Diverse Neighborhood, Uniform Friends

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tanner Colby is what you might call your typical, liberal, city-dwelling, 30-something white guy. He has a good education. He votes for Democrats. He loves Obama. He thinks of himself as tolerant and open-minded.

But one day he looked around and realized something: Despite living in Brooklyn, one of the most diverse cities in the world, he had no black friends. And when he asked his friends if they had any black friends, it turned out they didn’t either. How did this happen?

The search for answers led him on a journey of personal reflection, around the country, and back through the annals of American history. His new book is called “Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America.” 

Colby finds that the current segregation has roots in 20th-century policies such as real estate schemes, the G.I. Bill, and bussing. Covenants in northern cities were signed to keep black families out of white neighborhoods, which caused returning veterans to make their homes along racially segregated lines — white servicemen were mandated to head for the suburbs, while blacks could not find loans for housing outside of the cities. 

"The fact that whites felt threatened [by incoming black families] presented a unique business opportunity for real estate developers, who saw that they could sell all-black real estate at a premium," Colby says. Segregation, then, became a buyable product.  

Bussing, a practice designed to integrate public schools, also contributed to the black-white divide in northern areas. Originally an idea in smaller southern communities, Colby argues that the program was ill-fit for huge northern cities like Detroit, New York, and Boston. "The logistics of what would have been required to shuffle all these kids around without having dealt with the housing problem that we just described was crazy," Colby says. 

These policies are what produced the current segregation that Colby investigates. "When black and whites came together in social spaces, it was just a huge backlash," he argues. "Emotionally, black people and white people just didn't know how to deal with each other."

Here's an experiment: Go to your Facebook page and count the number of friends you have that are a different race or ethnicity than you. Tell us your number on The Takeaway's Facebook page.

Guests:

Tanner Colby

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [12]

Scarlett O'Hara from AwayFromThem

Tanner Colby is like that other creep Tim Wise in that neither of them are White although they insist that they are. Wise is a goy-hating jew, and Colby is some sort of mixed race mongrel. These two racial fraudsters certainly do not represent or speak for White people.

Feb. 13 2014 05:17 PM
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Mar. 07 2013 12:30 AM
Alyson from Brooklyn

I am black and I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood, but I attended a predominately white school. I sat at the all black table in the lunchroom and tried to hide that I was friendly with the "uncool" white kids. College was much the same and so was New York after college. All black people I know hang out exclusively with other black people. Me on the other hand...my core friends are white, Asian,latino,Indian etc and I no longer hide them. I actually have few black friends based on a lack of common interests.

Jul. 13 2012 01:34 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Breck - how many ....friends do you have? You look like you can use some.

Jul. 12 2012 03:56 PM
The Truth from Beky

If you didn't have any "Black" friends growing up in Brooklyn, NY and going to college in Louisiana, you didn't want any!

Jul. 12 2012 03:53 PM
Jay from New Brunswick, NJ

I attended a very diverse high school in New Jersey (mostly white, black, and latino). I keep in touch with very few of these classmates, but the ones who are my friends on facebook cross ethnic lines. As a young adult living in New Brunswick, NJ, I have made my lasting friends based on common interests, particularly in punk rock and other local underground music. While this scene attracts a majority white audience, the friends I have made through this involvement, including my biracial girlfriend, cross all lines of race, gender, and orientation.

Jul. 12 2012 03:40 PM
Jay from New Brunswick, NJ

I attended a very diverse high school in New Jersey (mostly white, black, and latino). I keep in touch with very few of these classmates, but the ones who are my friends on facebook cross ethnic lines. As a young adult living in New Brunswick, NJ, I have made my lasting friends based on common interests, particularly in punk rock and other local underground music. While this scene attracts a majority white audience, the friends I have made through this involvement, including my biracial girlfriend, cross all lines of race, gender, and orientation.

Jul. 12 2012 03:39 PM
eila from Somerville, MA

seems like Segregation is a root cause of Poverty for most Americans with disAbilities, regardless of race.

Jul. 12 2012 11:55 AM
FMR from Metro Detroit

This discussion is very on point with something I've wondered about for years. How can we all live in such close proximity without meaningful interaction? I had the opportunity to volunteer at a community gathering in the city this spring where I met some friendly interesting people. I'll probably never see any of them again. When I try to inform suburban individuals of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Detroit who are working, maintaining homes, raising kids, etc. I am met with a response so strong in the negative in terms of crime, corruption and decay that comes from some actual bad experiences in the past, but mostly from misinformation and sensationalized news reporting. I think there is misinformation and mistrust on both sides that will require an honest effort at collaboration and communication to break through.

Jul. 12 2012 10:38 AM
Larry Fisher from Black Section, Brooklyn

I would totally have Black Friends but I live in Bed Stuy and there are no more black friends to be had here... Just kidding.

My kids go to the playground and drag black kids to the house every day. The black kids have parents that schlep along with them and we are forced to sit with each other and pretend to play nice...Everybody is happy when I make potato latkas.

The truth is I grew up in this city and have lots of black friends. I know everybody on my block and we hang out. I wonder if I could write a book called "Why are all my friends Black?"

Jul. 12 2012 09:23 AM
Breck from Denver, CO

How many white friends to blacks have? How many white friends to Hispanics have?? Does the authors selective research demonstrate yet again how prejudice whites are, but never how address how incredibly insular and racist blacks and hispanics can be?

Jul. 12 2012 08:55 AM
hassia from frankfurt

I grew up in England.My parents are from Jamaica, that made us the second generation of blacks in England. While everything was not perfect I would wager that our race problems and integration were nothing compared with that which I saw when I moved to the States.(1982)

Jul. 12 2012 07:05 AM

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