How white Americans and black Americans lead separate lives
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Increasingly, Americans live in separate worlds, divided by race, class and political allegiance. Not only is does this segregation continue into the 21st century, studies show that it has increased over a period of decades and is still increasing today.
An almost unavoidable consequence of this kind of social apartheid is that on those occasions when groups do attempt communication, their experiences differ so greatly that instead of the communication leading to further understanding, it can lead to further disbelief.
In the age of social media, that disbelief is often expressed in anger with derogatory terms and polarizing claims that lead to further alienation of one group from another.
Increasing Economic and School Segregation
A detailed 2014 study of segregation in K-12 education published in the Annual Review of Sociology concludes that racial segregation in public schools decreased from 1964 to 1980, but has steadily increased from 1980 to 2014. The authors determined as well that economic segregation in public schools also increased over the same period.
There is no published evidence that this segregation has subsequently decreased. On the contrary, according to mainstream journals, it has gotten even worse. Stated simply, black and brown kids tend to go to schools largely attended by other black and brown children.
What these students have in common besides race is their relatively poverty. What the schools they attend have in common is a paucity of resources made worse by large class sizes in substandard facilities.
It’s less often remarked, but no less true, that white and middle-class Asian students also attend segregated schools — these schools have few black and brown students and, particularly among elite K-12 schools, their numbers continue to go down.
Similarly, these white and middle-class Asian students share similar economic backgrounds. Few have any direct experience of poverty.
Another aspect of the segregation that separates Americans is social segregation. In some ways it’s the most pronounced and consequential segregation of all. In this century, this has finally become a topic of interest in the public sphere.
There are conflicting statistics about this kind of segregation, ranging from a Reuters poll that found that 80% of white Americans have only white friends to a somewhat less drastic conclusion in that 40% have no black friends.
The discrepancies (almost every poll comes to unique conclusions on this particular subject) are understandable. For one thing, what constitutes a friend? Is it a colleague at work you regularly have lunch with, or does it need to be someone you spend time with outside of work?
But what’s inescapable is that white Americans remain substantially isolated from brown and particularly black Americans.
Unsurprisingly, black Americans are similarly socially segregated. But it would be wrong to conclude that economic differences alone underlie this separation. An earlier (2000) study of social segregation among black Americans concluded that middle-class black Americans are as socially segregated from white Americans as poorer black Americans.
This social segregation continues, both because school and housing discrimination still exist, which keeps white and black Americans physically apart, but also because not only are white Americans often uncomfortable around black Americans, middle-class black Americans aren’t always comfortable around white Americans either.
As one black American noted on Upworthy, a social media site, when around white Americans he’s “expected to be a translator, an ambassador…and/or a walking invitation into ‘I am not racist’ territory. It’s a lot to handle.”
The most objective conclusion to draw about all this is that we’re still a highly segregated society in almost every significant way and that brown and particularly black minorities and whites are likely to remain significantly separated for some time to come.
In a following article, I’ll detail some of the consequences of this continuing segregation in American life, one of the most significant being that we don’t trust one another. This is understandable because our experiences are so different that our descriptions of them seem fanciful or self-serving.
Many black Americans, for example, think the racial situation in this country is unlikely to ever improve. Many white Americans, on the other hand, believe we already live in a post-racial society that extends equal opportunity to everyone, provided they make a real effort.
When these two views collide, the result is often disbelief, followed by accusations of self-serving manipulation of the facts.
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