We haven’t had a “hot take” IWW post in, well, maybe not ever. But we’re going to change that today.
There’s been a lot of talk about sundown towns, since the show Lovecraft Country aired. If you don’t know, a sundown town was/is a place where Black people must leave before the sun goes down, or else risk death or injury. They were very popular during the years of Jim Crow and segregation, though they do still exist today, just without the advertising; i.e. literal signs before entering a city.
We all (should) know how perilous it was and how inhumane Black people were treated during the segregation era. But what we are talking about today are the positives, yes, there were positives. The trick here is not to romanticize that era, as is often the case when having this particular conversation.
So what exactly is my hot take? Well, this isn’t necessarily MY hot take. It is something generally accepted and acknowledged by a lot of Black people, and it’s that Black people did better (in very specific ways) when we were segregated. This is a “hot take” because it goes against everything you probably think/know about segregation.
Lets’ break this down by category, starting with safety:
Like in the show Lovecraft Country (set in the 1950s), which you should absolutely watch, it is literally one of my favorite shows, probably of all time – there was a sense of security in the Black areas.
Make no mistake, there was never an actual guarantee of safety, and often the opposite found itself to be true, especially when you factor in policing. However, Black people were safer in the Black neighborhoods, than say a sundown town or any other majority-white area.
I’m going to try to correlate past and present examples in this post, but this one is pretty easy. America is still very segregated. Though there is no official mandate for it anymore, the concentration of where Black people live is often in coastal states, the south and urban areas.
We know that a lot of this has to do with redlining, modern housing discrimination and just systemic oppression, right? But something to also consider is that there are thriving predominantly Black areas(this is by choice), affluent even. I spent a few years of my childhood in PG county Maryland, which was (and maybe still is) one of the most affluent Black areas in the country. I have never felt safer or more relaxed, at any point in my life, then when I lived there. Not even, especially not, when my family amassed some wealth and I moved into predominantly white areas. In fact, that is when I felt the most unsafe. Crime and misconduct happen everywhere, but there is a difference between your regular smegular everyday crime, and the type of danger that you can be in when you are the only or one of just a few Black people in an area.
Think of it as a literal safe space. We all have them. Womxn find womxn centered-groups, those with disabilities find groups they can relate to, and so on and so on. I mentioned quite a while ago, that every interest that I have, I find the Black version. I love cooking, music, dance, atheism, anime, DnD, hair, makeup, nails, horror, etc. Any time I’ve joined or been a part of these communities, there’s always racism and a severe disconnect – so I learned to find my tribes. On Facebook, that means I am a part of Black cooking groups, Black music groups, Black dance, Black atheism, Blerd groups (Blerd=Black nerd), Black hair, Black nails, Black horror, etc. Black communities are just like that. Spaces to be ourselves in relative safety.
If you recall my IWW about the wealth gap, then you may remember that the homeownership rate for Black people is practically the same now as it was in 1968. In fact, the gap between white and Black homeownership is HIGHER now than it was in the 1960s. Segregation, as awful as it was, allowed Black people to purchase homes, when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Present-day, we’re able to have extremely nice Black communities with equally nice homes. Again, this is not to diminish the discrimination that did and still does take place in housing. Or to gloss over how Black homes/areas are typically undervalued. It is simply to show what worked/works in our favor. To tie housing and safety together, there was recently a group of Black families in the news, for purchasing 90 acres of land to create their own Black community. Many of us plan to (or at least dream of it)do similar, my s/o and I have been working on this for years and probably will for many more years to come.
Historically, we know why HBCU’s were needed, because Black people were not allowed to be educated in white educational institutions. But they’re needed for other reasons as well. Black areas have Black educators and Black schools, which means we have more opportunities, yes. But it also means we don’t have to contend with racism in education, whitewashing of history, over-disciplining, not taking into account cultural differences and the psychological effects these things would cause. While a lot of segregated schools were and are underfunded, which presents its own challenges, the pluses are major. It’s been shown that Black students in predominantly white schools are so impacted by feeling othered, the incorrect history being taught, misunderstanding of their culture and racism, that it influences how they feel about school and contributes to the gap in educational achievement.
I’ll again use myself as an example, the last few years of high school, I went to school in a predominantly white area, that is now notorious for the Tiki Torch boys. I absolutely hated it. I did not “belong.” Whereas I always enjoyed school up until this point, I found myself dreading having to go. I always, ALWAYS had to explain myself, my culture or tear apart racist tropes. And if you know me, then you know that I do not back down, so it was constant. No one understood me (sans the few other Black students) and I was miserable. Now that I think about it, we (the Black students) absolutely self-segregated. In between classes, all the students hung out in the middle of the school, which was outside (think of the letter A). All the Black students kept to our small section, we didn’t really venture over and the other students didn’t really come to our side.
We’re seeing this pretty much all over the country. It’s why there is such a push now, for Black schools. We have very famous Black charter schools, successful Black public schools, and of course, HBCU’s. No longer are we aspiring to send our kids to the award-winning white schools, instead we want our children to have it all – an amazing education AND a safe, culturally sound environment. We want the Black experience.
Simply put, we have more opportunities for Black jobs in Black areas. There’s no racial job discrimination and we tend to do much better, financially (this is obviously directed at Black suburbia and above). That doesn’t mean all the ills go away or that the wage gap suddenly disappears, but we have better opportunities and fare better. Arguably, this can be said for the present and the past. During segregation, we typically could only go to Black doctors, teachers, mechanics, grocery stores, etc, which meant there were quite a few of us in these occupations. Under integration, that number waned, due to us not being accepted in those fields. Today, the same can be still said. The number of Black doctors, teachers and grocery store owners, has significantly decreased, but there are concentrations in..Black areas. We also see the major push to support Black businesses and shop Black today. Speaking of Black doctors, that leads us to our next category, medical care.
We talked previously about how simply having a Black doctor significantly increases the level of care received by Black people – mostly due to not having to deal with medical bias. It’s easy to see why having Black areas, with a large amount of Black medial professionals, is beneficial to us presently and in the past. We’re treated better and often live longer.
I promise this isn’t really a spoiler, but in Lovecraft, there’s a neighborhood party scene. Everyone is outside dancing and having fun, it’s very much like our present-day block parties and kickbacks. We truly are only able to do this in Black areas, because once it’s gentrified, or we move to more white areas, there’s pushback. We can’t comfortably have a BBQ without someone calling the police, there are suddenly noise complaints called in for the block party, and that family restaurant that’s been in the neighborhood for 60 years, is shut out and replaced by an overpriced wheatgrass juice bar. It just ain’t the same.
There are quite a few pieces that have been written about the failures of integration and how it has negatively impacted Black families, and Black people, tend to pretty much agree with this assessment (this does not take away from the positives of integration and the advancements made). And I just find it ironic in a sad way, that there was such a fight for it, and now that we have integration and have lived in it for a while, we have some, let’s just say…second thoughts. We, of course, aren’t willing to go back to being officially told where we can live, go to school, etc, but we would like to be able to choose to “self-segregate” as we see fit. I read something about the downside of integration recently by Sheryll Cashin, and she put it like this:
“...Black people, on the other hand, have become integration weary. Most African Americans do not crave integration, although they support it. What seems to matter most to black people is not living in a well-integrated neighborhood but having the same access to the good things in life as everyone else. There is much evidence of an emerging “post–civil rights” attitude among black folks. We are ambivalent integrationists. In opinion polls, the majority of African Americans say that they would prefer to live in an integrated neighborhood; but for some of us integration now means a majority-black neighborhood— one where you are not overwhelmed by white people and where there are plenty of your own kind around to make you feel comfortable, supported, and welcome. Across America, wherever there is a sizeable black middle-class population, suburban black enclaves have cropped up that attest to the draw of this happy “we” feeling.
This is not separatism in the classic sense. Black people want the benefits of an integrated workplace; we want the public and private institutions that shape opportunity to be integrated. More fundamentally, we want the freedom to chart our course and pursue our dreams. We bang on the doors and sometimes shatter the ceilings of corporate America not because it is largely white but because this is how to “get paid.” We want an integrated commercial sector because we want banks and venture capitalists to lend to us and invest in our business ideas. We want the option of sending our children to any college we desire but for many of us Howard, Morehouse, or any number of historically black colleges are at the top of our list. We want space on the airwaves for our music, preferably aired by black-owned radio stations. We want space in Hollywood and on the big screen for our films. We want to see and celebrate ourselves on television, but we do not particularly care that there was not a black friend on “Friends;” most of us didn’t watch it and didn’t understand its appeal.”
This is a very succinct explanation on the feelings of Black people and integration these days. We don’t necessarily want the token Black to be added to the majority-white cast, we want the Black cast, with a Black director, producer and Black writers. We don’t really care anymore about white awards shows half-assedly adding categories for us or meeting their quotas (okay we will always celebrate when we infiltrate white spaces and rightfully get our due, but it’s not a priority.) Remember “Oscars so white” and the push in the 90’s to have rap music be considered…music by awards shows? Yeahh, we are focusing more on our own awards shows now. It’s not so much a badge of “we made it!” any longer, to become successful and move into that high-priced white neighborhood. We want to make it and move into that fancy or culturally rich Black neighborhood. Saying “my kid goes to [ insert great mostly white school name ] doesn’t carry the weight of pride as much as it may have, but saying my kid goes to [ Inset HBCU or famous Black charter school ] does.
In my opinion, the shift is because we aren’t looking for a seat at the table as much anymore; we want our own damn table, in our own room, in a building owned by us. We’re starting to see the faults in aspiring to “whiteness” or moving in accordance with the white gaze.
Or maybe these quotes from Lovecraft Country explain it better:
“We need to be able to defend ourselves.”
“You can’t win this game they’re setting up for you to play.”
“For us, it’s a rat race to the finish line…and it’s winner takes all.”
I feel like I have to reiterate, at this point, that segregation(of the past) in and of itself was NOT something good or to aspire to get back to, but some of (arguably more than some of) what ensued because of it, benefited us and we’ve taken those examples and are carrying them into our present and future. All I know is, there has been a major shift in thought and I’m here for whatever that may bring us.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.