Ask the Old Guy Wonders: Did Desegregation Work?

By | January 4, 2019

When I was seven, my very gifted but slightly off her rocker Aunt used to perform Macbeth in our living room.

She often discussed her love for all things Shakespeare and then rail on about what year in high school they studied each play. In my young impressionable mind, it was assumed that great literature, music and art was my birthright.

Not trying to be white.

Having survived the apartheid South of the fifties, many of my family members remember what the world was like when several opportunities were unavailable while excellence was expected simultaneously. My parents recall not being able to enter the public libraries and watching Imitation of Life from the balcony (the colored section).

Recently, I have been thinking about the brain drain in the black community as well as the alleged inordinate amount of homophobia that apparently has run amuck waiting to consume us all. When we were regulated to our “own”, standards and expectations were created in a communal vacuum.

Gay folks were included because there was no other place for them to go.

Living among other folks who looked like you and were equally oppressed although not without its own set of pathologies, provided space to create and dream without being told no because of skin color. Although no community is without its ills and social psychosis, it is one thing to be looked at sideways because you are mentioning something no one has ever heard of before.

Being viewed with suspicion because you don’t know your place is a very different feeling and emotional upset.

Based on my parents love for great films and music and my Aunt’s insistence that we gather at the dinner table with our newly acquired Christmas instruments acting “as if” we were performing for sold-out crowds (Carnegie Hall) complete with bows and waves, gave me the imagination to dream of all sorts of things.

My Grandparents also encouraged us and reminded us daily that we were smart, capable and creative.

My parents often speak of desegregation with very conflicting feelings. With one grand legislative sweep, things changed forever and lives were permanently altered. While all types of institutions and opportunities were now available, many of us were not socially or emotionally prepared to succeed in these frightening and very new arenas.

There is much to be said for being with and around people who look like you and expect excellence.

Desegregation ushered in legal ramifications that were enforced in an effort to change behavior. Unfortunately thinking and heart changing can’t be so easily won. Between the ages of four and fourteen, I lived in an all-black neighborhood and attended all black schools.

At fourteen, I ventured into the world of whiteness known as a private, all boys Jesuit , prep school.

Nothing in my world prepared me for this transition nor the emotional toll this would take on my psyche and self esteem. No one in my neighborhood or family had tools for thriving amidst this new environment.

I failed miserably and floundered for a 1.5 years.

Smart black boys are expected and should do well.

How can we do well if they enter environments that view them with suspicion, fear or dare I say lust ? Throughout high school, I searched for and found other black mentors and friends determined to thrive despite standards that were or were not expected of them.

The main problem with desegregation like most social movements is that there was no long term planning.

Most social movements and the persons driving them know two things : they want change and they have a good idea of what is required to bring about this change. What often gets overlooked then forgotten is planning for what occurs once the change happens.

What will we need?

What will people who are the most affected by said change require to adjust and thrive in relation to their lives being turned topsy turvy?

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