“Separate but Equal” was a legal doctrine which said racial segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection as long as the separate facilities provided to each race were equal. This meant federal, state and local governments could mandate services, facilities, housing, medical care, employment, transportation and education be segregated by race. This doctrine was confirmed by the 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v Ferguson and remained in place as the law of our land until the 1960s.
In practice, the separate facilities were rarely even close to equal, if there were Black facilities at all. The Black communities who were able to provide superior facilities often found themselves the target of violence and destruction by Whites who deemed them undeserving of anything perceived as nicer than theirs. The other Black communities did the best they could with what they had. We managed to succeed despite the lack of equal access and resources. We supported each other because we had no other choice and, for that reason, we had a greater natural spirit of unity.
In 1954, a team of NAACP attorneys led by Thurgood Marshall successfully dismantled the “separate but equal” doctrine by arguing that separation of the races in our educational facilities was inherently unequal. This began the desegregation of public education institutions — but it would be another 10 years before the Civil Rights Act would come along to prohibit discrimination in any facility considered available to the public, such as hotels and trains. And a few more years before protections for voting and fair housing would become law. And many more years before any of these protections were consistently enforced.
Arguably, these protections still are not being consistently upheld or enforced.
Even with the overturning of the “separate but equal” doctrine and all the new laws which followed in support of greater access and rights, Black people in America still didn’t get “equal” … We got integration. Black Americans were now allowed into schools and work environments and residential neighborhoods with Whites. This was met with resistance and discriminatory practices and hate crimes to bar us from the access and treatment awarded to us by the laws.
We are still met with resistance, discriminatory practices and hate crimes today for exercising our rights under these same laws.
Today, we label the resistance as “a lack of diverse candidates in the war for talent” and we label the hate crimes as “unconscious bias response” and “racial microaggressions” — but the results are the same discriminatory outcomes that have always existed … Are we better than we were in the 1960s? Yes. But are we even remotely close to full equality? Helllllll to the naw! And the way we’re behaving in America and in many other pockets of the world, it doesn’t seem we’re going to get to equality any time soon.
I’ve heard the elders in my family debate the benefits of Integration before.
I’ve heard them say the only problem separate but equal was the equal was missing. I’ve heard them say Black people in America would be further along if we hadn’t been so eager to assimilate and integrate in the 1970s. I’ve heard them say Integration was an okey-doke and Black people got a raw deal from it. I’ve heard them say we’re still getting a raw deal from integration because Black people still think the key to our success is assimilation into Whiteness.
As I consider the history of our past and the history we’re currently making, I wonder if this has any validity. How different would the world be if the Supreme Court had agreed to make us equal in our separation rather than choosing to integrate ?
What if Black people were given equal resources and used it to permanently separate ourselves from Whiteness? What if we lived in separate communities and educated our children in fully equal Black-only schools and worshiped in Black-only churches (which is what happens on 90% of Sundays anyway)? What if the only time we left our all-Black villages was for work — and then fully reinvested our earnings back into only our communities until we built enough economic structure that we didn’t have to work with anyone outside of our community unless we chose to?
What if we Made America Separate Again? Separate but truly equal. Can you imagine? Considering all Black people were able to accomplish with less, it seems normal to wonder how high we would rise with full equality and equity.
Yet I know it is the fear of equality and equity that, in part, continues to fuel the systemic racism. This underlying notion that, given equal access and a level playing field, Black people will excel beyond their White counterparts — and that once we get beyond our White counterparts, we will turn around and oppress them just as we’ve been oppressed. That Black people would oppress White people out of pettyness and revenge. Or because that’s what White colonizers have done all over the world when they’ve invaded someone else’s space and excelled beyond their counterparts so they think that’s the only way — because that’s the only way they’ve ever done it.
But there are other possibilities. There are other ways … It’s starts with minding your business and only leaving your lane and land to be helpful to others. It starts with recognizing your way of being is not the only and/or best way to be so you focus on learning more about and being accepting of differences. It starts with believing there is an abundance of resources and we can all have what we need without anyone else greatly suffering. It starts with recognizing and responding to the basic humanity of other people.
After all these years, it is hard to make sense of why imagining and creating better ways is still so unimaginable for White people. It is hard to understand why the majority of White people still have no interest or ability to participate in any meaningful conversation on how — yet alone take action — to create and sustain more inclusive, equitable societies.
Why should the rest of us — who make up the Global Majority anyway — keep talking about our experiences with White people when they’ve demonstrated over and over again that they do not want to listen and they do not want to change? At what point is it acceptable for the rest of us to just give up and go off by ourselves to do our own thing? At what point do we stop engaging and inviting White people in the effort to help them do better by us and for themselves?
Sometimes, I feel like we are waaaaaaaaaay beyond that point already and should absolutely stop.
Sometimes, I feel like we have to keep pressing to get it right because supremacy hurts White people too and we can’t give up on any part of humanity.
I don’t know if Make America Separate Again is the answer. And I have no intention on making or selling any merchandise to personally profit from the notion … But I know what we’re doing right now isn’t working. I know what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked, either. So maybe we just need to scrap all these notions and start over from neutral corners?
Tell me what you think.
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