Earlier this year, the state of New York passed a law banning discrimination against natural hair in the workplace. This was in response to statistics showing that Black women are 50 percent more likely to be sent home (or know of other black women who have been sent home) from the workplace because of their natural hairstyles. To prevent being sent home, Black women are 80 percent more likely to change their hair to accommodate social norms and assimilate into the dominant culture. We see this kind of assimilation not only in the workplace, but in schools and sports too; earlier this year, a referee made a New Jersey high school wrestler cut his dreadlocks right before a match in order to be allowed to compete—a showcase of forced assimilation. Why is it that Black people are expected to assimilate into white culture to occupy different spaces? Perhaps racial integration, which integrated Black people into white society without attending to the problem of racial inequality, is to blame for the forced assimilation of Black people into white society.
The principles of segregation and integration revolved around the idea of “separate but equal.” However, integration seemed to solve the “separate” problem, but not the “equal” problem; the “equal” problem should have happened, and integration would have happened naturally. However, what we have now in the United States isn’t integration, which would include people of different races occupying the same spaces that draw on diverse traditions—instead of bringing a racial minority into the racial majority. Based on this definition, looking at the what we do have, however, is de-segregation—which simply got rid of laws saying we could not be apart—and “pro-longed assimilation,” as Dr. Boyce Watkins says, into an anti-Black white society.
Before “integration,” Black people flourished more than they do now: their communities, nuclear families, and business thrived and less Black people were being put into prisons; there was no school-to-prison pipeline, no stop-and-frisk/broken-window policy, and no war on drugs—reactions to integration from white supremacist power structures to keep Black people oppressed. In an interview with Barney Blakeney, Clay Middleton, a candidate for the South Carolina House of Representatives District 111 seat, said that Morris, Spring, and Cannon streets (in downtown Charleston, South Carolina) were vibrant centers of activity for black business, especially because Black people were unwelcomed in white establishments. Middleton then speaks of the displacement of black businesses after the 1965 Civil Rights act became law, naming the Brooks Motel on Morris Street, a hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King stayed during his visit in Charleston, as one of the many Black-owned business that were demolished after integration. Even Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma, where Black people were wealthier than their white neighbors, crumbled after integration. After segregation ended, Black people flocked to support businesses owned by white people, causing Black restaurants, theaters, insurance companies, banks, and Black Wall Street, to disappear.
After integration, because of the closing of many Black-only schools, there was an insurgence of Black unemployment. In an interview with Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Thom Rosenblum, a historian at the Brown v. Board National Historic Site, eight Black junior high school teachers lost their jobs in Topeka, Kansas alone: “The court ruling integrated classrooms but said nothing about allowing African-American teachers to work at the newly integrated schools,” said Rosemblum. Previous white-only schools didn’t want Black teachers teaching white children, and Black parents flocked to get their children into these previous white-only schools because white schools were thought to have superior education. In turn, Black schools were left with too many teachers and not enough children to teach, and many teachers were let go and many schools closed. Along with the closing of schools, the closing of black businesses led to an increase in unemployment rates; unemployment rates for Black people, specifically Black men who were the pre-dominant owners of Black businesses, rose drastically. In 1954, white men had a zero percent unemployment rate, while Black men experienced about a 4 percent rate. By 2010, it was at 16.7 percent for Black men compared to 7.7 percent for white men—meaning unemployment rates for Black men quadrupled. In this day and age, Black people in general are more vulnerable in the labor market. Black people tend to work worse jobs (jobs with lower pay and fewer benefits) than white people and tend to work jobs that are less stable. Also, when the economy drops, Black people’s unemployment rates go up sooner than white people. Moreover, it takes Black workers longer to find a job than white workers. By integrating, or assimilating, into a white-dominated society, Black people are now subject to the standards white people place upon them, and failure to meet those standards—especially in the workplace and work field, results in economic instability.
Without Black businesses and infrastructure, Black people are forced to turn to white businesses and infrastructure to survive. However, equality of the races has yet to be achieved, so Black people are subject to racism that prevents them from thriving in white spaces. The answer to the problem seems to be that Black people should build their own cultural enclaves similar to those like Chinatown and Little Italy; Black people should own their own businesses and schools—places where natural hairstyles are can be seen as the norm instead of an anomaly—where they are not forced to assimilate and can thrive without dependence on white people.