The New Segregation
Today, we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On this occasion, it is our duty to measure ourselves against his teachings, since he is not here to do so himself.
I was recently in Las Vegas where an African-American bus driver joked how not only were my white friends and I sitting in the back of the bus, but that he was at the front. Today, we are legally integrated. But, the new segregation consumes us.
Our campus is an intellectually advanced microcosm of the outside world. We are invited here because we are purportedly more understanding, more curious and less ignorant than the general public. Through this fact we can assume that our campus is more tolerant and more willing to racially integrate than the average American community.
Yet, even the casual observer will note the quiet segregation that forces lunch tables at the Union to be color coded - there is frequently one table of black students, one of Asian, one of white, one of Latino, and one of international students.
Just a couple of years ago, the University separated students during orientation between whites and non-whites. The non-white students would tour the cultural houses, while white students were never exposed to them. From the onset, students were intentionally and visibly separated along racial lines. Affirmative action also forces a separation that over time weighs on our perceptions of race.
The dorms appear segregated along racial lines. ISR holds a disproportionate number of Asian residents, FAR-PAR hold a disproportionate number of African-American students, and the Six-Pack looks like my suburban high school. Since we make many of our friends during the initial years at the University, this segregation simply reinforces the social segregation present in our hometowns.
Although the various cultural houses do plenty of good for particular racial communities, I question whether their overall impact on campus is positive. The cultural houses are physical representations of social segregation. They appear to only invite a particular racial community. In fact, the cultural houses are welcoming to diversity. Unfortunately, they rarely receive it. Although their efforts are genuine, the product of their work appears to contribute to segregation on campus.
But, taken together, these excuses are pathetic. They are minor influences upon our social psyche. Our generation can sit and blame questionable policies, but ultimately the blame and the solution lies with us. Few of us, even liberal-minded students, have sufficient social courage to actively seek friendships with other races.
Past American generations have fought great wars. Our war is covert and difficult to discuss. Our great challenge is to overcome years of slavery, segregation, and disloyalty to our own constitutional ideals. We are commissioned with trying to throw out the sins of our ancestors. Further, we have the opportunity to become the first truly diverse, tolerant and integrated society in human history.
Most of us walk to class, live with, and eat with those who make us most comfortable. Dr. King once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Our generation lacks the courage necessary to enact the dreams of King.
It will not happen without revolution. The revolution must occur amongst individuals. It is a revolution of small moments, and none of them will make the news.
We at this University have been given a great gift; we need only the courage to accept it.
A lesser known line in Dr. King's famous speech reads, "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
If in our atmosphere, we lack the audacity to follow his lessons, how can we expect the nation to do so?