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"Education and Incentives to Actualize Integration,"

by Don DeMarco January/February 2000 issue of Poverty & Race

The interracial team of Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown tell us that the integration glass is virtually empty. It’s hard to argue against that, except by citing Shaker Heights, Ohio, Oak Park, Illinois, South Orange/Maplewood, New Jersey, Phila–delphia’s West Mt. Airy neighborhood and the few other important exceptions to the rule of segregation. When they abandon integration as unattainable because it requires more engineering than they believe will be acceptable, that’s where I part company totally. What’s acceptable changes over time. We are not at the end of history.

By laissez faire, color-blind means, racial integration may well be impossible, given the inertial force anchoring segregation. Neo-conservative policy will doom us to market segmentation by race and all the apartness derived from it.

Neo-liberal policy is no better. Funding minority and low- and-moderate income folks to form place-based community development organizations providing for their own kind in their own areas perpetuates, accommodates and exacerbates separate and unequal living, even when done with a warm heart.

Racial integration in local school markets, housing markets and civic life is possible and even likely, but not without pushing aside both liberal and conservative policies in favor of pro-integrative policy – that is, policy decisions informed by integration/segregation impact analysis and interracial commitment to favor options that will attract the race which is underrepresented, whether white or of color.

Whites tend to see racial balance where majorities and minorities are buying in numbers reflective of their regional presence and buying power. Blacks and Hispanics tend to see balance when their group is approximately half of the neighborhood population, school enrollment or civic organization. These “what it’s becoming” and “what it is” perceptions of balance beg for reconciling, not for being accepted as the end of history. Given these disparate inclinations and little or no education or incentive programs to foster compromise, it ought to be patently obvious that segregation has Big Mo(mentum) on its side, even without the actionable discrimination that is still with us.

In the near term, national housing policy is likely to continue favoring a diversity of racial ghettos – some white, others black or brown, some gritty and others glitzy, some long-established while others are just becoming. Devolution, local control, empowerment zones for people of color and sprawl for whites have a firm grip on both for-profit conservatives and non-profit liberals. But more and bigger islands of integration in the seas of segregation can be had right now. It takes an interracial commitment to pro-integrative principle and intentional effort for the indefinite future.

Economic and social rewards (e.g., wealth accumulation, mutual understanding, acceptance and friendship) of integration are great, especially compared to re-segregation. Some communities make the commitment while they have the human, financial and time resources. The fact that long-term racially balanced living is relatively rare and never perfect is no reason to think it impossible or to devalue it.

Desegregation and tolerance are necessary preconditions on the way toward integration and acceptance. To disrespect the former, as Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown tend to do, is to thwart progress toward the latter. If we want choices beyond one sort of ethnic enclave or another, those who claim to value broader choice must be challenged to develop a pro-integrative mindset and make personal, professional and business choices that model pro-integrative behaviors. More leadership to supplant a culture of segregation with a culture of integration and a new interracial equilibrium is what we need now.

Don DeMarco is President and Executive Director of Fund for an OPEN Society (603 Walnut Ln., Philadelphia, PA 19128, 215/482-OPEN), a pro-integrative mortgage, housing counseling and consulting non-profit organization.

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