The Effects of Integration

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.

Cultural Smudging

The casting of Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman sparked much debate among Black people. One of the major aspects of the debate revolved around Erivo’s ethnicity and nationality, as she—a Black Brit with Nigerian ancestry—was cast to play Harriet Tubman—an enslaved Black American. This isn’t the first time a non-Black American has played a DACS (Descendant of American Chattel Slavery) and has sparked conversation among Black people; when Daniel Kaluuya, A Black Brit, played a Black American in Get Out, Samuel Jackson commented on how the portrayal of Kaluuya’s character would have been different if played by a Black American. There was also the casting of Daniel Ezra, another Black Brit, as DACS football player Spencer Paysinger in a show ironically titled “All American,” that sparked a quiet conversation. On the flip side, when Will Smith, a Black American, was cast to play Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian American, in Concussion, there was similar discussion among Nigerians. In short, there has been a lot of hostility simmering within the Black diaspora within the past decade or so.

In a Guardian interview, David Harewood, a British actor, insisted Black British actors are better suited for Black American roles because UK actors may be able to more easily “unshackle [them]selves from the burden of racial realities.” However, is it appropriate for American history to be unshackled from racial realities, especially in a movie like Harriet that specifically deals with race relations? The use of culture without being shackled to the historical issues, stereotypes, and oppression that comes along with said culture is textbook cultural appropriation.

There are questions surrounding how appropriate it is for non-DACS Black people to be cast into DACS’ roles in media, but also in jobs and education. In education and jobs/income, non-American Black people are disproportionally represented because of a white supremacist infrastructure that favors Black immigrants to Black Americans—a phenomenon Malcolm Gladwell explores in his essay “Black Like Them.”

In an era of increased globalization, Black diversity in higher education has become a priority, especially at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs); HBCUs have been making efforts to reach out to more non-American Black people. While the pan-diasporic ties are important, one could ask why the same effort isn’t being made to recruit Black-American students to colleges and universities, despite the fact the non-American blacks often outnumber DACS students. In a 2017 protest at Cornell University, students argued that  non-DACS Black people were being overrepresented in the mere 6% Black student population and demanded equal representation:

 “We demand that Cornell admissions come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented black students on this campus. We define underrepresented black students as black students who have several generations (more than two) in this country. The black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have the right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in Black students who families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America…”

In admissions and enrollment, there is no distinction made between DACS and the children of Black immigrants—nor does the American Census. Organizations like ADOSA, American Descendants of Slavery in the United States of America, are pushing to create a formal recognition of DACS in the 2020 American census. The reason behind this is to delineate resources like government programs: should programs meant to offset centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow segregation be available to recent Black immigrants in America, or their children? A variety of ethnic groups within the Black diaspora means a variety of cultures, heritages, histories, and issues, so it seems inappropriate to take a one-size-fits-all approach to the varying issues within the diaspora.  

One might wonder why differences matter to Black people when, in the eyes of white people, they are all Black and are therefore the same. This viewing of Black identity through an oppressive white gaze is troubling as it centers the white gaze in the formation of Black identity and flattens the experiences of Black people into a monolithic experience. And, as stated before, DACS and non-DACS Black people are not oppressed the same way. Oppression plays out differently within our communities, country, and across the Earth—from the police brutality across the United states to the apartheid of South Africa.

While Black people all have a common enemy—the system of racism and white supremacy—racism is an octopus with many arms. There will need to be alternative methods put in place to address the unique instances that apply to different types of Black people, and for that to happen there must be recognition of different ethnicities and nationalities within the Black diaspora. That way, more can be done to level the playing field within the Black diaspora so that DACS are not at the bottom of the ladder.

The Emergence of the Black Chruch as a Cultural Stronghold

So… is it a Black Church or a White Church?

Upon hearing that question, one might already know what the real underlying questions are: 1) Is the service going to be long? 2) Does the pastor passionately yell out during the service? 3) Are the church members going to be clapping and stomping to old-school hymnals? 4) Are people going to be catching the holy ghost? If the answer is “yes” to two or more of those questions, the church may likely be classified as a Black church. But, how can churches ever be classified as Black when Christianity was used to 1) justifify the capture, selling, and abuse of black bodies and 2) indoctrinate Black individuals with religious principles to assimilate them into white society? This kind of thinking had led to many recent movements for Black people (specifically, Black Americans or Descendants of American Chattel Slavery) to reject Christianity and turn to African forms of religions or reject religion all together. However, this kind of thinking seems flawed in that it searches for some kind of past connection to whiteness and racial slavery. Because most things and ideas can be traced back to whiteness and/or racial slavery, it seems like a “boring” approach to a topic that could be fruitful. Instead, what if one thinks about Christianity’s connection to Blackness while centering the positive effects it has had on Black unification and preservation of culture?

While it was introduced to Black people during colonialism and racial slavery, Christianity did not become a major part of Black life until after the end of slavery in the U.S. Even in its emergence, it was something different that traditional Christianity; in its initial introduction to enslaved Africans, “it emerge[d] as a Christian religious culture mildly peppered with African indigenous and  Islamic styles of worship and synthetic magical folk practices across 246 years of enslaved African presence in the Anglo United States.” 1 Over time, it continued to grow and change. The Black Church initially served as a means of catharsis during slavery and, afterwards, offered some of the first opportunities for Black people to own land. Over time—about a century ago—the Black Church became the site for political and social organization, as well as centers for economic development and growth. In addition, the church provided an environment free of racism and oppression where its Black members were free to pursue social, economic, and political opportunities that could be sought by all. It also served as a place of spiritual uplift, using expressions of overcoming oppression and “lifting while climbing.”2

            Yes, even though Christianity was introduced to Black people through racial slavery, it provided—and still provides—a means of uplift. This is what separates the Black Church from the white church. The Black Church revolves around freedom from oppression, a major facet that automatically separates itself from the white church, and racial solidarity. That is why, aside from the heavy presence of Black churches in the U.S. (especially in the south, where slavery was most prevalent), we see Black churches across the diaspora; we see congregations of African American, Afro-Canadian, Afro-Caribbean North American, Afro-Caribbean European, African North American, and African Europeans. And, these diasporas represent a myriad of nationalities that range from Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Congolese, South African, Jamaican, Barbadian, Bahaman, and Surinamian and, within these nationalities, distinct ethnicities such as Yoruban, Igbo, Ewe, Akan and Zulu.3 These are all people that have been affected by the slave trade and/or colonialism. And, within these churches that encompass much of the diaspora, we see lots of similarities: passionate singing, over-participatory members, and emphasis on community and solidarity. Therefore, one can see how Black churches across the diaspora emerged as a place of uplift, solidifying its difference from the white church.

            Despite the fact Christianity was introduced to Black people through slavery and colonialism, Black people have turned it into something that serves the progression and uplift of the race. As human beings, Black people are fully capable of recognizing and understanding the origins. Again, this is why there is a push to return to “traditional” African religions. However, the Black Church has served as a Black cultural stronghold, preserving Black relationships, Black mobility, and Black perseverance. Therefore, instead of centering whiteness in observing the Black Church, one should center blackness to see how the Black Church has positively affected Black people in the U.S., as well as across the diaspora.


  1. Stewart Diakité, Dianne M., and Tracey E. Hucks. “Africana Religious Studies: Toward a Transdisciplinary Agenda in an Emerging Field.” Journal of Africana Religions 1, no. 1 (2013): 28-77.
  2. “’The Black Church,’ a brief history.” African American Registry. Last modified November 1, 1758.
  3. David Daniels III. “Reterritorizing the West in World Christianity: Black North Atlantic Christianity and the Edinburgh Conferences of 1910 and 2010.” Journal of World Christianity 5, no. 1 (2012): 102-23. doi:10.5325/jworlchri.5.1.0102.