Last semester (spring 2010) I worked as an intern for Memphis Heritage Inc. This was a non-profit organization that called for historic preservation of buildings, parks, and neighborhoods around Memphis. I had the pleasure of working with an AP US history class at East High School (majority Black school) on preserving a one room sharecroppers school that used to be on presidents island. This school was a Black school used during the middle of the twentieth century. The plan was to move the schoolhouse onto the East High School campus and make into a museum that would highlight black education in Memphis and the mid-south. One of the most interesting aspects of working with these students was the overall comfort with being in a largely one race school, seeing no need for current integration. The project really opened my eyes to whether society has really come far in integration efforts.
In class we learned that even African Americans weren’t always for integration. Segregation posed a few positive aspects depending on location of residence, but these aspects existed none the less. In many cases the Black schools would be better academically because of few opportunities for educated blacks, who would therefore resort to teaching. The hostility shown by whites when schools integrated must have also had an effect on the African American view of whites as being inhospitable to their black children, furthering reason for segregation.
The situation was not exactly helped during the black power movement which caused for a celebration of black culture and lead to separatist movements such as the one led by Malcolm X. Even though these movements had few members in relation to the black population of the country the impact that the overall black power had on the minds of black gave them a feeling of individuality within American culture. It is this feeling that separates blacks from whites culturally.
This all raises the question of what is American society. While I personally think that American society is mixing of multiple cultures, it is different when one portion of a culture thrives on standing alone. While on the outside it seems that many white have appreciated black culture through music and other means, the students at East High school that I worked with did not seem very interested in mixing their culture with others. Can some aspects of African American culture and thought in this country ever fully mix in because of the unique and oppressed history of African Americans? An argument I have heard by many is if we move away from government policies set up to give African Americans certain advantages because of the harsh ways of the past will racism be less of a problem? A specific example would be if Affirmative action was moved to giving aid purely on socio economic needs rather than race would we as Americans further integrate black, white, Asian, Hispanic and other societies? Or is past history (slavery, Jim Crowe, segregation, etc.) that the civil rights movement fought against too strong to fully mix Black culture and society with the rest of American society?