By Ben Wrobel on
April 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm
"It Took 50 Years, But The University Of Alabama Has Finally Embraced Integration"
It’s official: the University of Alabama is on the record supporting racial integration – in the year 2014.
Last week Alabama’s Student Senate passed a resolution
supporting the complete integration of Greek life at the university.
The renewed conversation about race at the historically troubled campus
began after a black female
student with a 4.3 GPA was denied by all 16 of the school’s sororities. An earlier resolution supporting racial integration had failed by a wide margin.
Public pressure to respond to racism may be greater now than it was
in 1963, when Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of
the school’s auditorium to prevent two black students from registering
for classes. But in a practical sense, self-imposed segregation is still
commonplace on college campuses and throughout American life. Malicious
or not, it helps contribute to racial economic inequality.
Rutgers University Professor Nancy DiTomaso describes this system of
voluntary segregation, which emerged since the 1960s, in “The American
Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism.” Although de jure (“by law”) segregation is now illegal, de facto (“in fact”) segregation is still a reality. This is true for Greek organizations, which are often nominally integrated but severely homogenous. But de facto segregation extends to all parts of American life. Entire colleges, grade schools,churches and neighborhoods are separated along racial lines, producing distinct social networks in white communities and in communities of color.
This self-segregation causes inequality to reproduce itself. As DiTomaso has written, access to opportunity depends in part on the color of your skin:
Help is typically reserved for people who are “like me”: the people who
live in my neighborhood, those who attend my church or school or those
with whom I have worked in the past. It is only natural that when there
are jobs to be had, people who know about them will tell the people who
are close to them, those with whom they identify, and those who at some
point can reciprocate the favor.
This type of discrimination is harder to combat because it is not
intentional. When a business owner offers an internship to his
neighbor’s son, or sends a job opening to his fraternity’s listserv, it
is “bias for, not bias against.” As DiTomaso told me, “It’s not that
whites won’t help blacks when given the opportunity to do so. It’s just
that they don’t know them.”
This phenomenon has a real impact on the job market. African Americans are more likely to be part of networks with more unemployed people, and as New York University professor Deirdre Royster argues in Race and the Invisible Hand, “the number of people in a typical black social network who are in a position to help is far more limited.”
That could be part of the reason that a white man with a criminal record is more likely to get a low-wage job
than a black man with no record. It could also contribute to the fact
that in Silicon Valley, African-Americans make up just 3.2 percent of
workers in computer and mathematical occupations, and less than 1 percent of venture capital-funded startups.
Self-segregation takes many forms. Americans are increasingly dividing themselves geographically along a number of lines
-– college education, political beliefs, level of income and religion.
Race is just one of many elements of this “Big Sort”, but it is also
compounded by the others. With that in mind, DiTomaso believes that
racial integration on college campuses is paramount.
“One of the few places where whites encounter a more diverse group of
people is in colleges and universities,” she said. “Often before they
go to college and after, they live in segregated communities, so if
segregation also takes place in the college experience, it further
reinforces the existing patterns of friendship networks and, thus, who
is likely to help whom when opportunities become known.”
Ben Wrobel is a Project Manager at Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @BenWrobel.