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Shelly Aldean: A new age of segregation

By Shelly Aldean

In 2017, in an anonymous posting, a public educator reached out in earnest to his fellow academicians for guidance. He posed the following question: Should I intervene when students who are asked to form study groups automatically choose to join groups consisting of students of their own race? Although the advice he received varied, the general consensus was that drawing attention to group self-segregation could have detrimental effects.

In a 1998 article on organizational culture, Nigel Nicholson, a professor at the London Business School, discussed in detail the belief by evolutionary psychologists, that “although human beings today inhabit a thoroughly modern world of space exploration and virtual realities, they do so with the ingrained mentality of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.” In other words, certain human behaviors are hardwired. Our tendency, for example, to “stereotype people based on very small pieces of evidence, mainly their looks and a few readily apparent behaviors” is part of our genetic programming because survival in prehistoric times was predicated on making decisions at an instinctual level.

Since well before the Civil War, America has been engaged in an ongoing conversation about race. The effort to address racial inequities spawned passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, granting African Americans their freedom, affording them equal protection under the law and guaranteeing Black men the right to vote. Despite these advancements, Jim Crow laws in the South continued to suppress the civil liberties of Black Americans by excluding them from using certain public facilities, living in certain geographical areas and attending certain schools.

In 1954, the civil rights movement gained momentum when the U.S. Supreme Court made segregation in public schools illegal in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1964, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act which addressed discrimination on a broader scale by banning segregation in all places of public accommodation on the grounds of race, religion or national origin.

Despite these achievements, the issue of race continues to dominate our public discourse. It has given rise to increased violence and mayhem in our streets, has created ongoing dissension at our academic institutions, and has inserted itself into nearly every aspect of American life from the dinner table to the Board Room, from the playground to the sports stadium. It has, in fact, become a preoccupation that seems to be further dividing rather than uniting our nation. Ironically, in an age when we are more connected than ever by technology, as a people, we are moving, further and further apart.

In an article written for Forbes, Richard Vedder, an emeritus professor of economics at Ohio University, highlights a widespread phenomenon reported on by Dion Pierre of the National Association of Scholars in an essay he entitled “Separate but Equal, Again” dealing with the modern segregation of students by race on college campuses. According to Vedder, universities are reintroducing segregation by “making race the primary determinant of student participation in some activities” and a criterion for accessing certain student unions and campus housing. Such segregated facilities not only continue to exist, they are flourishing.

In other words, many young African Americans are either choosing to “self-segregate” or are being encouraged to do so by college administrators thereby stifling the interaction between people of different color and ethnicities. This is ironic to say the least.

While no one should be denied the right to freely associate, they should not be forced to do so by social engineers or discouraged from doing so by neo-segregationists who are intent on insinuating themselves into a process that needs to occur organically as part of a natural evolution in social norms.

Shelly Aldean is a Carson City resident.