Separate is Inherently Unequal

Aubrey J. Lynch

The title comes from the argument used to convince the Supreme Court that segregated schools for blacks were inherently unequal to schools for whites. The argument led to the decision by the court in 1954 to end school segregation. Not even a court, supreme or not, can change the desire of whites to live separately from blacks. We do not have to remind ourselves that as long as whites make their feelings so clear in so many ways, blacks certainly return the sentiment. At the time of the school decision, the inequality was devastating to black educational, and therefore employment, opportunities. Since that decision, the tactics to ensure implementation, such as forced busing, have been dismantled. The result is resegregation of not only schools, but cities and counties, if not states. But, there is a not-so-subtle difference in outcomes in the current day. The whole US population suffers from low achievement in schools and consequent low employment. The increasing disparity in wealth between the highest 5 percent of the country and the rest has caused a racial leveling for the poor as well as what is left of the middle class.

The separation between the races means that lack of understanding between the two races is the inevitable outcome. Without a sharing of life experiences, there can be no understanding of the other’s aspirations, motivations, goals or lifestyles. By paying attention to the mass media, all of us know how black people are portrayed. The focus is almost always on criminal behavior, incarceration rates, low educational achievement, menial jobs, dependence on welfare and, in general, all of the least attractive aspects of life in the US. There is almost no way for the overwhelming majority of white people to have a clue about how black people actually live. Without statistics to verify it, I understand that a high percentage of white people have never taken the opportunity to know a black person.

Given the separation, there has to be inequality between the races. But, it is no longer clear that black people are on the losing side of the equation. Observation tells me that white people either know or suspect that this is true. All of the observable evidence, especially during the Republican government shutdown fiasco, indicates that the fear of becoming socially, intellectually and materially inferior to black people, or even equal to black people, is driving white people to behave in increasingly bizarre ways.

The intellectual giant in the White House is proof in living color that the fiction of the dumb black is just that, fiction. Perhaps white people are afraid that if they socialized more with black people they might discover that there is a large percentage of blacks who can give Barack Obama a run for his money. Increased social mixing would show both races that the vaunted superiority of whites is a political construct. That construct is advanced to most destructive effect by politicians. The Republican’s “Southern strategy” is the most cynical, most obvious and most effective example of manipulation of white racism to achieve political power. The current crop of Republicans continually whip up racial antagonisms and white fears of blacks to keep their aging voters going to the polls to defeat Democrats. Except for those members of both races who have lived comfortably with members of the other race for some period of time, and these are rare, especially for older people, we have little chance of exposing the cruelty of politicians who deliberately promote racial antagonism to control the US.

The inequality between the races is very clear because of the different lifestyles. What is not clear is which is on the lower side. As a black person with a great deal of rather superficial contact with white groups, I can report that black people have lost nothing in the exchange. It would appear that the greater difference is by class. The rich and, especially the super rich, regardless of color or ethnicity, live such remarkably different lifestyles that the inequality is glaring. Yet, it is still not clear that the wealthier levels of society are better off than the rest of us.

The separation for which whites, in particular , strive so mightily does produce inequality without doubt. However, their evident fear of black people, which seems to drive the blind and self-defeating hatred of whites toward blacks, can be taken as evidence that they are not satisfied with their side of the equation. On the other hand, black people, supposedly the losers, appear to be quite comfortable and content with their culture and lifestyle. Rather than hate, they all but ignore white people. This is so even with the most heinous provocation, such as the murder of Trayvon Martin or the blatantly racist Republicans and their shock troops, the notorious Tea Party.

Having come through the fire, black people have learned how to enjoy what peace and security they have been able to achieve. Separation from white people, if that is what whites need to have so that they can avoid facing the reality of true equality, is not all bad for the black side of that equation. White people may never be aware of what they have lost in the process. Perhaps that would be merciful.


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