The shallowness of integration

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Written by Jeannine Bell
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed in 1963 that “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” If I was going to make an observation specifically speaking about racial progressives, I’d say the most segregated places in America are weddings (or commitment ceremonies—for the too many Americans prohibited by law from marrying) where both partners are white. Take for instance Chelsea Clinton’s recent wedding. Though I bet (I don’t know her, after all) she considers herself a racial progressive, the blogosphere suggested there were few, if any, black faces at her wedding.
So why pick on weddings? Not to increase the number of invitations I receive to weddings, mind you. There are two reasons I am singling out weddings. The first is the issue of exclusivity. You just cannot invite absolutely everyone you know (unless you only know very few people) to your wedding. In that way, invitees to one’s wedding are exclusive. I think wedding guests are a marker of who the bride, the groom and their families deem to be important — really important. It says something, I think, about how integrated society is, if people who identify as racial progressives don’t have anyone who is African-American at their wedding. It suggests that though one believes in racial progress, they don’t actually know anyone African American who is important enough to invite to their wedding. OK, if not, why not?
Second, it’s my view that in today’s society, weddings where both partners are white may be the last closed space to which most middle and upper class African-Americans are not allowed entry. It’s my suspicion (based largely on my own experience and that of someone I knew who had photographed hundreds of weddings) that while white neighborhoods, white schools, white workplaces may allow a few black faces, weddings remained largely closed. So what does this mean? This may not be so much an indictment of progressives as an acknowledgment that integration is shallower and more precarious than we realize. The problem of social integration is even worse than the figures suggest. In other words, even where we see a modicum of black presence in traditionally white spaces — neighborhoods, institutions of higher education and workplaces, exclusively white weddings suggest that meaningful social integration continues to elude us…