Is America Integrated?
Mr. Steinhorn, professor of communications at American University, is co-author of the book, By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and The Reality of Race (Dutton, 1999). He is a member of the board of HNN.
"Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country,"
said President Bush as he publicly rebuked the Senator for making comments in
support of Strom Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential campaign. But Lott's
comments may reflect the reality of our country more than the president and most
white Americans would care to admit.
To be sure, America has made tremendous racial gains since 1948. Largely because the civil rights movement forced America to confront its racial hypocrisy, we now have black sheriffs in Mississippi, a burgeoning black middle class, and a legal system that once enforced discrimination now being used to root out discrimination. We've also seen white attitudes and norms change -- in 1948 Trent Lott would still be the incoming Senate Majority Leader.
But before we applaud our progress we should recognize that in fundamental ways our nation remains as racially divided as it was in 1948. What America has done in the last half century is desegregate -- we've opened the doors to opportunity and gotten rid of discriminatory laws. What America has failed to do is integrate -- dismantle the social, personal and psychological barriers that keep the races apart. We remain far from an integrated nation, a nation in which skin color would be incidental, not fundamental, descriptive, not defining.
The reality today is that blacks and whites are not much closer to living together, learning together, relaxing together, praying together, and playing together than they were when Dr. King pronounced his dream. Black and white lives often intersect - at the workplace or downtown, for example - but rarely do they integrate.
Consider the following:
- A third of all blacks live in neighborhoods 90 percent black or more, and most other blacks live in neighborhoods disproportionately or predominantly black. Most whites live near few or no blacks. For example, on Long Island, New York, home to more than 200,000 mostly middle class blacks, the chance of whites and blacks living in the same neighborhood is less than three percent.
- In school districts with racially mixed populations, the public schools are disproportionately black as large numbers of whites flee the system for private schools. In Atlanta, fewer than 4,000 white children remain in the city's public schools.
- After three decades of busing, magnet schools, court orders, reassignment plans, and even state troopers guarding schoolhouse doors, America's public schools are barely more integrated than they were a generation ago. In schools that are racially mixed, black and white students often remain socially separated, sitting at different lunchroom tables, participating in different activities, gravitating toward different sports, and even using different bathrooms.
- The most segregated hour in America is on Sunday morning when many Americans go to church. Nine in ten black church members belong to black denominations, and most whites never see a black face in the pews.
- Social clubs, nightlife, entertainment, barbershops, hairdressers, vacations, and even one's choice of doctors are often determined by race. One Chicago study found that middle-class blacks and whites both enjoy museums and concerts, but rarely the same ones.
- Blacks and whites follow different media. Of the top 20 television shows blacks and whites watch, they rarely share more than a couple in common. Popular shows for whites generally rank near the bottom for blacks, and popular shows for blacks rank at the bottom for whites. Nearly half of all blacks read the magazines Ebony and Jet, but fewer than one in a hundred whites will ever pick one of these up.
- Blacks and whites are even gravitating toward different sports. Soccer is non-black and baseball is increasingly becoming so; ice hockey, field hockey, swimming and tennis are virtually all white; basketball and football are already predominantly black; and in track and field, long distance running attracts whites while blacks cluster in the speed events.
Perhaps most troubling is that successful blacks who do everything America asks of them still find that whites don't want them nearby. In Matteson, Illinois, a well-appointed town of 12,800 near Chicago, the black population rose from 12 percent in 1980 to nearly 60 percent today. The blacks moving in are professionals, the town's median income rose by 73 percent in the 1980s, crime has not increased, schools have maintained the same standards, and home prices continue to rise -- if anything, the community is wealthier with its new black residents. But whites are moving out, saying they simply want a nice place to raise their kids.
Nor does success shield blacks from even the most corrosive bigotry: black homeowners in predominantly white middle and upper-middle income neighborhoods are advised to hide family photos and mementos if they ever hope to sell their homes to whites. And when their college graduate kids begin looking for jobs they are often asked to take writing tests rarely required of their white peers.
There are also clear indications that other minorities, particularly Hispanics and Asians, are finding a warmer welcome among whites than blacks have ever had. An Hispanic or Asian with a third grade education is more likely to live among whites than a black with a Ph.D., and the current intermarriage rate for native born Hispanics and Asians is, respectively, 35 percent and 50 percent, compared with a little more than 6 percent for blacks. Like generations of immigrants before, Hispanics and Asians are assimilating in ways that blacks have never been able to integrate.
Whites may be somewhat forgiven for believing that America is more integrated than it really is. That's because one of the most integrated parts of American life is the television screen. Even though whites and blacks often follow different media, whites will routinely see blacks and whites mix during a day's fare of newscasts, dramas, soap operas, sports, and commercials. What television has done is give white Americans the sensation of having meaningful, repeated contact with blacks without actually having it. For now, unfortunately, this virtual integration seems like the only kind of integration whites willingly accept.
So yes, race relations in America have changed dramatically since Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948. Developments unimaginable a generation ago are commonplace today. But the ongoing and resilient color line between black and white suggests the words of the old French saying, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - the more things change, the more they stay the same. And the question remains whether the politicians crowing over Trent Lott's demise will ever do anything about the reality behind it.
comments powered by Disqus
Bernard A Weisberger - 5/24/2004
Mr. Wein: I know this sounds odd, but somehow I missed your posting last March. I don't know the book that you're referring to (Beyond Babylon) but since I am the author of a book (actually an English version of a French book) on the Statue of Liberty, the answer to your question is probably yes. If you're still following the website let me know if I can be of any help to you. I don't think we're allowed to post our addresses--not a bad idea, either!--but I'll check the site daily for a while to look for your response to this.
Hugh High - 5/20/2004
J. Merrett is absolutely correct -- the coercive power of the government would be vastly worse. It is all too often forgotten that, after all, the existence of segregation in the US was as a result of governmental power : southern (and other ) states prohibited, by force of law and the attached power of the state, integrated activities. The very fact that these activities were prohibited by the force of law is proof positive that, in the absence of such laws, people would have engaged in such behavior, i.e engaged in integrated activities. In short, the extent of the earlier segregated society was brought by the state and government.
Government coercion, whether to do that which we want, or don't want, as regards a particular issue, is to be feared since, if government can coerce others to do that which I want, then surely it can coerce me to do that which others may want and I don't.
My congratulations to J. Merrett.
Jerry - 3/17/2003
For nearly a century now, or maybe more, black leaders through groups like the NAACP, have been seeking a culturally pluralist society, or in a modern term: multiculturalism. I believe a great deal of Latino leaders have agreed with the NAACP's sentiments regarding this.
I also believe the vast majority of immigrants, when given a choice between attempting multiculturalism or accepting status-quo assimilation, they will choose multiculturalism. My immigrant parents certainly would. We don't want to be assimilated (too late for me though).
So it continues to baffle me that articles such as this one continue to be published by whites in the 21st century, especially by liberal whites. It's as if they just don't bother to listen to how non-whites view the issue, as if they assume that they know what's best for non-whites. For example, it's just plain obvious that most blacks do not actually seek or desire intermarriage with whites, or any non-blacks for that matter, and apply much pressure on fellow blacks to NOT marry with whites. Intermarriage is seen as a cultural weakening force. This is backed up by enormous amounts of social research, and the fact that this article seems oblivious to these concepts is a severe problem.
E.B. Wein - 3/15/2003
Dear Mr Weisberger
Are you by any chance the same Bernard Weisberger quoted in "Beyond Babylon" by James Lloyd concerning the origins of the Statue of Liberty?
Mars - 2/28/2003
America: You are the so called mighty nation of this world, yet you are moving backwards one step at a time. I find it shocking to hear people of this site (who sound more or less educated) discuss issues in such a simpleton manner!
You categorise yourselves into races? please tell me who belongs to what race because as far as I'm concerned we're all human, and therefore all belong to a race called the human race... It could not be more obvious. There are people from different cultures, because unfortunately we are spread out too far across the globe to have the same lifestyles. Then comes the different colours of skin, black, yellow, coloured, white, pink.. hmm wonder how that came about...did god give us these so we could be seperate? ehm to those who believe this on this site pick up a geographical book and read about climate. Boy, I hope none of you here have children.. It really dissapoints me to see this bullshit still goes on in the world, but then again I am not bloody surprised look at your government and the people that control the nation you have the misfortune of living in. I could not stand so much hatred amongst my neighbours I have grown up in a multicultural society where 42% of my town's population is foreign.. and it has come more to my advantage than anything, the only harm it can do to you is that you get to meet tons of people from everywhere in the world, learn different cultures, foods, dress sense and music. This is what the US needs! For now I don't think I'm going to be setting foot there any time soon...
Bob - 2/2/2003
I beleive, or want to beleive, that Trent Lott did not make that comment focusing on the racial ideals of Stron Thurman's campagain, but rather, addressing some other more pressing issues, the middle east situation, the war on terrorism, etc. Saying the Stron Thurman would have made the world heaven in which all the people of the world were happy and there was no world hunger etc.
I beleive that is idea that his comments could be taken this that shows our current state of integration, take it as you will...
Matt Harrison - 12/30/2002
In response and addition to mr. Kellum's posting, it is true that most people of foreign cultures do not attempt to assimilate together. People immigrants come to the United States in disgust of their home countries, yet they continue to hang their home flags and harbor traditions. Many naturally born Americans are torn; on one hand, this country was founded by immigrants defecting from Britain, forming the United States as their own (really taking over Indian lands). On the other hand, is diversity worth the risk of shame from the rest of the world? Are we to become the "bad guys" for finally putting our mighty and all powerful foot down and saying enough is enough, no more immigrants? These are all things to be looked at in light of the fact that we send food, troops, and supplies to other countries, and for what? To control the governments there in order to promote democracy for benefit of the U.S.? The other day i sold my books back to my school bookstore. The books that were not bought could be donated and sent over to Africa. To me this sounds obsurd considering that people right down the street could benefit from old textbooks. People right in the community that probably speak english (which if they live in the U.S. and do not speak english, should LEARN it!)rather than sending english texts to those who most likely don't speak english as their native tongue. The U.S. simply needs to stop being the little kid that got a new toy, got bored with it, and moved on to other things. Take a look at people within it's borders and get their priorities straight. Violence, murders, hunger, and homelessness should all be a bigger priortity in the minds of U.S. polititians before looking past the borders of our country.
Matt Harrison - 12/30/2002
Trent Lott has in some aspects become a martre for white Americans. The truth is that he made his way up the political ranks and finally put a voice to what most white Americans undeniably still feel, even though many will not admit it due to all the PC hype and the persecution they would receive for feeling that way. Case and Point, Trent Lott's resignation. I do believe that the founding Father's of this country decided not to include morality lessons when drafting the Constitution, however, they simply put off the morality issue of slavery for the people of today to deal with, which is not even a problem that Americans created. The root cause of today's integrational problems still seem to be blacks accusing whites of enslaving their ancestors, and whites are tired of being accused of something they have no control over anymore. As long as this feeling is still around, the feeling of superiority and minority, change will remain minimal and gradual. And as long as blacks are forcefully integrated into white societies, whites will continue running unless other changes are made.
Bernard Weisberger - 12/26/2002
That quotation is often used to put Lincoln on the side of white supremacy, but a couple of reservations are necessary. First of all, only seven years after that speech Lincoln was suggesting that in the new constitution for Federally-occupied Louisiana, some educated blacks be allowed to vote. And he had received a black ambassador from Haiti without fuss and publicly praised the performance of black troops (180,000 of them by the war's end) and their contribution to the Union's victory, with an implication that black veterans might well deserve the vote. In short, he was willing to change with the times, and his racial attitudes were evolving. Also, take a look at the quotation--which was elicited in the Lincoln-Douglas debates by Douglas's playing the race card against him. Notice how lawyer-like and provisional a statement it is. "In my opinion"--"there is a PHYSICAL" (not intellectual) difference between the races
"which I BELIEVE will forever forbid. . .social and political equality," so as long as there must be a superior and an inferior position when the two races live together, "I as much as any man (i.e., any WHITE man of MY race) am in favor of having the superior position ASSIGNED to the white race." Such a statement, I admit, doesn't exactly qualify Lincoln as a charter member of the NAACP--but it is far from the ugly kind of racism that held (and still holds) that blacks are naturally inferior in intellectual ability to whites--the argument, say, of Charles Murray's THE BELL CURVE. It is far from the assumption of the old White Citizens' Councils that blacks are semi-savages needing strict control to preserve social order. That was what Strom Thurmond was preaching in 1948, and Lott's statement that, if we had elected him, we would not have "all these problems" was a very clear appeal to those still holding that view. It's a long way from Lincoln's statement--and likewise, made 144 years later, when there was less excuse for it. It doesn't matter to me personally whether or not Lott was ousted as majority leader--he was a sacrifice to the current Republican "image," to be sure. But you can't line up Lincoln behind him if you know your history.
Freddie Montana - 12/26/2002
According to a famous American president: "I will say then that I am not, not ever has been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and politial aquality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the black and white races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." Abraham Lincoln - Former president of the United States of America: 1858; two years before winning the White House. A man we hold dear as one who ended slavery; yet in 2002, we just hung Trent Lott. Go figure....
Josh Taylor - 12/25/2002
The whole gist of this article actually shows that blacks and whites are different and always will be different from one another. Whites are perenially depicted as the criminal in racial matters. Until the '80s, this was an accurate depiction, but African-Americans have the greater fault now in racial matters in government. For example, the population in Mississippi is 41% African-American, yet some 'mysterious forces' allowed Trent Lott to be removed from his leadership position through a biased media rather than informed and dedicated voters. Apparently only a few elite blacks think there is a racial problem in Republican politics. They cannot get enough African-Americans mobilized, however, so dirty tactics have to be resorted to. One wonders whether anyone would have cared about Lott's short comment--at a birthday party on CSPAN in which the word "segregation" was never mentioned--if some dirty political tactic had not been used to oust Lott? Now the whole sordid affair has been turned into a method to improve racial affairs when the majority of African-Americans, especially in Mississippi, apparently do not care.
J. Merrett - 12/23/2002
The real question is whether and to what extent the government should be involved in the business of causing or promoting integration.
Integration - actual assimilation, not of one race into the culture of the other, but of all races into a single culture - is in my view a laudable goal. I am no better at pursuing this goal in my own life than I am at pursuing other good and godly things, but I believe in it.
De jure segregation is evil, and in violation of everything our Constitution represents. It was tardily but justly outlawed.
I cannot, however, accept the proposition that government can lawfully, or should in any event, attempt to cause the integration of society. People segregate according to preference and economic means. There aren't any black people in the ritzy neighborhood 3 miles up the road, but none of my redneck relatives live there, either. Even nasty hateful people have a right to live, worship, and socialize in groups of their own choosing. I can see no constitutional warrant for federal promotion of racial integration, and no theoretical justification for state action in that arena, anymore than I can see a basis for governmental promotion of mingling among the rich and poor, or among liberals and conservatives.
Our society remains unintegrated, and that is bad. Application of the inherently coercive power of government to the problem would be worse. It is not correct that the fulfillment of every laudable goal can or should be the business of government.
Tom Kellum - 12/23/2002
You said "the question remains whether the politicians crowing over Trent Lott's demise will ever do anything about the reality behind it."
The obvious answer is no. Neither those politicians who are "crowing" nor those merely snickering, will do anything about the the "reality behind it."
BTW - I live in a large metropolitan community, and there is as much evidence for the proposition that immigrants (whether recent or otherwise) do not make much, if any, effort to assimilate. From the flag symbols of the old country dangling from the rear-view mirror in their cars, to the crowds at ethnic commercial establishments, to the clusters of groups living near each other in neighborhoods and at large apartment complexes, it's difficult to discern much interest in assimilating into the larger culture.
- Five Things You Need to Know to be a Better Digital Preservationist
- Book on Losing British Generals Wins American History Prize
- Stanford scholar explores civil rights revolution's positive impact on the South's economy
- Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn on Amazon's Tentacular Reach
- Q&A with historian and author Nick Turse