Now people can drive to a neighboring town and grieve with people of their own race.
Blacks are particularly loyal to funeral homes, and may not want their remains handled by a white-owned firm. The mere rumor that a black funeral home has been bought by white interests can wreck the business. When there were such rumors about the Angelus Funeral Home in Los Angeles, it bought ads in newspapers and church publications, offering one million dollars to anyone who could prove that the establishment had been sold.
There is a tendency to separation in retirement homes as well. Charlene Well, assistant administrator at Glen Elston Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chicago, explained that she groups Hispanic and Polish residents separately because “you have to create an environment they’re used to living in.”
President Clinton probably worked harder than any American president to make racially diverse appointments that, as he put it, “look like America.” By his last year in office, of the 29 people in the White House who had the title “assistant to the president,” eight were women and seven were minorities. This diversity was reflected at lower levels of staffing as well, but voluntary segregation continued even in this deliberately multi-racial environment. According to one news article, “African American staff members tend to associate with one another, both in and out of the White House, as do whites, creating cliques and a feeling of division, officials said.”
Homosexuals are commonly thought to be free spirits, unburdened by conventional prejudices. Nevertheless, in 2005, a city commission in San Francisco found that Badlands, a popular Castro-neighborhood homosexual nightclub, discriminated against black patrons by requiring several forms of ID and enforcing a stricter dress code. The club’s owner, Les Natali, referred to blacks as “non-Badlands customers,” and wanted them kept out. White customers reportedly preferred it that way.
Pop Warner football is a league for seven- to 14-year-olds. In 1993, the first black inner-city team joined the then all-suburban Bay State Conference. By 2005, there was only one suburban team left in the nine-team conference, and it appeared to be on its way out, too. Suburban teams were quitting en masse, citing “intimidating” rap music at games, unnecessary violence on the field, and questionable safety at some city-center playing fields. One black inner-city coach reportedly urged players to “go get some white [expletive]!” and another called a black on a suburban team a “traitor.” Black coaches said the mass defections to a reconstituted white league were “racism.”
Americans even have racial preferences when they buy cars. A 2004 poll found that the following percentages of the following groups would rather deal with a salesman of their own race or ethnicity: blacks: 46 percent, Hispanics: 38 percent, Middle-Easterners: 65 percent, Northern Europeans: 62 percent, East Europeans: 42 percent.
Beauty pageants—except for those that accept whites—have become segregated ethnic celebrations. By 2005, there was a Miss Vietnam USA, a Miss Ethiopia North America, a Miss India USA, a Miss Asian America, a Miss Latina, U.S., and a Miss Haiti in New York City. “It’s just as important as Miss America, if not more” said Reshoo Pande, 22, Miss India USA 2004, who won by dancing like a Bollywood film idol. “This is not our homeland,” she added. From just 2001 to 2004 about 1,000 women competed for Miss Vietnam USA. The first prize was $10,000 and a Mercedes Benz worth more than $35,000. There has been a Miss Black America pageant since 1968.
Verizon Communications has begun offering segregated telephone directories. In 2004, it debuted its first listing for minority- and women-owned businesses for the Richmond, Virginia market. Gov. Mark Warner was on hand to applaud what Verizon called “a great opportunity for extra exposure.” The company promised similar directories for Baltimore, Washington, and other cities.
Entertainment is often segregated. Comedy clubs routinely book performers of different races for different days of the week, so as to appeal to different audiences. Many offer “Latino Night,” “the Asian Invasion,” and events such as “Mo Betta Mundays” or “Chocolate Sundaes” for blacks. As Will Durst, a San Francisco comic explains, comedy is increasingly “tribal,” and “now all the tribes get to elect their own jester.”
As one Hispanic comedian cracked at a Hispanic night in a Los Angeles club called Laugh Factory, “Any white people here? What? You guys make a wrong turn? We got White Wednesdays. Come back then.”
On screen there is, of course, Black Entertainment Television, and there is a host of black-specialty Internet sites like BlackPlanet.com. The giant service provider America Online has almost a parallel universe of black-oriented news and information as part of its “black focus,” and has equally rich offerings for Hispanics at “AOL Latino.”
Social networking websites draw huge numbers of young people, and their personal networks tend to be racially homogeneous. Even the sites themselves have established racial personalities. Whites congregate at Facebook while Hispanics prefer MySpace. Asians socialize at Xanga and Friendster, and are reported to be almost completely absent from MySpace. Eszter Hargittai at Northwestern University in Illinois says her research “suggests there’s less intermingling of users from varying backgrounds on these sites than previously believed.”
Perhaps the most explicit expression of segregationist sentiment is opposition to intermarriage, which has a long history in the United States. In 1967, when the US Supreme Court found them unconstitutional, there were still laws in 16 states banning marriage across racial lines. In the South, bans on miscegenation were sometimes written into state constitutions.
In 1998 and 2000 respectively, South Carolina and Alabama expunged these passages from their constitutions through a process that involved a popular ballot. In both states observers were disconcerted to find that about 40 percent of voters opposed removing the unenforceable bans.
Although interracial marriage is legal everywhere, and media depictions of it are invariably positive, such marriages are still rare, especially for whites. A Harvard study of 2000 census data found that although 5 percent of black and 14 percent of Asian marriages cross racial lines, only 1 percent of white marriages do. Just 0.4 percent of white marriages—one in 250—are to blacks. Whites are slightly more likely to marry Asians than blacks, despite the fact that there are far fewer Asians than blacks in America. The white intermarriage rate is still a considerable gain over 1880, when only one in 1,000 white marriages was to a non-white.
Because the races tend to go their separate ways, there have been many innocent attempts to accommodate them. They are usually welcomed by everyone involved, but when they are discovered the authorities quash them. For example, until 1997, the Alabama Department of Transportation made up all-black and all-white road work crews, at the request of the men. The department forced no one into or out of such groups; it simply respected the wishes of its workers. A federal judge ordered this practice stopped as soon as it came to light.
Politicians have discovered that when they operate telephone banks to get supporters to go to the polls, black callers get a better response from black voters and whites do better with whites. The Parker Group, an Alabama political consulting company, obligingly set up segregated calling banks at the request of both black and white politicians, sometimes with different political pitches for blacks and whites. Again, a federal judge promptly ended what had been an effective approach.
In Cincinnati, the city council and city manager were dismayed to learn that the city’s firehouses were drifting into segregation: Three were all-white, six were mostly black, and only about one third were what anyone would have called racially balanced. Firefighters preferred to work close to home and with colleagues they found compatible. Over the opposition of both black and white firefighters, the city council unanimously voted in a new assignment system to integrate the firehouses.
In prisons in every state there is rigid racial self-segregation, and prisoners say they would prefer official segregation. The state of California kept prisoners separated by race under limited circumstances, arguing that mixing can bring violence. In 2005, the US Supreme Court ordered the state to integrate all cells at all times.
No one seems to have studied the question officially, but there is probably about as much racial mixing at social gatherings as there is at churches: 95 percent are at least 80 percent one race. Dinner parties, barbecues, camping trips, or bowling parties are rarely integrated. At work, Americans deal with people of other races because employers must have mixed workforces, but when they are entirely free to choose, Americans segregate.
It would be difficult to think of a greater contradiction in American life. Our laws and ideals are based on the assumption that race is trivial, even meaningless. Our daily lives constantly violate our ideals. At the same time, the official, race-doesn’t-matter ideology is so powerful that most whites rarely admit how many of their decisions reflect race.
The regnant racial ideology is clearly a misreading of human nature. Like language, religion, and nationality, race is one of the great fault lines that divide human societies. There has never been a multi-racial society without either chronic racial friction or complete dominance of one group by the other. If the goal of transcending race is in conflict with the imperatives of human nature, it is a goal we cannot achieve. In the Epistles, Horace wrote, “Though you drive Nature out with a pitchfork, she will ever find her way back.