I worked in Manhattan for about twenty years. What I learned to appreciate was the variety of races and ethnicities that defined the streets of the city. We didn’t have much to do with each other, but we shared the streets. The next twenty years were in the intermountain West where ethnic diversity was mostly limited to a workable divide between Anglos and Hispanics. It could have been different in the sparsely settled region had it not been for a history of ethnic cleansing through Indian wars, sundown laws, Asian exclusion acts, and the usual menu of discriminatory restrictions that made it difficult for non whites to feel comfortable amongst a small but powerful white population.
Now we live in a part of tidewater Virginia where the black and white populations are more evenly matched, and other ethnicities fit in without much overt notice. It’s an area of segrintegration, at least that’s the way it appears to me. What is segrintegration? It’s seeing black and white faces distributed throughout civic leadership, on television newscasts, and pictured side-by-side on the obituary page. It’s a smattering of people who don’t look like each other in nearly every store, doctor’s office, and restaurant, and no one takes much notice of it. Heavy with tourists, the region celebrates its history from colonial times through the Civil War; stories of enslaved and free blacks have risen from obscurity to become major themes in the overall narrative. It’s more painfully recent history of Jim Crow and segregation is beginning to be addressed. Yet neighborhoods remain enclaves of one or the other, but not both. Local towns are majority one or the other, but not both. Lingering racism is expressed on license plates and car decals, but not out loud in public. Right wing militia types are present, but try to keep a low profile. This part of Virginia is politically progressive, but the old white guard and their descendants aren’t happy about their loss of status as the undisputed ruling class.
Segrintegration is cohabitation without actually touching each other. It’s systemic social and economic stratification that resists forces slowly breaking down the racial elements embedded in it. It’s learning to live with sublimated prejudices. Some learn to do it with courage and grace. Some let prejudices fester, thinly veiled by as much civil language as one thinks needed at the moment.
Don’t get me wrong. Segrintegration is not a bad thing. It’s a necessary step toward receiving answers to our prayer that God will guide us in taking away the arrogance and hatred which infects our hearts; breaking down the walls that separate us; uniting us in the bonds of love; and working through our struggles and confusion so that we may live in harmony with one another (BCP 813). Segrintegration is leading, however slowly, to a new kind of society where ethnicities can be warmly shared with one another in mutual appreciation.