Separate But Equal

“Separate But Equal”
Not okay then. But is it okay now?

Historically, “separate but equal” refers to a dark period in our history when the utterly RACIST doctrine of racial segregation was not only legal, but nothing close to equal.

Today, it is illegal to force such segregation upon others in the U.S.

But I wonder if less obvious but not exactly harmless notions of “separate but equal” have endured.

Hear me out.

👥  Universities and employers often provide cultural, racial or affinity groups for SOME of us. 

👥 Being around “people like us” helps foster a sense of belonging.  For ALL of us.

👥 But some of us get groups based on race, ethnicity or other social identities.

So I wonder:

❓At what point does community-seeking become self-imposed segregation?

❓ Is such separateness really beneficial or conducive to a more inclusive society?

❓Is the provision of separate spaces for some but not all, truly seeing us all as equal?

Let’s break it down.

🧐 Assuming I might need more support from my “community” because I am Latina, universities and employers provide groups* for “people like me” so I can feel “supported.”

🤨 That sends the message that I might need support based on my ethnicity, because there aren’t many around me that look like me.

🧐 Others “like me” (say, Latinas) form communities for Latinas to support and surround themselves with Latinas, reinforcing this idea that we need that specific support.

😐 My elementary school child is being taught daily to be more independent, but people of color from college-age to full adult are being ”supported” with cultural or affinity groups where they can find community.

To some of us, the message coming across might sound like this:

📣 “You are just as good as us, of course, but here’s a special group just for people like you, your ‘community,’ so you can feel included.”

‼️ And right there, those benevolent institutions providing those separate, safe spaces just created distance and a sense of EXCLUSION.

‼️ We are not just different in their eyes.  We need more. We need others to do more for us.

👩🏼 If white women only hang out with other white women at work, they are not being very inclusive.

👩🏽 But if Latinas only hang out with Latinas, we are seeking community.

⁉️ Is this seeing us as equals when separate?

🤷🏻‍♀️ Just a thought.  One perspective.



*Cultural and affinity groups provide opportunities for others to learn about our cultures and different social identities and are generally welcoming to all. I’m not suggesting we eliminate affinity groups, but rather examine our assumptions around their members. We might consider using them more to host company or school-wide events rather than to seek separate community in them. 🖤

Coming Together . . .

Let’s look at an example of coming together separately in furtherance of community and inclusivity:

•New York City is diverse in many ways.

•So is the student body at Columbia University in NYC, my alma mater.

•On a visit to campus to show my son where “Mommy went to college,” I reflected on the coming together of differences and how it felt for me as a student then, to learn from and amongst such a diverse population.

🤔 And I wondered how it might feel for students now.

🎓 Graduation season is upon us, and Columbia is among the colleges and universities holding “identity-focused” or affinity graduation celebrations in addition to university-wide Commencement ceremonies.

While these seem like lovely opportunities to celebrate with members of our more specific communities, I ask us to consider:

▪️Taking a more critical look at the role of seeking community in separate spaces in our efforts to promote atmospheres of inclusion.

▪️That a coming together across differences and a sense of belonging might be harder to attain the more apart we remain based on our different identities.

▪️The power in being our full selves in shared spaces, expanding the image of what a Columbia graduate or college graduate looks like.

👉 For the context to these considerations, check out my piece “Coming Together.

“Columbia’s Multicultural and Affinity Graduation Celebrations” article:

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