The New Mainstream
By Orlando Patterson
Nov 1, 2008
Or "America is still Racially Segregated" ???
But if the work of political inclusion is largely done, that of social incorporation is half finished and may be regressing. While blacks have made absolute gains in income and education since the 1960s, their relative position has not changed and, after the Bush years, threatens to worsen.
In the private sphere, blacks remain almost completely apart from whites. Indeed, they are more separate now, in most areas of the country, than at the end of the '60s. And segregation is worse in those parts of the country that have the highest levels of black participation in public life. New York, the liberal heartland of America, in a state where a black man is governor, has among the worst levels of segregation in the nation. So does Chicago, the city that gave Massachusetts its current black governor and is likely to give the nation its first black president.
In these great cities, blacks mingle with whites in the public sphere, often in positions of authority, then after work return to gilded ghettos or segregated slums blighted by unemployment, violence, addiction and horrendous rates of youth incarceration. The pattern can be seen in marriages—blacks being the most endogamous group in the nation—as well as in friendships, the typical black person having almost no white friends or acquaintances outside the public sphere or work. This is in sharp contrast to all other nonwhite groups, including second-generation Hispanic and Asian immigrants, who are assimilating at rates similar to previous generations of white immigrants.
Why? The conventional answer is that white Americans, while willing to accept blacks in the public sphere, remain racially prejudiced in personal relations. While it would be naive to deny the persistence of racism, that simply isn't enough to explain the vast gulf between blacks and other Americans. Neither can income differences, since middle-class blacks are nearly as segregated as the poor. Furthermore, surveys and other studies indicate that a substantial proportion of whites, especially younger ones, have no objection to closer relations with blacks. Even if we make the most conservative assumption, that only a minority of whites hold such racially inclusive views, the fact that whites outnumber blacks about six to one means that such whites still greatly outnumber blacks.
Whatever the reasons, the persisting separation of blacks in private life is a tragedy for the group, since it cuts them off from vital social networks and the essential cultural capital that comes only from intimate social relations with successful members of the dominant group.