We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Obsessed with Segregation
Robert Frost was clearly in tune with his country’s sentiments when he wrote in his poem, Mending Wall
‘Good fences make good neighbors’
and had his neighbor mindlessly repeat it yet again, to contradict the poet’s own perception:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
Americans love walls. Indeed, segregating populations, enterprises and anything that’s unpleasant or unwanted seems to be the universally approved solution. Unless, as in the case of toxic chemicals and waste, the solution to pollution is dilution — still another form of separation, on the molecular level.
So, it should not have surprised the plaintiffs in Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court’s decision, in resolving their challenge to the separate accommodations mandated by a Louisiana statute, set the stage for a half century of legal segregation for the whole nation. Considering that native Americans had been designated as distinct and supposedly “sovereign” nations from the time when the Constitution was adopted, they should not have expected that the principle of individual equality would trump politically designated separation. Indeed, even when the Plessy decision was finally over-turned (by Brown v. Board of Education), the principle of equality ended up being restricted as an obligation of political jurisdictions (public corporations) — one which could be easily over-come by simply assigning social responsibilities to non-state or apolitical entities. In other words, instead of extending the principle of human equality to all facets of American social organization, the Brown decision had the eventual result of segregating the principle itself.
Or, to put it another way, social differences could be maintained and affirmed, as long as it wasn’t a political entity doing it to what came to be referred to as “protected classes” — classes which are, of course, separate or segregated designations themselves. And, more recently, based on the perception that the “protected” categories are too broad and the “exclusive,” and the excluding patterns that have emerged under the umbrella of accumulated wealth are too democratic, the segregationist impulse has been focused on citizenship by birthright to agitate. However consistent it is with the original premise of the Constitution that “all men are created equal,” relying on an accident of birth to define who’s to belong to an exclusive club and who’s to be shut out has proved unacceptable to the national/nativist crowd.
It could be argued with some merit that the strongest opponents of segregation on the basis of skin color or other superficial personally identifying characteristics are partially at fault for the persistent reliance on separation as a solution to all sorts of problems. Because, by focusing our attention on personal characteristics we have been led to overlook how extensive the pattern actually is — how it accounts, for example, for a multitude of decisions to relocate thousands of people from the vicinity of a Love Canal, instead of prohibiting and preventing industrial enterprise from contaminating their environment with toxins. Setting aside industrial zones via zoning regulations to prohibit residential uses at the outset isn’t much better. Whether it occurs before or after the fact, segregation is still not a preventive of negative and/or injurious behavior.
Nor is it, ultimately, a solution to any man-made or natural problem, regardless of whether it’s employed as a voluntary strategy, as exemplified by “gated communities” and housing designated by age (elderly) or occupation (student), or the involuntary variety commonly known as prisons.
Fences do not make good neighbors and yet, like Robert Frost’s neighbor, whole states (New Mexico, Arizona) are now intent on walling Central and South America off — under the auspices of our federal government which, if it learned anything in Iraq, should have concluded that dividing Sunni and Shia and separating them with blast walls could not insure conquest.
But, the Iraq experience does raise the question whether the impetus for segregation is just “his father’s saying” or a variation on “divide and conquer” — a tool for domination. Is segregation a lesser alternative to the whip? Is that what accounts for Frost’s assertion that
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.*
Walls are offensive? And yet, it’s pretty certain that the proponents of separate enclaves segregate themselves because they are basically fearful and insecure. But, if defensive measures are perceived as offensive, then doesn’t that defeat their purpose? Does the cowering prey appear offensive to the predator — ready to spring at a moment’s notice? We might lament with Robert Burns:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
*Sharron Angle likes that spelling.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
At age 5 I told anyone who asked, and lots who didn't, "I want to be a doctor in the daytime and a preacher at night." Likely that was connected to the two people outside my family whom I most admired, our doctor who lived in the big house on the corner of our block, and our preacher who lived in the big house on the corner of the next block over. The preacher and my dad were classmates at college and in the vacant lots behind our house and in front of his they planted a Victory Garden together -- Read on →
At eleven years-old, the most infuriating thing about trying to “apply yourself” is the universe doesn’t always cooperate. Take the situation which I'm smack in the middle of the evening of Tuesday, September 10, 1962. Blindsided by Sister Jean, Sixth Grade teacher at Our Lady of the Pines Catholic School with a very first day assignment to write 500 words all about “What I Learned This Summer,” I’m stumped. Fully…totally …and absolutely! I don't think I've written 500 words TOTAL since First Grade. And as if I don't have problems enough already, the &%$#& thing is due Friday! I can’t think of one thing I’ve learne Read on →
Contrary to his fragmentation-grenade TV persona, the Morton Downey Jr. I knew was a pussycat. A pussycat o’ nine tails sometimes, but a pussycat all the same. I got to know Mort – the subject of a new documentary called "Evocateur" -- when he was just beginning to develop the obstreperous, outrageous on-air shtick that a few years later would make him briefly notorious. All you “loudmouths” and “pablum-puking liberals” out there know what I’m talking about. On the nationally syndicated show that he and MTV mastermind Bob Pittman concocted, Mort made Jerry Springer look like a Nelson Mandela and Rush Limbaugh sound like Fr Read on →
Grandpa was a quiet and gentle man. Grandma did most of the talking. He was over six feet tall and she was a little over five feet, feisty and independent. They obviously had agreed that he would make the big decisions and she would make all the small ones. All of the decisions were small. I was four years old when my brother and I were sent to live with Grandma and Grandpa, whom I called Papa, during World War II. My father was away, not at war because he had failed the medical, working on the railroad tracks and bridges. Read on →