The other morning I was watching Morning Joe sipping my coffee, and he featured a segment discussing which state is the most segregated in modern day America. What do you think it would be, somewhere in the South? Somewhere in the Mid-West?
Wait for it….
It’s New York. My home state, the place I love, where I come from and the place that made me me. I’m from upstate New York, a place of freezing winters (but gorgeous springs, summers, and falls), small towns, rolling hills, and delicious craft beers. New York City, the worlds greatest city, is a wonderful place to visit and I always have a great time whenever I’m there (Second on Second gay bars in Manhattan, Brooklyn all day holla, even Staten Island shanenigans). I really do love New York. While the culture of New York is rich, but apparently, also, one of unprecedented racial segregation.
I know that downstate New York is a place unlike any other, specifically Long Island, New York. For those of you unfamiliar with the geology of New York, Long Island is basically the conglomerate of rock matter formed from the glaciers that cut through upstate New York to that created my beloved rolling hills. It is basically what happened as the result of the glaciers taking a dump, something us upstaters like to point out to often times self-righteous Long Islanders who think that upstate New York is one great bumblefuck. New York City is very racially segregated, but Long Island is the section of the state that is primarily responsible for the massive segregation. Indeed, it is the pattern in Long Island that one town is white, the other non-white, one town is white, the next town is non-white. The non-whites often work in the white towns, and the people in the white towns usually work in the city.
This pattern of racial segregation has allowed low-income socioeconomic status of non-whites to continue and has created a racial barrier to equal education due to the way the tax-code funds schools. If you even think of trying to have a conversation with a white Long-Islander about redistribution of the tax-code with regards to schools, you will get a long-winded denial to the legitimacy of this idea (I know this from attempting to have the conversation with several Long Island white people during my college years). The idea simply does not hold clout amongst the most segregated part of America.
There is a lot of talk about how “races” “naturally” “want” to live amongst each other. Personally, some of my most favorite moments have been with groups of people where racial diversity was the operating factor within the context of the social interaction. While it is true that it is “easier” to identify people with similar thoughts and beliefs, this does not have to boil down to race. Social phenomenon such as youth culture, sub-cultures, or alternative ways of living can bring people together regardless of previous ways up upbringing. I know this personally from experience, having lived a fringe and alternative lifestyle for many years. My experience was multi-racial and my ability to relate to others transcended my whiteness because I was aware of my privilege, and as a result of willingness to give it up, I was able to take and heed criticism that I believe other white people would not be able to tolerate. A lot of white people accuse people of color of not wanting to interact with us, but my rebuttal to that is that in the majority of white people, there is a willful ignorance while paradoxical embrace of the social workings of white privilege. And who would want to hang out with people who are actively committed to denying your equality while denying that that is their intention? It has been my experience that beecause I am willing to give these social workings up, people of color have remarked to me that it is easier to interact with me than most people of my race. I take this as a huge compliment.
It is a conscious, calculated move to structure a society where inter-racial interactions are limited and depersonalized. Downstate New York has mastered this consciousness, to the detriment of embracing an outlook on life where interactions with others who are not completely like ones self are valued.
While writing this post, I’ve been listening to Reem’s newly dropped ill track titled “Chicago Conscious (Remix” featuring Lil Herb, King Louie, and Spenzo. Like most drill rap, the beat is haunting and invigorating.
The rappers talk about a uniquely Black experience in this country, that of having no other options but to conform to a gangsta lifestyle in order to put food on the table. Reem raps “comin’ from where I’m comin’ from/you’d probably loose it”, “to my niggas is my brothers/and I treat ’em like my brothers/to my brothers is my niggas/so I treat ’em like my brothers”, Lil’ Herb raps “dropped out of school cuz I knew I wouldn’t be shit” and “my niggas either in the streets sellin’ drugs/or they sleepin'”, King Louis raps “don’t talk to the police/no talk” and “touch me you die/no worries/lyin’ niggas no stories”, and finally Spenzo raps “nigga I’ve been self-made since twelfth grade”. These men talk about reliance on your squad, your niggas, your brothers, while remarking “lookin’ in the mirror only nigga that can relate”. The juxtaposition of having close friends, “my niggas”, while remarking the omnipresent feeling of isolation is stark and disarming to the listener. If this song does not illustrate the effects of a social situation engineered and executed to cause isolation of a racial group, I do not know what song possibly could. These rappers come from Chiraq which I have wrote about a few times, a Black neighborhood of Chicago completely segregated as a stronghold for intra-racial violence, murder and mayhem.
The rappers also make it a point to show that they dropped out of school, or simply disregarded it, for lack of personal benefit. This is also a phenemeon shown in New York where only 58% of Black and Latino students graduate from high school in the New York City area. If you click the link, the article is a New York Post piece titled “An Unconscionable Silence”. I very much would like to dispute this. This is a very deliberate and calculated effort on the part of White America, to be silent about the interworking’s to deny equality of opportunity, achievement, and advancement to non-whites.
While towns on Long Island do not have the violence problem that Chiraq has, but there are markedly more economic opportunities for everyone in that area. This does not stop the downstate drug trade, of which has historically ripped Black sections of Brooklyn with gun violence and gang vendettas.
The typical white experience simply does not include the knowledge of illegal activities as a normal way of life to make money. Most white people I know who have gotten into the drug trade have done so out of desire for excitement, though obviously lower income whites do participate in illegal activity for economic gain. However, social phenomenon such as racialized segregation cause these racial disparities in what is considered normative life to continue for lack of active social acceptance of the underpinnings and causes of the criminalization of being Black. It can more than definitely be read that historically and in modern times it is a crime to be Black, and white structures have done and continue to ensure this is a lived truth.
I unfortunately do not see New York changing any time soon. With denial of white privilege and its interworking’s, it will probably only get stronger. In New York, you go hard. I encourage my fellow whites to go hard in the other direction, to embracing racial diversity, and looking at their experience of privilege to the detriment of their fellow New York citizens.