Is America seeing a resurgence of segregation?
It’s not a reinstitution of race-specific water fountains or separate-but-equal accommodations, but a self-segregation among black youth that could cripple upward mobility.
It’s a variation on the fear of “acting white.”
In 2004, a relatively unknown politician named Barack Obama said society should “eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” Now our president, who appears to be very concerned about employment and class issues, might mention that associating with white people as he and many other successful blacks have done all their lives is not a refutation of one’s blackness.
In a newly published study called “Testing the ‘Black Code,'” researchers James D. Johnson of the University of the South Pacific and Leslie Ashburn-Nardo of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found many black students say they tend to lose kinship with other blacks that are perceived to have close relationships with whites.
Having surveyed 212 black college students, Johnson and Ashburn-Nardo reported that “[b]lacks who appear too friendly and comfortable around whites are viewed with suspicion; their blackness is questioned.”
In their technical analysis, they added: Blacks sometimes strategically imply that they have connections to whites in an effort to increase their probability of success in the corporate world. Doing so may be a means of distancing themselves from negative group stereotypes or perhaps a “disarming mechanism” to enhance their acceptability in the eyes of white employers or colleagues. Regardless of motive, such strategic out-group alignment may put blacks at risk for identity denial from fellow in-group members.
What’s worse, these skeptical students have “less empathy” for other blacks seen as being too chummy with whites. They allegedly would consider not helping others out in this instance should they have a “run of bad luck.”
Essentially, these people are on their own in a jam if they aren’t considered “from the hood.”
While the individuals surveyed by Johnson and Ashburn-Nardo certainly aren’t the voice for all black Americans, they have a shameful mindset geared toward regressing racial relations instead of improving them. It indicates a trend, and it builds on the “acting white” theory blamed for poor test scores among many black students.
I’ve been richly blessed to have a very diverse circle of friends. The color of their skin has never been part of a litmus test to help me decide if I would associate myself with them— only their character and conduct.
Through these associations, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and my life and been enriched both personally and professionally.
With that sort of benefit in mind, the researchers fear the introverted behavior they’ve found could hurt black advancement overall. Networking outside of one’s race, the survey indicates, could hurt familial and longstanding personal relationships. In order to get along, this stigma might enforce antisocial behavior keeping otherwise competent and aspiring blacks from moving up in the workforce.
At this time of great concern over wages, advancement and socio-economic mobility, it appears petty resentments among blacks could be more of a problem than any perceived racism among employers.
This race-conscious attitude is not a successful strategy for living, nor is it a moral one. I’m glad it has never been thrust upon me, and I pray that those who are affected see the error in it.
I grew up with the realization that the American Dream was achievable through determination and a good work ethic. Now that perception is being tarnished by an unnecessary racial divide that suggests racial authenticity is contingent upon the people with whom we exclusively associate.
It is culturally ignorant to suggest blacks or whites are in uniformity when it comes to traditions, customs or with whom they accompany themselves.
Through healthy interaction, people of different races, classes, genders and other demographics learn from one another and develop a greater appreciation for different cultures.
My own friendships and associations were vital to my achievements and experiences.
If God is not a “respecter of persons” and shows no favoritism, neither should we.
Demetrius Minor is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network and a youth minister. Comments may be sent to: Project21@nationalcenter.org.