American chattel slavery lasted from 1619-1865. It ended formally with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which outlawed slavery. In actuality, it lasted well into the 20th century.
Reconstruction, designed to help make freed slaves and already free blacks full citizens with all rights and privileges was basically abandoned in 1877 and slavery was replaced with two things that restored very similar conditions: Jim Crow Laws and sharecropping, both designed to keep black people poor and powerless. Both were very effective for many years, particularly in the south. This structured oppression led, of course, to the great migration between 1916 and 1970 when more than five million black people moved from the rural south to the cities and towns in the north, west and midwest.
They were drawn by two things: The opportunity for good jobs and a different kind of less-structured racism. Northern racism was more organized around residential segregation than around laws that obstructed access to businesses, transportation, etc. While most schools in the north and midwest stayed segregated — if school attendance was determined by residence and neighborhoods were segregated that pretty much meant all black schools for all black neighborhoods — well into the late 60s and 70s the racism was more subtle and less public than in the south. Still today almost 70 percent of black students in America attend predominantly black schools.
America in 2021 remains primarily a segregated society. We are still quite segregated in many places in housing and in schools and in social interaction. There are a lot of theories and on why this is so, including of course the persistence of racism. One of the more modern ones is that we divide ourselves based on perceptions of race. We tend to associate with people we relate to. It is not a secret that black people in general consider race a primary if not over-arching issue, and it is equally obvious that a lot of white people consider black people obsessed with the topic of race. That, in and of itself, would erect barriers to social interaction.
I have been fortunate to have racially diverse friends for most of my adult life. However, I am well aware that that means the friends who are not black must understand that I am going to see some aspect of race in many things that other people will not associate with the topic. It does not have to be negative, it is just there and, since I find the topic fascinating, I will point it out for discussion and analyzing.
Before you pooh-pooh my assertions about segregation ask a few questions of yourself. When was the last time you had a person of a different race in your home? Amazon delivery people and food deliverers do not count. Do you have a friend you can ask questions about race without fear of losing the friendship? When have you talked about race with someone of a different race? Was it a real talk or did y’all just kind of reassure each other that everything was just fine?
The Legacy of Race is two-fold: Racism and division. Black people live in a different America than white people do. That is not going to change anytime soon, even though demographers tell us by 2040 there will be no racial majority in America. In America, white skin, heck, even light skin, is cultural capital. There is no doubt that since it took a few hundred years to make it so, it will take a couple of hundred more to make it go away.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.