Friday, January 21, 2011

Self Segregation

"If I have a cup of coffee that is too strong for me because it is too black, I weaken it by pouring cream into it."
- Malcolm X
Most humans are tribal animals. While some individuals are extroverts who love to mix and mingle, the majority of people form cliches and stay within their circle of friends. My wife and I observed this frequently in square dancing. When we visited another club, few of the natives wanted to dance with "the strangers". When we attended a square dancing weekend, dancers ate and danced with fellow members of their ownclub. One of the few times we saw true mixing was at a national convention where everyone was an outsider.

Cliches form on many levels. You may have your set of "church friends" or fellow parents of the same PTA at school. I also observed this while a graduate student at the University of Michigan. A dorm where I was a Resident Assistant had a "Black Pride Room".  I was suprised that there were students who wanted to be seperate, who endorsed (and wore T-shirts of) the Malcom X quote above that warns against mixing whites and blacks together. The university supported this self-seperation; one semester I taught a class called "Mathematics for Minority Engineers." This seemed to me, to be contrary to years of Integration efforts but the students liked it.

Bottom Line

Although people say they want to live in a color-blind world, in reality they tend to self-segregate. Look at this graph of census data from the NY Times, http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer?ref=us.  Within NYC I was amazed at how solid the racial zones are for whites, hispanics and blacks. Some of the outlying cities like Newark are also uni-racial.

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