- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
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
My high school years unfolded in a time when hanging out at drive-ins and burger joints was all we had. We played 45 RPMs by the Beach Boys and William Jan Berry and Dean Ormsby Torrence. You know them as Jan and Dean of “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” fame. Surf music was the craze back then in the era of steering wheel suicide knobs, but catching a wave in eastern Georgia wasn’t easy. Cars, though, now that was a different matter. Hot, candy-colored cars possessing names like GTO, Chevelle, Firebird, and Thunderbolt mesmerized us. So there we we Read on →
I knew I liked him early on by the way he told a joke. He had timing and delivery and the punch line was not telegraphed. Whenever I get off my mountain, I’m alert to serendipitous opportunities to meet such people and to get a peek into their lives. So on a recent trip to Atlanta for a couple of woodworking classes, I had the pleasure of spending a few nights with a dear friend in Asheville, one of the world’s finest and most civilized of cities. My friend is also a fine lady and like her adopted city, most civ Read on →
There were superficial reasons—when he thundered on the political scene at the Democratic Convention in 2004 and then rode on the wave of that thunder to his election in 2008—to compare Barack Obama with Abraham Lincoln. There was the Illinois connection, for instance, and the gifted orator connection, and the “new birth of freedom” connection. Add to these the evident high esteem, even reverence, held by Obama for that towering mentor of his spirit, and it is easy to link the two of them. But what about things deeper than the surface? A sobering intimation arose in me, in the wake of the Read on →
Liberal America's disconnection from the power of the spiritual dimension is not only manifested in this hopelessness I've heard from people. The costs of this condition go a lot deeper. Indeed, it is through Liberal America’s “dispirited” state that this side of America’s political divide has played an important role in letting destructive forces wield so much power in our political system. The whole of the American body politic is exposed as defective by our current political pathology. A famous line from the poet Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity.” Here is what I see as th Read on →