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Friday, October 15, 2021

The integration myth

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Integration destroyed the Black community.

That’s a strong statement, I know.

I often receive quizzical looks when I say these words to people. In the words of Sheryll Cashin in “The Failures of Integration,” I am integration weary.

For many, integration is synonymous with equality and the Civil Rights Movement that started with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. We know segregation in the form of separate but equal didn’t work. That decision set the course for the fight for equal access to education, housing, banks, employment, etc.

Since segregation didn’t work, the answer must be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Integration must be the answer — or so those who worked so hard for us to have equality thought.

There were just a few flaws in the equation. 

Equality doesn’t equal equity. (Enough E’s in there?) We missed the mark in the fight for equality. We should’ve been fighting for equity. The difference?

Equality promotes fairness and treating people the same. That’s the abstract ideal we’re striving toward, right? It’s the ideal we pretend we’ve accomplished. However, you must have equity, which is giving everyone what they need to be successful, before you can reach equality. This is where disparity comes in. African Americans didn’t start on a level playing field, so all of a sudden seeing us as equal doesn’t work. We’re going to race each other, but if I give myself a 200-meter head start in a 400-meter dash, it’s likely it will be very difficult for you to catch up to me let alone win. So, it’s difficult to imagine that 66 years after Brown, we’d catch up. Often we speak about equality when we really mean equity.

We thought integration would mean acceptance, and we would no longer have to worry about receiving less funding for our schools, being ignored by our local government, hospitals not serving us, banks not providing home loans, etc. We thought we could move out of our neighborhoods into the nice, i.e. white, neighborhoods and we’d be accepted.

What we’ve realized is that integration may have made many actions illegal, but it didn’t change people’s minds. White supremacy still exists and permeates every facet of our culture.

What Dr. King and others who fought for our civil rights didn’t realize is that while we made some tremendous gains, we had some tremendous losses as well. We lost our neighborhoods. We lost our sense of community. We lost our businesses. We lost our doctors. We lost our dentists.

When segregation forced us to stay in the same neighborhood, we relied on each other because we had to. We created our own cities within a city because we had to. We started Black-owned businesses because we had to. No one had to beg, plead and encourage us to buy Black because we didn’t have a choice. 

When we moved into the nice (white) neighborhoods, we left our neighborhoods to crumble. How many businesses shuttered their doors? How many doctors or dentists, lawyers, etc. had to close their practices because they no longer had patients? When those with the means to move left, they left behind those who couldn’t afford to do the same. That meant they may not have been able to afford maintenance, and the handyman who gave a discount or accepted a home cooked meal as payment moved. The tax base shrank, which led to a cut in municipal services. All of these things work together. 

The sad part is, as we started moving toward the nice neighborhoods, white flight to the suburbs began. Now, we’ve followed white flight to the suburbs, and white people continue to move farther away. Still, we chase them into nice neighborhoods, all the while destroying our own, not realizing we had nice neighborhoods all along.

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