X Degrees of Segregation Exercise part 2 moves beyond the steps provided in part 1 to consider what it all means. This website focuses on those of us who have been the only one within our family to achieve more traditional success and our allies. However, this Exercise brings all of us Americans into focus. Conversations I’ve had, messages I’ve received, and my own thoughts about part 1 of this post inform this second part.

Are Ones whose ancestors received 40 acres and a mule after Emancipation more stable than Ones whose ancestors became sharecroppers?

Historical MD-PA state line marker

South side of a 3-sided historical marker

The Degrees of Segregation Exercise stems from investigations into social networks (or six degrees of separation) that claim we are all, increasingly, a friend of a friend. That research focuses on interconnectedness. Other research focuses on Census data. By contrast, this Exercise focuses on our stories. It examines resilience in the wake of social practices and policies, some ill-fated. It dares to ask whether remedies applied made it possible for those impacted to live consistent with American ideals and values. Efforts to answer the questions prove provocative in that responses tells us some things, but don’t tell us others.

X Degrees of Segregation part 2, what it tells us

The questions in the X Degrees of Segregation Exercise invite conversation. What was life like for our people? For some, answers reveal evidence of the oft-told American dream–hard work leads to success. A portion of those responses will note how some passed that success on to future generations, maybe even your own. Other answers reflect how our families met with challenges in education, housing, the workforce, the legal/justice system, or health care. Last but not least, a lack of information may make it impossible to answer the questions. But, what’s missing may provide clues into what shook up your family tree.

Northeast view of the same historical marker.

In addition to lifetimes remembered, the Exercise helps us piece together what happened in our families vis-a-vis the backdrop of national laws and local practices that have also shaped our lives. Discrimination held some back. Privilege propelled others forward. And, some of us experienced a strange twist of both. How many of us benefitted from Affirmative Action policies that only existed to correct past wrongs? Or, did redlined families, forced to live in a limited number of neighborhoods, share a closeness not experienced by those who could live anywhere?

X Degrees of Segregation part 2, what it doesn’t tell us

If all of us Ones who made it could answer the three questions posed in the Exercise, would it help us answer other questions? For example, are Ones whose ancestors received 40 acres and a mule after Emancipation more stable than Ones whose ancestors became sharecroppers? Similarly, are Ones whose ancestors were free persons living above the Mason Dixon Line or out West when America freed its slaves more stable than Ones whose ancestors migrated to those parts of the country later? Further, do the number of Degrees of Segregation decrease for Ones whose ancestors knew where their families were at the time of emancipation? Or, do they increase?

And what about other time periods? Did Prohibition impact lives inside the margins as much as outside? Did any Black communities besides Harlem experience a Renaissance? And, if so, of what kind? Or, do any of y’all who grew up knowing how to stretch a dollar find what you did echo in today’s so-called hacks?

Why don’t we have more answers?

Overall, the Degrees of Segregation Exercise raises more questions than it asks. Why haven’t researchers asked questions like those above? More importantly, if more of us Ones had been positioned to conduct research throughout our nation’s history, would we know more about the quality of life for generations of Blacks and other diverse Americans? Would we know what the real and perceived costs of being an Ally really are? And finally, will this Exercise help us better understand why so few of us Ones have made it?

The two-part X Degrees of Segregation post extends an invitation. Look at the skeleton in our national closet. Or, acknowledge the elephant sitting on top of it. These questions also move me to imagine what America might be like when it does indeed become the diverse and integrated society that our founding federal documents set out to establish.

For now, the entire set of questions presented helps me understand why I meditate.


Notes. This text is the second of a 2-part post. It features 3 images a pyramid-shaped, stone historical marker. Works etched into one side read: “Pennsylvania Mason and Dixon Line Pennsylvania Department of Highways.” Another side reads: “Maryland Mason and Dixon Line Pennsylvania Department of Highways.” And, the third side has nothing etched on it. No date appears on the marker. I took the photographs in this post on January 22, 2018.