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
I’m not going anywhere. I got a lot of family in Georgia, and besides, there’s plenty to love here—mountains, sea coasts, the change of seasons, not to mention all those wonderful things about the South as a whole, like collard greens. But dang—sometimes you just have to yearn for bluer pastures. The election returns have been officially dissected, and it turns out that our two bright young Democratic standard-bearers, Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, received “25 percent or less of the white vote.” Twenty-five percent or less. This is the great triumph of the Republicans—and all the greater because it absolutely defies comprehension Read on →
Abstract Expression emerged in the late 1940s, growing out of the influx of European artists fleeing fascism, and the theories they brought with them. It was the second wave of European modernism, the first not having caught on here 30 years earlier. The idea of painting “automatically”, without thinking, without plan, drawing from that part of the brain where we dream – that Surrealist notion was used by the Abstract Expressionists but they left out the dream images, they just “automatically” put paint on canvas and moved it around until it seemed like time to stop. Many of the painters had studied various e Read on →
Back in 1937 when Gene Talmadge was finishing his second two-year term as governor of Georgia, he took a big step. For Miss Mitt (his wife), he built a new home on U.S. Highway 341, between McRae and Lumber City, in his home county of Telfair. In today's world, this residence looks much like a Southern 5-4-and-a-door, with two-story white columns, red brick, and set about 100 yards back from the highway in a grove of pine trees. But it wasn't built in today's world, but constructed 77 years ago when most people in Telfair County probably didn't have running water in Read on →
It’s the broken slat on the chair that will keep our recent visit to Floyd focused in my mind. The soon-to-be ninety-nine year old husband of my late cousin Mildred lost his balance a few weeks back and misjudged the placement of the chair when he thought he was about to sit on it at the dining room table. He lives alone in his “cottage” at a retirement complex in southern Pennsylvania, so there was no one there to help him get up. Of course, he couldn’t get his cell phone to work so he lay there for a while before Read on →