Resegregation even at well-integrated school
Conversations about race flow freely at West Charlotte, Irons believes. He does, however, notice a degree of voluntary segregation on campus, especially in the cafeteria. He thinks that socioeconomic background may explain this segregation, because socioeconomic status contributes to interests, and friendships form on the basis of interests. The situation in the cafeteria may reveal that West Charlotte is more segregated than Irons lets on elsewhere in the interview, or perhaps that segregation creeps into even the most congenial racial circumstances.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Ned Irons, March 16, 1999. Interview K-0170. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: Is this something that students at West Charlotte talk about much, racial issues at West Charlotte?
NI: I would say there’s a certain comfort level around speaking about racial issues, so it’s talked about freely. I don’t know if I would say a lot. There’s a group of kids who go to diversity training camps and things like that, and come back and talk about it fairly openly. But I would say there’s not tension around the subject, but I don't know. I think it’s just understood that we try to all get along, and we try to all understand where we’re coming from. And we can’t all the time. But it’s not necessarily like, “You’re black and you think this way, and I’m white and I think this way.” I think it’s more, “Well, I think this. And well, I think this.” And that’s just understood as being said that way, maybe because of racial reasons or maybe not. But it’s not a forced issue. It’s more just freely talked about when it comes up.
PG: What about something like when this black fellow got shot by the police officer a couple of years ago. Is that the kind of thing that students would talk about?
NI: I think if they did talk about it, it would be more of a consensus, like everybody would say, “Well, yeah, white cops shouldn’t shoot a black guy.” It’s not like white people standing on one side saying, “Oh, you know, black people are dangerous.” And black people standing on the other side and saying, “Well, you know, he had no reason to shoot him. The white cop’s a racist.” I think it’s more things are not looked at through a racial perspective as much. It’s more looked at through just a human experience.
PG: But you don't remember a particular discussion of that?
NI: No, I don’t.
PG: I was just trying to think of an example. Well, you seem to indicate that everybody would fall on the side of the black guy?
NI: Yeah, I think so. From what I can remember he hadn’t done anything wrong. He was going about his business and was shot by a couple of police officers. So, through that perspective it was innocent man shot by cops. It wasn’t the black guy shot by the white guys, I think.
PG: Who are your friends at school? Who do you spend time with?
NI: I would say that I’m in SEC, which is right across the hall, and there’s three black guys and another white guy, and an Asian guy, and a black girl and two white girls. I would say that I have sort of different circles of friends.
PG: Tell me about those circles.
NI: I would say that I have circles of friends. I have circles of integrated friends where I feel completely free to walk in the cafeteria which, unfortunately is where the black kids sit during lunch, but I walk in there and I see my friends, and I go and I say, “hi,” and I mess around. But then I walk outside where the white kids sit and I eat my lunch, because that’s where I have a seat, and I think that’s where I have experiences and just more things in common with. I don’t think there’s a forced separation in terms of the different little groups of friends that I have. Like I’m friends with the people in SEC who are all advanced placement, very bright kids. And that’s sort of a different level, actually, of conversation and interaction than with my little group of white friends who aren’t necessarily all advanced placement, and we’re more, “Oh, did you see what happened at the ball game last night? What are we doing this weekend?” But on SEC with a more diverse group of people and, I would say, a more intelligent group of people, I would say discussions are more worldly, and we talk about things that I don’t necessarily talk about with my little selective group of white friends. But then I can go into the cafeteria and see, I don’t want to say less intelligent, but I would say less intellectual black friends and I’ll be like, “Oh, what’s up? What’s going on?” So I think it’s more of a separation of intellectuals that the higher intellectuals sort of mix across races, and the lower intellectuals it seems to be more of a separation of races, I would say.
PG: I was going to ask about the cafeteria which you go into very often, this difference. What is that about? Let me ask you a different way. What does that say about West Charlotte do you think?
NI: I don’t know if it says much about West Charlotte. I would say that it says about human nature in general that you migrate to those with whom you have the most in common. Just if you met somebody on the street, and they were also a student. They also liked English. They also like sports. You have more to talk about with them, and you have more to base a relationship on. I think that, very obviously, the black kids sit with the black kids and the white kids sit with the white kids, because that’s who they’re comfortable with, and that’s who they share more of a socioeconomic background with. I do think some of it is racial, but I think it’s more socioeconomic that you sit with the people who share your interests. I’m on the golf team here, and whenever someone plays golf I’ll always have something to talk with them about. And a lot of the black kids that go to school here don’t really have an interest in golf, or don’t play golf, and I think it’s more interest based, or socioeconomic based than necessarily racially based.