On Segregation: Social Status, Prejudice, and Race

By Damourette, Abel, 1842-1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In my last post on segregation, I stated that “schools that are not only predominantly black, but furthermore predominantly high poverty, could blow predominantly white and wealthier schools out of the water, if given half a chance.” A very Moskowitzian statement, though I qualified this with the need to acknowledge the great barriers “which have been erected, historically, consistently and systematically, by our (once) predominantly white society.” Barriers such as socioeconomic status and the quantity and quality of funding.

In this sense, then, when we examine issues of race, we also need to examine issues of social class. It would be nice if all issues relating to race were merely a matter of socioeconomic status, but unfortunately, the two must be distinguished, while at the same time examined for how they are all too often interwoven. To those who might say that racial issues stem solely from class related issues, examine the period during Reconstruction when the white and black working classes were more frequently divided, rather than fighting together for greater opportunity and mobility. No matter their socioeconomic status, African Americans experience prejudice on a daily basis. Racial hatred has a dark place in American history that makes efforts to render current racial issues a mere matter of class misplaced. We need to look at both.

But in so distinguishing the complication of racial prejudice, I think we also need to similarly avoid the simplistic view that all issues of race are that of prejudice. To be raised in poverty, regardless of race, presents significant challenges to social mobility. Now add race and prejudice into the mix.

I’m no historian, so my presentation of these issues are no doubt facile, but I’m trying to outline what my thinking is without ending up on a tangent. Ultimately, I must speak from where my experience lies, and my experience is that of a white male, raised in a geographic area of high socioeconomic status that is predominantly white.

In my work in hospitality and retail, prior to becoming a teacher, I also served many people in higher socioeconomic echelons, as well, so I have a fair amount of experience with that realm, where people of color continue to remain more the exception than the norm. And those experiences are the very reason why I so strongly advocate for integration. My experience is that predominantly white communities greatly suffer from a lack of exposure to diversity. There is a sense of entitlement among many whites that is compounded by a near obliviousness to the circumstances, perspectives, and cultures of others.

And it’s not just a “white” thing, either. It’s human nature to self-segregate. It’s my opinion that American society and culture is much more interesting and enriching when we learn and interact with people of many different backgrounds and perspectives.

There’s research to suggest that such diversity presents pragmatic benefits for decision-making for organizations. But beyond any pragmatic considerations, I also have a frustration with the reality of continuing prejudice against others who are “different” than a vanilla norm. In my view, so long as different cultures and communities are distanced from one another both geographically and socially, people will continue to demonstrate prejudice due to ignorance.

So my position, therefore, as I stated provocatively in my first post on this issue, is that white people should be “forced” to work and live more with African Americans and other populations, as well as that people in higher socioeconomic classes should be “forced” to live and work with those of lower status. “Forced,” because otherwise, I don’t see how things will greatly change.

In my next post, I will present fodder for why I continue to use the unsavory word “force.”

2 thoughts on “On Segregation: Social Status, Prejudice, and Race

  1. Just read the entire series and thought provoking stuff. Being a Caucasian myself, we have to acknowledge the notion of “white privilege”. It certainly exists but not something we don’t like to talk about. For a hard-hitting talk about white privilege by Tim Wise (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3Xe1kX7Wsc) But I agree that it is not THE cause of educational inequality, poverty and access to opportunity are keys. I work in a county where there is a lot of economic/racial diversity and have the opportunity to interface with a lot of schools. The youth in larger, poorer districts just don’t have the same access opportunities as the smaller richer districts. Poverty and distribution of wealth seem to be the great un-equalizer for education.


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