After author Tanner Colby spent months volunteering for President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign — which led to his election as America’s first black president — he returned home only to realize that he had no African-American friends of his own.
“Obama’s election was astonishing, unprecedented,” Colby said in an interview with the Seattle Times. “But what did it really prove except that it’s easier to vote for a black man than to sit and have a beer with one.”
After all, Colby had lived and worked in New York City, was raised in Birmingham, Alabama and attended college in New Orleans. Colby was forced to ask himself, how could this have happened? After all of the work that had been done to end segregation and break racial barriers that had kept blacks and whites living separate lives for decades, what did any of it mean if people of different races still kept themselves segregated? To answer that question, Colby set out to write a book that would examine this phenomena.
Some of my Best Friends are Black follows Colby as he travels to four cities in the U.S. Birmingham, Ala., where he attended high school, Grand Coteau, La., to examine church segregation; Madison Avenue, New York City, where he had been employed, to examine workplace segregation; and Kansas City, Mo., to examine housing segregation.
What Colby discovered is that although institutional segregation had been extinguished in schools, white Americans have never truly been concerned with integrating their personal lives and allowing black people into more intimate aspects of their lives like their homes, their churches or their children’s lives.
Colby’s analysis revealed that housing is the root of much of what has kept blacks and whites from truly integrating. He believes that although our courts and the political process have facilitated considerable social change in the past forty years, nothing was ever done to fix the housing problem in this country.
“Republican or Democrat, whites didn’t necessarily want blacks in their neighborhoods. It’s much the same with job discrimination in that we’ve been pursuing all these legal solutions, but so much of workplace discrimination is subtle biases and cultural inclinations that divide us. The fact is, people find jobs using social networks and various other informal cultural and social norms and so if you don’t fix those, you’re not going to have an integrated workplace.”
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