Integration Nation

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

The anniversary of the integration of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas marks one milestone at the end of this country's struggle to end legal segregation. The next step — real integration — is taking longer than civil rights leaders might hoped. Today, we're talking about the value of racial diversity... in your professional lives, in your personal lives, in your community. We're talking to some really interesting people — a historian who studies diversity in housing, and a teacher who edited a collection of essays about interracial friendships. (I urge you to read this essay of hers — it's beautifully written, and will definitely give you something to think about.) Talk of the Nation is a veritable rainbow of folks — black, white, Jewish (yours truly, oy), Latino, and at least two people with really great accents (Boston and Jamaican). I think it enriches my life, my relationships, and of course, unarguably, the show. It makes our editorial conversations richer, and our parties way more fun.

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In this country, the word segregation implies government sanctioned or required separation of people by race. When people separate by choice based on race or ethnicity, it is not "segregation," and calling it that is dishonest. Why not call it apartheid? Because it's not that either. Words have meaning and ought to be used honestly.

Sent by Mike from Boston | 2:13 PM | 9-25-2007

Today, only the workplace and the military are desegrated. Elsewhere, the segregationists seem to have won their evil way.

Sent by Discouraged | 2:13 PM | 9-25-2007

I grew up in a white suburb of Boston fairly insulated from other ethnic communities. the Medco program was invaluable in helping break the homogeneous upbringing i fear some communities provide and today i live in a primarily African American part of Boston. My girlfriend and I were looking for a house and actively looked for a community that was diverse. We put our money where out mouths were and bought a condo in Fort Hill, Roxbury. We couldn't be happier.

Sent by Jason DeGeorge | 2:14 PM | 9-25-2007

Coming from a mixed family and having friends through out my life of different colors, I am at a loss why this still and issue. How often do you see interracial couples on the street or TV? This is as much as a non-issue as the rights for women to vote. Not every black man personifies 50 Cents, just as not every white man is George C. Wallace.

Sent by Notthesame | 2:15 PM | 9-25-2007

Our mosque in Miami is very diverse. Arabs, Guyanese, Pakistanis, Africans, Slavs, Hispanics and Black and white Americans. It enriches the religious experience.

Sent by EstherChebbi | 2:17 PM | 9-25-2007

I think a lot of the problem with people of color (poc)leaving "white" organizations stems from the sense poc's have that to whites, diversity means coming together in white culture, rather than whites coming to engage in the cultural norms of the persons of color. Rather than embrace diversity, I say we need to look more at inclusion. Meaning, not only accepting poc as being of a different ethnic group, but understanding that there are cultural differences that also need to be accepted into the mix.

Sent by Holly | 2:21 PM | 9-25-2007

I was very lucky to go to a diverse high school. I feel that leaning how so many other people live has helped me in my adult life. My freshman year we had almost 200 languages spoken by the students, with a school population of about 1400. I think the main factor for my school being so diverse is the fact that it is a low-income school. Poor comes in ALL races.
Portland, OR

Sent by TyKona | 2:26 PM | 9-25-2007

I strongly agree with the theme that government policies subtly facilitate segregation.

In 1968,then "School City" of South Bend, Indian, under the control of an appointed, racially and economically segregated school board, approved an "Educational Reorganization Program" that placed attractive new schools on the perimeter of the city or actually in the suburbs.

The result was to accelerate the development of high end real estate developments on both the north and south suburbs of the city.

Within the next decade the "South Bend Community" School Corporation came under a "reintegration" order from a federal court.

But busing has only partially rectified the egregious discrimination practices approved by the social and economic elite of this city in the 60s.

Sent by Ed Manier | 2:27 PM | 9-25-2007

All of the guests you have in this segment today are White, and they all seem to share an underlying assumption that "diversity" comes to them. Why must people of color "spice up" the lives of White people? Why don't more White Americans take initiative and seek that diversity? Why don't more White Americans try to step out of their own comfort zone?

Sent by Erica | 2:28 PM | 9-25-2007

We always hear about problems with integrating Black students into a predominantly White school. How come we hear so little about the reverse? My nephew was one of very few White students amongst mostly Black students. He was often picked on by Black students and the Black teachers wouldn't do anything about it.

Sent by William | 2:32 PM | 9-25-2007

As a hispanic living in a predominantly white section
of relatively-integrated San Antonio, I often feel
marginalized - whether it's self-imposed, I'm not
sure. We are currently looking for a new place to
live and I'm planning on doing more research into
possible communities to ensure that my children are
exposed to a wide variety of people. Sometimes being
the only member of a certain race, whether in a
neighborhood or workplace, results in feelings of
loneliness. Trying to 'get back to your roots' or to
hold on to your ethnic identity isn't necessarily a
way of segregating, but a way of connecting with
others like yourself when you don't feel like part of
the dominant group.

Sent by Melissa Palomo-Ramon | 2:36 PM | 9-25-2007

I live in an integrated-by-design community in suburban Chicago that just celebrated our 60th anniversary. We are the York Center Community Co-op Inc., a group of 78 single family homes each on approx. 1 acre of land. When it was founded in the 1940's integrated meant including Japanese families. Later, when a black/jewish couple applied (the husband had helped to draft the founding documents), there was a lawsuit seeking to bar them. The Co-op prevailed, and today we have many black, asian, muslim, mexican and lesbian families living in the middle of conservative DuPage Co. We are a white family, and we were looking for this diversity when we were searching for housing. It's been working for 60 years - it can happen!

Sent by debbi daniel-wayman | 2:44 PM | 9-25-2007

We have been fighting segregation for years and the only thing we have done is create more. Until we quit looking at people with a need to catagorize them, black or white; rich or poor, we will continue to perpetuate the very problem that we are trying to solve. Anytime we single out any community, it immediately causes segregation. If we were to address the real issues, poverty, healthcare, lawlessness, etc., for all humanity (we all belong to the same race), I think segregation would take care of itself. The real issues I believe stem back to a society that has become so selfish that it has forgotten the value of moral living and the moral obligation we have to work hard, be honest, care for each other and provide a nurturing home with both fathers and mothers, to teach their children. The home is where we will begin to break down the barriers as we learn to care for each other. Then we can start celebrating diversities of character, personality, tastes and customs leaving division of color to the crayon box.

Sent by Mitzi Busath | 2:45 PM | 9-25-2007

Just to clarify, Erica, Matt Lassiter is white, and Emily Bernard is black.

Sent by Barrie Hardymon | 2:45 PM | 9-25-2007

My father, who is in his 80's, was born into a world where the n word was routinely used and now has a family with grandchildren and great grandchildren who have Hispanic, Asian and African roots as well as Caucasion and we are a very happy family. My point is this: no, we are not where we should be in terms of an understanding of each other's culture backgrounds but at least in my family, we have come a long long ways from where we started. No doubt we aren't as diverse as we should be, but just respecting the concept of diversity is a pretty big leap.

Sent by Kerry Beach | 2:51 PM | 9-25-2007

Though this was a needed discussion I felt that there was a focus on racial attitudes and overt instances of prejudice. By individualizing race relations and focusing on attitudes we miss out about how larger social arrangements (Racialized wealth disparities, mechanisms that exclude people of color from getting quality jobs and education) maintain racial segregation and reproduce larger inequalities.

Sent by Juan | 2:53 PM | 9-25-2007

I grew up racially mixed Honolulu, went to an integrated college on the east coast and have lived in a community bordering Chicago that tries very hard to be successfully integrated. I teach in an integrated school and find it challenging because of the "achievement gap". (This is a whole issue in itself!) Integration is easy when we all share similar values (usually white values) . How accepting should we be when values clash? For example:I am white. I have a black neighbor family who is very loud. They beep their car horn going down the alley, stand outside yelling at each other (sometimes using words I find embarassing), They often have huge noisy gatherings in their yard. I know some of this is a cultural difference, but the line between cultural behavior and misbehavior is very gray. If I complain, this will be seen as racial bias. Is this a cultural bias on my part, or is this rude behavior on their part?

Sent by confused | 4:07 PM | 9-25-2007

Dick Gregory had a great line in describing the difference between northern and southern prejudice. "In the South, they care how close we get as long as we don't get too big. In the North, they don't care how big we get as long as we don't get too close.

Seems to be still true.

Sent by David Kipnis | 4:30 PM | 9-25-2007

I am the parent of a toddler and I believe exposing her to racial and class differences is one of the most important things i can do for her. We are an upper middle class family and we send her to a daycare that is more than 50% minority with a large number of families on some sort of financial (govt) assistance. Aside from that, the teachers represent racial diversity. This is important because I feel that our daughter will gain a better perspective on the world than if I send her to a daycare / preschool made up of children of her own race and class. I wish more parents would prioritize this type of exposure rather than obsess over academic over achievement. Of course, I value education, but academic success is not the only way to gain an education.

Sent by Nancy | 4:32 PM | 9-25-2007

I was surprised how much the concept of "choice" was downplayed by callers and guests. I consciously CHOSE to live in an integrated, city neighbhorhood in Cincinnati 24 years ago so that my children would live, attend school, play, shop, garden, swim with, etc. a variety of people in a diverse environment. I purposely chose NOT to move to the lily-white suburbs because I didn't want to raise lily-white children. They're now 25 and 22 years old, respectively...young adults who get along with just about anybody, any time, any religion, any color, any background. And quite frankly, it's a thing of beauty.

Sent by Sue Mac | 5:31 PM | 9-25-2007

I went to the University of Chicago for college, on the South Side of Chicago. When I used to walk north of 53rd St and outside of the "safety zone" regularly inhabited by University students, I would get strange and even hostile looks from local residents who viewed me as a white girl "slumming it" for fun. I had the opportunity to visit last year, having converted to Islam and started wearing hijab in the meantime, and was fascinated by the difference in people's reactions. Instead of being "that crazy white girl", I was just one of the Muslims, and both in the mosque and walking around the neighborhood people were respectful and friendly. I find it fascinating that in this case at least, religious identity trumped racial identity in the minds of people I met.

Sent by Wiley | 9:45 PM | 9-25-2007

Birds of a feather flock together. Integration is a failed attempt to contradict human nature. Only changing a man on the inside will change his behavior. No government program can do that. But Jesus can. And He does!

Sent by Stephen Garfield | 10:20 PM | 9-25-2007

I wish that NPR would extend the discussion to also include how ethnicities are segregate themselves. For example, how many cities have a Chinatown, a K-town, or a India Town? I'd like to hear a discussion on how this impacts society on a larger scale?

Sent by Artie | 9:16 AM | 9-26-2007

I was raised in a poor, racially-mixed neighborhood in San Francisco in the 1940's & 1950's. As a 7th grader attending a white Jr. High I got into trouble, and was transferred to an all
black Jr. High. The experience of going to that all black school for some reason made it very easy for me to get along with and befriend blacks ever since. I go to St. Seraphim's Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, an overwhelmingly white church, but soon I will be the godfather of a young black man just now converting to our faith. This young man will not just be my godson, but will be
a family friend for the forseeable future. I feel like God sent a blessing into my life with this young man.

Sent by Noel Anderson | 12:21 PM | 9-26-2007

I'm a white person who moved into an all black neighborhood two years ago. It has been an incredibly positive experience. I still get odd looks and rude comments from outsiders, however, who assume that my safe, quiet neighborhood is filled with drug dealers and gangsters.

My neighbors have accepted me for what I am and welcomed me into the neighborhood. I'm very happy with my decision.

Sent by M | 2:52 PM | 9-26-2007

It is interesting reading all of the messages. I feel happy, sad, indifferent and somewhat reluctant. I am happy that there so many go intention white people, but sad because there are not enough. I feel indifferent because it makes me no difference if you feel comfortable living next to me and are welcomed, but am I welcomed to live in your neighborhoods without the threat of death from some angry racist looming everyday? I understand you can get murder in a black neighborhood, but the difference is that my murder won't make the morning, afternoon, and evening news. I would love if someone could figure out how to resolve issues and not have culture lag behind the resolution. Jesus is a good start, but a man has to seek Jesus first before he can have the good will of Jesus put in him. It's a shame that this country is so strong economically, but are so far behind others socially.

Sent by Jackie | 1:47 PM | 10-3-2007

I live in Suffolk county LI. I think I live in an extremely diverse neighborhood. We have South American, African, African-American, white and a growing Muslim population from vast back grounds. I admit I was worried about moving into LI. I was afraid of the white population; I thought I would experience discrimination simply walking to the store or roller blading down the street. I was wrong; my white neighbors are very kind. My only real complaint is a neighbor parks on his grass. I want their grass a green as mine. Does that make me selfish? I wonder sometime. Anyway, the South American family is the most giving on our block. The African family is quite and hard working, that is how I describe my neighborhood, a community of hard working caring people.

Sent by Caryn Hart | 11:48 AM | 8-8-2008

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