The double segregation

Growing up in India, I had seen a lot of black superstars & achievers represent the US of A. Images of Michael Jackson (MJ), Michael Jordan (MJ), Magic Johnson (another MJ :-)), of Oprah and numerous Olympic medalists, numerous superstars from sports, arts, media & a whole lot of other fields…they all seemed black. Growing up, seeing all these flag carrying stars, I assumed that African Americans dominate the American society.

And then as a grown up, I emigrated to the US in my mid-20s and saw something totally opposite on the ground. At first it was puzzling, then a bit unsettling and these days it is disturbing & bothering me enough to actually write about it. It took me a good half-a-dozen or so years to believe what I saw when I came here, to unlearn all the assumptions & impressions that were formed in my childhood years.

We still have those super stars out there but by & large, the minority communities, particularly blacks & Latinos are so rarely seen in good schools, in good jobs & in the so called good neighbourhoods. What saddens me more is that I see this in the biggest melting pot of all – NYC. [here is a recent study that says NYC schools are the most segregated!]

More interestingly, immigrants who moved into the US from all parts of the world sometimes exacerbate the issue. One would expect them to be a lot more open minded than otherwise. But what I often see is the opposite. They are too keen to learn the way things work in the host country & rapidly assimilate all their biases. Mainly because they don’t want to risk standing out anymore than they already do. One area where I often see this play out is the neighbourhoods they choose to buy their homes & the schools they choose to send their kids.

This is the other segregation that has been a culture shock to me since we started our research to buy a home. Again, coming from India where one can see the extremely wealthy & the extremely poor living right next each other & being comfortable with it, the concept of having neighbourhoods strictly defined by household income/wealth & home sizes baffles me. Just as how foreigners visiting India are shocked by the coexistence of wealth & poverty and the perceived apathy, I am shocked by the economic segregation of society in the Americas, particularly in the suburbia.

I have always believed that you earn what you earn, I earn what I earn. Doesn’t mean we cannot live next to each other, doesn’t mean our kids cannot play together in each other’s homes or even the neighbourhood playground. The way the societies have evolved in the US, particularly in the suburbs does not encourage or permit interaction across the different strata of the society. Each section lives in its own segregated, isolated bubble.
In this aspect though, NYC is much better than most parts of the country in breaking down these barriers.

I have been thinking about these issues long & hard for months if not years. I have been bothered by many associated issues (that I have not written or talked about yet). However, I hesitated bringing them up all these days mainly because:
  • There is probably not much that is new here although I might offer a different viewpoint.
  • I don’t have a full handle of this really complicated issue. This issue in truth is beyond my ken.
  • I am not offering any solution.

And also because I feared that this might seem like an attack on the American society as well as fellow immigrants....while it is not! This is not an attack on the society. This is an attack on a particular issue in the society.
I can think of 100s of things that the US is great at. I can think of  another 100 reasons why I choose to live here. But when it comes to the above mentioned double segregation, I am definitely saddened and shocked. Shocked since my impressions as an outsider (on race) & my very different worldview (on income/wealth) are at odds with what I see day-to-day.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting perspective. Especially since I am second generation immigrant. Food for thought.