Unamerican tail: of segregation and multicultural education.

Author:Munroe, Maurice E.R.


She was buxom and bare to the waist. He was completely naked and he could not take his eyes off her, but his fascination would prove fatal. He was in a metal frame with a high pulley wheel and a low one. Around his neck was a noose. The other end of the rope went over the high pulley wheel, down behind his back, under the low pulley wheel, between his legs, and was knotted around his maleness. The system was ingenious. As his excitement rose, he would slowly strangle himself to death. She was blonde, and he was unmistakably black, but I cannot remember if he had a tail.

I saw this large mural in 1974 on the wall of a restaurant in downtown Amsterdam, Holland. I would be surprised to find such an image prominently displayed in a restaurant in the center of a major American city. Yet, I believe that this mural, in gross and exaggerated form, reflects the attitudes of many Americans. The mural reflects the belief that blacks are different and inferior. It says that they are less intelligent and enterprising than whites, that they are unable to control their emotions and their sexuality, that they lust after white women. After all, to escape his fate, all the prisoner had to do was close his eyes. It also says that there is something exotic, almost unnatural, about interracial sex. Finally, this mural reflects another more sinister notion, namely that blacks as a group pose a threat to society, and must be controlled. These attitudes form the basis of racial prejudice in America today.

This essay is my response to an important book written by Nathan Glazer called We Are All Multiculturalists Now.(1) In his book, Glazer makes it clear that he deplores America's extreme levels of racial segregation, and that he is a strong advocate for assimilation.(2) He also identifies residential segregation as the most important social indicator of America's current racial divide.(3) While he is critical of multicultural education, he regards it as the result of residential segregation,(4) as an attempt by black Americans to be included rather than separated.

While I agree with much of the book, I also have substantial criticisms. Although he condemns segregation, Glazer believes that it is caused, not by racial prejudice, but by the social dysfunction of poor black communities.(5) Further, while he recognizes multicultural education as an understandable response to segregation, he claims that it is divisive.(6) He prefers the ethnocentric curriculum he experienced as a boy because he believes it did a better job of teaching tolerance.(7) Contrary to Glazer, I show that segregation is the product of widespread racial prejudice, and that the social dysfunction of the black poor is a product of segregation rather than a cause.(8) I also show that the ethnocentric curriculum he remembers carried the message of racial inferiority.(9) Finally, I argue that, because Glazer does not recognize the continuing pervasiveness of racial prejudice, he is unable to understand the real significance of multicultural education, which is that it will help to reduce prejudice, and thus ultimately help to end segregation.(10)

In Part 1, I show that extreme segregation is responsible for the severe social disadvantage suffered by many urban black communities.(11) In Part 2, I explain the nature of racial prejudice, and I show that it has fundamentally shaped American society throughout American history, and continues to do so.(12) In Part 3, I explain how racial prejudice causes segregation.(13) In Part 4, I explain that Glazer's ethnocentric curriculum was the product of a very prejudiced society, and reflected the belief that blacks were different and inferior.(14) Therefore, it taught intolerance. Part 5 identifies widely accepted notions that reflect the message of racial inferiority conveyed by the ethnocentric curriculum.(15) Finally, in Part 6, I explain the purpose, theory and practice of multicultural education.(16) I argue that because its purpose is to teach tolerance, a person who favors assimilation, like Glazer, should prize multicultural education for its unique contribution to the goals of reducing prejudice and ending segregation.(17)


Glazer regards the high level of residential segregation as a barometer of America's racial division. His conviction that the rise of multicultural education is due to segregation, his commitment to the ideal of assimilation, and his hostility to segregation put segregation at the heart of his book. However, Glazer believes that segregation is caused by black social dysfunction, in other words, that sympathetic whites have been scared-off by black crime and poverty. In this part, I describe the extent of residential segregation and its harmful social and psychological consequences and demonstrate that black social dysfunction is a consequence of segregation rather than a cause.

Glazer recognizes that black residential segregation is unparalleled in American history.(18) "`[C]hocolate city with vanilla suburbs'"(19) is a sweet phrase for a sour fact. In 1980, sixteen metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia, were hypersegregated,(20) which means that blacks or their neighborhoods were very segregated,(21) isolated,(22) clustered,(23) centralized,(24) and concentrated.(25) Significantly, over one-third of all blacks reside in these sixteen metropolitan areas.(26)

Glazer emphasizes that urban blacks are more segregated than the immigrant groups of the past.(27) For example, the segregation index for most white ethnic groups in large cities never exceeded twenty-five,(28) while for blacks in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland the average in 1980 was eighty-eight.(29) Blacks are even more segregated than today's immigrant groups. The residential segregation of blacks is nearly twice that of Asians(30) and much greater than that of Hispanics, even though many Hispanics are recent immigrants who face a language barrier.(31) In no city are Hispanics hypersegregated.(32)

Further, in contrast to other non-white ethnics, the segregation of blacks does not vary much by economic or educational status.(33) For example, in Detroit, the segregation index of college graduates is eighty, while for high school dropouts it is seventy-seven.(34) Indeed, in the thirty metropolitan areas with the largest black populations, the segregation index for black families earning less than $2,500 per year is eighty-six while for those black families earning more than $50,000 per year, it is eighty-three.(35)

Thus, one-third of all blacks reside in densely populated areas, located around a city's inner core, inhabited almost exclusively by blacks: the chocolate filling in the vanilla donut. These black residents can live their daily lives without entering a neighborhood that is not exclusively black. They may be the most isolated people in the United States.(36)

Glazer dislikes segregation because it signifies an America that is deeply divided by race. Perhaps though, the real evil of segregation lies in its consequences. Although the inner city is described as a chocolate filling, its residents do not live in candy land. Glazer acknowledges the social turmoil in the inner city, but regards it as a cause, rather than a consequence of segregation and as the reason for white flight rather than its product. As a result, he not only underestimates the evil of segregation, but he overlooks its real cause, the enduring belief of white America that blacks are different and inferior.

The high level of social turmoil in the inner city is illustrated by dismal statistics on sickness, crime, poverty, joblessness, educational failure, and out-of-wedlock births.(37) For instance, the black mortality rate in Detroit is three times the national average,(38) and the infant mortality rate in Chicago is almost three times the national rate,(39) and in Baltimore, more than 50% of black men between eighteen and thirty-five are under the control of the criminal justice system.(40) Segregation causes this social turmoil by creating and concentrating poverty, joblessness and educational failure.(41) Concentrated poverty was created by the exodus of the white middle class, which dramatically increased the ratio of poor to rich, and thus deprived a city of its tax base, human resources, educational opportunities, and employment opportunities.(42) This exodus also reduced property values and produced neighborhood instability.(43) "Poor blacks face a density of poverty 3 to 4 times higher than that for poor whites."(44) For instance, in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore regions, about almost half of the former's and three-quarters of the latter's poor blacks are concentrated in the inner cities, where poverty rates have been measured at 60%, while most poor whites live in middle class neighborhoods.(45)

Segregation also causes employment disadvantage in a variety of ways.(46) For instance, whites are disproportionately represented in skilled jobs and in the best unskilled jobs(47) as a result of employers' usual tactic of recruiting for these jobs by word of mouth.(48) Residential segregation means that whites and blacks have separate information networks(49) and blacks do not hear of job vacancies for skilled jobs and the best unskilled jobs.(50) Furthermore, the transfer of jobs from the city to the suburbs has created special problems for blacks(51) because they are now even further removed from the job information network.(52) Therefore, as a result of word of mouth recruiting, operating in the context of extreme residential segregation, blacks end up in the lower-level, worse paying jobs, or with no job at all.(53)

Segregation also causes employment disadvantage because it helps to produce educational failure. Education is important for professional and skilled positions. For these positions, blacks are...

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