Re: Unintentional, but still segregation

Naia Ferguson | Op-Ed Submission

Allow me to first clarify some things so that the content of my opinion piece will be received within context: I am black, I am a junior, and I am from Harlem, N.Y., originally born in the South Bronx, New York City. Both areas are predominantly made of people of black, Puerto Rican and/or Dominican descent. My elementary schools were very integrated, but my middle school and high school primarily had, again, people of black, Puerto Rican and/or Dominican descent. I had three white teachers in my time between seventh and 12th grades, and none of them stayed at my school longer than two years.

When I came to Wash. U. for the first time, I was ecstatic to see that there were other black people. I understood that I was going to a predominantly white school and that I would have to adjust, but to find other people who were entrenched in the same culture as I, people who wouldn’t ask if I had called Child Services when my mother whooped me as a child, was a treat. To be clear, I came with no intentions to not make friends of other races, nor did I come here with the intention to make friends with every black person I came into contact with. Both of these ideas are unrealistic and infeasible. But over the nearly three years that I have been a student in the black community at this school, I have become familiar with terms like “blavity” (the tendency for black people to congregate together at random, i.e., as if pulled by gravity) and the “black table” (any table that a majority of black people congregate at). These were funny to me and I thought little of them.

That is, until the Student Life article about unintentional self-segregation. The article caused me to think twice about these terms, as well as how these terms and the actions that they correlate to are viewed by other people. The “certain groups” that were spoken about were clear, at least to me. It was primarily about the black and Asian communities (when I brought up that Native Americans were mentioned in a class of mine, a Native American senior was confused, since she’s the only Native American who goes here she’s aware of. I guess she’s been hanging out by herself too long…). Why this was hard to say explicitly is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong, the article was good—it brought up things that need to be talked about. Unfortunately, it is based on three key misconceptions, at least when it comes to the self-segregation of the black community.

1) The black community is exclusive. This is completely false. True, if there is a black freshman who is not known, attempts will probably be made to integrate them into the group if they want to be integrated. Besides that, few attempts are made to bring various people into the group. This does not mean that people of other races are not allowed to sit with us at the “black table” or to join a group of us talking. There are plenty of people of other races who are friends with multiple people within the black community, people who will sit with a group of us and talk normally. This is due to a little thing called friendship.

2) Black people congregate merely because we are all black. Also false. If I see a group of black people whom I am not friends with, I will not stop to join them. Many of my friends are indeed black, but I am just as inclined to sit with a group of my friends who are of other races as with a group of my friends who are black.

3) (Black) people who self-segregate do not have friends of other races or only congregate with people of the same race. The snapshot you get of black people together is not representative of how they are all the time. Many of us have a diverse group of friends. We do not have a checklist to make sure that we have one of every race, or an equal number of each, but few of us only have black friends. We branch out. To be together during mealtimes or for an hour or two of downtime does not mean that we are strictly self-segregated. We have friends, roommates, floormates, study partners, etc., who are of other races, and we do not see that as a bad thing.

Personally? I see nothing wrong with self-segregation. As a person who spent her formative years in a school with no white or Asian students, I sometimes find it a comfort to be with others who, quite frankly, look like me. Other people whom I know of who came from the opposite—schools where they were one of a few, or perhaps the only black student—have also told me that their previous experiences lead them to do the same, to seek out this new, larger black community. The only issue I have with the overall concept as expressed in the former Student Life article is it seems to apply only to the black and Asian communities. I have never heard anyone bring up the idea of self-segregation upon noticing a table of white students eating together or seeing a group of them together in Whispers. But I don’t believe that situations like that are wrong, either. For me, it’s not about blocking anyone out—it’s just about feeling like I’m home.

Naia is a junior in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at naiaferguson@wustl.edu.

  • Lindsey

    For some reason this wouldn’t post the actual response I wanted to make.

    I don’t take the concept of COLLEGE “self-segregation” seriously. How many white WashU grads will work to combat the ill effects of white flight–as many as have complained about “lack of integration” in the DUC?

  • Lindsey

    This was great. Thanks especially for making the last point: “I have never heard anyone bring up the idea of self-segregation upon noticing a table of white students eating together or seeing a group of them together in Whispers.” Whiteness is seen as such a neutral condition that even people of color rarely flinch at seeing this type of gathering. Until white people start deciding to go to Howard, move into colored neighborhoods, and sending their children to school with children of color, I can’t take the concept of “self-segregation” as a detrimental phenomenon seriously.

    http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2008/08/see-no-problem-with-being-surrounded-by.html
    http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2009/07/see-white-and-male-as-neutral.html
    http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2008/06/express-amazement-when-non-white-people.html

  • anonymous

    I actually really enjoyed this article. However, I wish you would have spent more time discussing the issue that was brought up within the last three sentences of the piece. I definitely find it true that no one takes time to discuss whites segregating themselves. But let’s look at the way we define ourselves as individuals. When I think of myself, the term “white” very rarely enters my consciousness. Yet within this white group there exists other types of segregation. I’ve definitely noticed on more than one occasion groups of jewish, catholic, fraternity/sorority, pre-med, etc. students that sit together in whispers or the DUC. I agree with you that when I see someone on campus it is only a snapshot in the life of that person. We are all so much more than one category.