Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Two Americas: Not the John Edwards Kind

Black Political Analysis links to an Ebony article that asks whether there are still "Two Americas?" It looks like the article is only in the print edition, but this isn't the first "Two America's discussion we've had in this country. Thanks to the 1968 Kerner Commission report that popularized this concept.

While the idea of "two Americas" was salient in 1968, I wonder of what use it has today. While it does reinforce the still significant "barriers to entry" for African-Americans when compared to other ethnic groups in American society, it has the distinct disadvantage of further "othering" Black America. While this "othering" makes sense of some cultural and political levels, it reinforces the idea of a "black culture" that downplays the cultural diversity within the black experience. Black Political Analysis makes the valid point that racial and ethnic groups choose to lead separate lives:

I'm talking about are the number of blacks and whites who prefer racial/ethnic homogeneity. Think about the school lunch cafeteria, the bus, parks, movie theater, etc....blacks with blacks, whites with whites, Asians with Asians. As long as Americans choose this, there will always be separate Americas.

This is undeniable, but I am inclined to believe that group affinity is not the same as group exclusiveness. The end of "separate Americas" will come when individuals from different racial and ethnic groups become more adept at cultural switching, or the ability to engage with a wide range of people in their own contextual contexts. What props up this "two Americas" idea is the distinct lack of empathy people have for those who are not like them. It's particularly startling to see the number of Whites who think that racism is a thing of the past. The recent Gallup poll is startling in this regard. To me, that's not an issue of Whites wanting to be with other Whites, it's an issue of an unwillingness to want to put yourself in someone else's shoes. You don't have to give up the feelings of closeness and affinity one has to their own reference group to understand that others are of worth.


Black Political Analysis said...

Good points. In my classes, I am amazed at the lack of empathy my students express to our subjects of study. I distinctly remember one student, a well-off sort from Atlanta, who remarked, "Why don't the poor just get better jobs?"

Jose Marichal said...

What I've never been able to understand is how many Whites believe that they live in a color blind world. Do they think it's just a collective fantasy on the part of people of color? I get to teach race and politics next semester after not having taught it for a while, so I'll be interested in seeing how things have changed.

Brown Man said...

"Whiteness" is as much a construct as "blackness" - one of the themes I stress online and in real life is that some of the behavioral attributes associated with being white in america have had to be learned by the Irish, by the Italians, by the Germans and the Polish and the Russians who immigrated here with their own deeply ingrained ethnic customs.

The thing that gets my blood pressure up is when my brown brethren insist that the characteristics of living in poverty are the source of "authentic" black culture - it is this need to cling to the negative aspects of our past that we have got to figure out how to overcome in order to begin to see ourselves as full participants in this country.