“Segregation by itself isn’t an issue, and integration by itself isn’t a solution.” – Anti_Intellect
Each year when Martin Luther King Day comes around, it becomes common practice on social media to post every Martin Luther King Jr. quote that you can find. While I appreciate these quotes, and the ability that they have to introduce new people to the life, scholarship, and legacy of Dr. King, I feel at some point we have to move beyond posting quotes from Dr. King, and adding our own quotes and scholarship to stand beside his legacy. Inspired by the life of Dr. King, I began to think about the way we as a society view segregation and integration, and I wanted to examine just what it means for a neighborhood, community, and society to be segregated or integrated, and how that related to inclusiveness and exclusiveness.
I would suggest that there’s a difference between segregation and exclusion. A segregated community can be inclusive, but an exclusionary community can not. I thought of my own childhood, living in what many would consider a segregated neighborhood, and how that influenced the way I view segregation and inclusion. My black neighborhood is segregated, but that doesn’t mean a white family, or any family, aren’t allowed to move in it. My neighborhood highlights the difference between segregation and exclusion. Many people think that Civil Rights Movement integrated society, so I really want to stress what I feel are the differences between segregation and exclusion. We still live in segregated communities, but with less exclusion. Our neighborhoods, churches, and clubs are still segregated, but now we have less exclusion among racial lines. I live in a segregated black neighborhood, but I can shop at the grocery store located in a neighborhood that is predominately, if not all white. Segregation doesn’t mean exclusion, anymore than integration means inclusion, and I believe that exclusion still exists in our “integrated” society.
When I think of many past examples of segregation perpetuated by white racists in society, it is not the segregation that appalls me, but rather the exclusion. Segregation isn’t wrong, but allowing a black woman to die on the steps of your hospital because you don’t admit colored patients is. Segregation isn’t wrong, but denying a qualified student entry into your university is. I don’t think segregation in and of itself is the issue, but rather that segregation coupled with exclusion, and not inclusion, is when it becomes the issue. This society will never be fully integrated, nor does it have to be. I am a witness to the possibility of being segregated and inclusive. When I think of the historically black college that I attended it allows me to see how segregation can work when it is inclusive. HBCU’s are segregated institutions, but they are not exclusionary institutions, as non-black students are welcome to attend HBCU’s. An example of my segregated school being an inclusive is when Michelle Obama came to visit. When Michelle Obama came to FAMU to speak, the university opened it’s campus to all members of the Tallahassee community. Non-FAMU students weren’t excluded from attending, they weren’t forced to sit in the back, and they weren’t ran off campus by a mob. Yes, FAMU is a segregated school, but we *included* the entire community regardless of race, class, ethnicity, gender, to see Mrs. Obama.
It’s possible to know who you feel most comfortable with, without viewing yourself as superior to others. I am less concerned with people being more comfortable with certain people, than I am with people feeling superior to others. I was never raised to believe that I was better than anyone else, and that may be what makes the difference. My cultural differences do not make me better than you or superior to you. Different does not mean deficient. I realize that my view of segregation, integration, inclusion, and exclusion are shaped by my perspective as an African-American man living in 21st century America, but I think my approach could be used in other settings. Obviously, addressing segregation and integration, and finding ways to work within and outside of those frameworks is going to take critical thinking and education. I want to get the conversation started because I do not think segregation has to necessary mean exclusion.