Socioeconomics at root of perceived racial differences
In this excerpt, Abramson describes how residential segregation affected the composition of sports teams and other activity groups she joined. She did not notice the degree of homogeneity at the time, and she thinks she started to notice de facto segregation when she was in high school. She sees socioeconomic difference as the root of racial segregation and common interests—as manifested in school activities, for example—as the root of the integration of friend groups.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Carrie Abramson, February 21, 1999. Interview K-0275. 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: Was that the same with outside activities outside the school, in your neighborhood? Did you do things outside the school?
CA: A ton of things. Yeah. No. It wasn’t. I did a lot of different things. I’ll try to categorize. Outside of school I was involved in a variety of different activities. From a very early age I was involved in a lot of stuff at my church. Completely not integrated at all. Probably, at various times, there was a black child there, but never consistently. And, in fact, when we adopted two Ethiopian children when I was in junior high and high school, they were probably the only two black children in our church. Soccer, I played soccer a lot from a very young age. Very few. There were some children who were involved and it was a community league, so it wasn’t private, per se, it was public, in the sense that basically everybody was welcome. But it was not particularly integrated. It was sort of centered in the Dilworth neighborhood, so there were not a lot of black children who played. I played basketball, at church, and that was not integrated at all. Other community activities I did would be things like community service activities. Children’s theater which was more integrated, but in a similar sense to the way the open schools were. People from all over Charlotte came to take classes there, but it still was not, it was not on an even level. Probably not at the representative level of the city in terms of mixture of black and white. But there were always a few. But it probably—most of my activities probably reflected the level of integration in Dilworth, I mean, since that was where I was spending most of my time. My church was located here. My soccer league was here. Everything was basically sort of in this neighborhood. And, you know, at the time there were a handful of black families who all lived within about two blocks of us, in the sort of twelve block radius that probably was my neighborhood and where I grew up at the time.
PG: Again, were you aware of this disparity between your school experience and your other experiences? Or, is that also something that --?
CA: I don’t think I was. I mean, I look back at it now, and I am very aware. But at the time I don’t think I was. I mean, I played with children in my neighborhood. The Watts lived down the street and had kids right around our age. The Ricks lived down the street and had kids our age. And so I played with kids who were black in my neighborhood. But it never occurred to me that my soccer team was all white, which I think it was, most years. I think I just wasn’t—it’s funny, because it was such a expectation for me that everybody was the same. I mean, I definitely grew up with this impression that everybody’s the same. That when I sort of eventually found out that everybody wasn’t the same, or wasn’t treated the same by other people, that—it was really surprising to me. So I think as a child I was very naïve about the sort of reality of that. I had grown up in a home that tried to treat everybody very similarly. And so it just didn’t occur to me to notice those differences.
PG: When and how did you discover that everybody wasn’t treated the same.
CA: (Chuckle.) That’s a great question. (Pause.) I don’t know. I don’t have an experience in my mind that says, “This is when it happened.” Which—my mom and I were talking about this earlier—I don’t think I remember negatives. [Laughter.] I don’t think I remember negative things. I still learn it every day. Like I still—the most vivid experience I remember, and this is because it’s probably more recent—was I took a class at Stanford Business School where we had small discussion groups and we talked about this in discussion group. And it was shocking to me to learn how differently a woman who was a black professional felt like she was treated from me, as a white woman professional. So I don’t remember when I first realized that.
PG: Do you have a sense of about how old you might have been?
CA: Probably high school. I think, I’m sure it happened in high school. High school was the first time that it felt that people were more separate. Although we were integrated and although West Charlotte—and I don’t even know the proportions, white to black—but it felt pretty even. It didn’t feel like one was much more dominant than the other. I didn’t hang out with as many—and part of this is I didn’t play as many integrated sports. I played only soccer in high school. And I didn’t play basketball, which when I was in junior high had been a big integrator for me. Because the women on the team were both black and white and pretty even proportions. So I think it happened in high school. I think that’s when I first started to realize that most of the black people were friends, and they were not necessarily friends with most of the white people. And that there was a group, that I aspired to be part of, and I think at times I probably was and at times probably wasn’t, that was more integrated. But there was sort of this big mass on the black side and this big mass on the white side, and then there was this little group in the middle that sort of branched over that. And it happened at different points through sports. Though some classes, electives, that people took that they had in common. But this disparity, in terms of sort of, honor classes and non-honor classes became more and more distinct. And the honor classes tended to be sort of 90 percent white. And so, I think at that point, that’s when I started to realize it wasn’t as integrated. And I don’t know that I knew what it was that caused that. I know I attribute a lot of it to economic disparity, but at the time I don’t think I saw what was causing it. But I think I noticed it.
PG: And you said that you aspired to be part of this small, little group. How did one go about becoming part of that group, or was that something you did consciously, or did it just happen?
CA: I think for some people it probably did happen consciously. I think for me it was less conscious. I grew up, you know, a block away from Brian Watt, who Brian was, who is Mel Watt’s son. And I don’t know if that names has come up. Brian was probably a year older than I was, or two years. And so I was friends with him, and I’d known him since I was little. And so I had sort of a friend who was black already. And then I had a group of friends from junior high who I’d played basketball with in junior high school, and they were black. And so I had these connections. And I think this is how it happened for most people. You had these connections with people, either from before, from junior high school, or from playing basketball in high school. Or, something like that, that created more of a connection. And so, and then there were kids, probably both white kids and black kids, although I don’t know as well about the other junior highs, but I felt like there were white kids who came in who didn’t have any black friends from their junior high school. And I don’t know if that’s—I don’t know what they were like, so I don’t know if there were no black kids at their junior high school or if it was just not very integrated and that maybe Piedmont was different. But there were kids in that middle group from AG and from Piedmont. There were a lot from Piedmont and some of that may have just been an effect of the environment there that carried over to high school. But I felt as I got more distant, like in tenth grade, I was probably more integrated into that group. And as I got more distant from it, from junior high and moved toward senior year, I probably, I still had a group of friends who were black, but I think I was probably less integrated into that than I had been. And I think part of that was academic, in that by my senior year I was in basically honors classes, but also I was totally wrapped up in soccer. I was playing soccer all the time which was not very integrated. And I was doing a bunch of stuff after school, so I wasn’t probably seeking it as much as I had when I was young.
PG: Well, that’s interesting, the idea that you need to have something in common that you’re doing at school. Some kind of activity or something like that. I hadn’t thought about that.
CA: I think it just helped create context. I mean it helped—when you were walking past someone in the hall. That was where it was the most visible to me. As that, when people congregated at lunch and in the hall, it was almost always sort of always divided racially. And what caused people to break over that and to go over to cross that boundary was that so-and-so played on their basketball team with me. And you walked up and said, “So, you know, are you going to be at practice?” Or so-and-so is in my Spanish class. And so I would walk up to here and say, “Did you do the homework.” Or, but it was having a common, something in common at school. Because I didn’t interact that much with people outside of school from that environment. So I think it was important.