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
This is a book about the 1%, the billionaires, or some of them, who can pay $50 million for a condo they use a couple weeks a year while otherwise camped in one of their other lavish homes. Mitt Romney accused ordinary people of feelings of entitlement when they expect social security and medicare but Mitt was playing to his audience, the true practitioners of entitlement. But this is not a political book. The wall street protests are mentioned in passing but its focus is the acquisition of Fifteen Central Park West property, the construction of the outstanding structure and Read on →
“Please hold my hand now. I am dying.” As this soul pulled me close to her, she looked up but just smiled. I had just finished reading “Walking Home From Oak Head” by Mary Oliver to her and she seemed to be pleased to hear some of the refrains again, There is something about the snow-laden sky in winter in the late afternoon that brings to the heart elation and the lovely meaninglessness of time. We had shared many secrets over the years we had known one another, the years of being lovers, of becoming friends. She was “spiritual” in some ways by her reckoning and made me promise to Read on →
The 31st Chinese Export Commodities Fair (Spring) was held from 15 April to 15 May 1972, and most of the foreign traders attended for the whole month. While the main purpose of the Fair was for China to exhibit and sell its products to the western world, buyers from the Beijing Government’s import agencies attended to negotiate the purchase of raw materials, metals, minerals and other commodities from the west, hopefully paying with Chinese goods. China saw itself as a potential exporter of machinery and equipment, automobiles and other manufactured goods. In reality most of what was on display at the F Read on →
My friend Tom says most, if not all, great writers are fractured individuals. I hope he’s wrong about that; I’ve always been a happy, well-adjusted guy. I plan to achieve Great Writer status one day and would hate to think lack of a tortured soul, along with precious little talent, will prevent such dreams. The only thing even remotely dark about me is my middle name. If I had been a girl, none of this would have happened. I would have been Betty Louise. At least that’s what my mother said. The Mike part of my name originated with an old Army Read on →