Relationships on the Campus,
in the Workplace, and Beyond
I used to envy the “colorblindness” which some liberal, enlightened, white people were supposed to possess . . . But I no longer believe that “colorblindness”—if it even exists -—- is the opposite of racism; I think it is, in this world, a form of naiveté and mere stupidity. It implies that I would look at a black woman and see her as white, thus engaging in white solipsism to the utter erasure of her particular reality. —Adrienne Rich, ‘Disloyal to Civilization,” Lies, Secrets, and Silences, 1979 White women are beginning to examine their relationships to Black women, yet often I hear them wanting only to deal with little colored children across the roads of childhood, the beloved nursemaid, the occasional second-grade classmate -- those tender memories of what was once mysterious and intriguing or neutral.
—Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Sister Outsider, 1984 For African American and White women who never interacted as children, attending college and sharing dormitory rooms may provide a crash course in getting to know women of the other race. For women who didn’t go to college or who attended schools where students were predominantly of the same racial background, the workplace may be the site of their first cross-race female relations. For still other women, sustained interracial relations may not develop until they meet as neighbors or as members of a political, religious, or social organization. But wherever it is that White and Black women first come into regular contact, some will be able to form lasting friendships, while others will run into conflict, hampered in their ability to get along by swirling undercurrents of racial in-equality and societal segregation. Higher Education, Past and Present
During the nineteenth century, the majority of institutions of higher learning were carefully segregated, not only by race, but also by sex. With the exception of a small number of students attending coeducational land grant universities in the West, and progressive, private liberal arts colleges such as Oberlin, in Ohio, most White male students received their higher education at one institution, and the women and Blacks fortunate enough even to go to college got their education at another. For working- and middle-class White women, there were private and state colleges, where most were trained to become teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Wealthier White women attended expensive private women’s schools, such as Vassar, Bryn Mawr, and Smith, where many received training in the arts in preparation for their future roles as wives to successful men. Middle-class Black women attended historically Black private and public colleges and universities, the most prestigious of which was Spelman College, in Atlanta. As the twentieth century unfolded, educational opportunities for women of both races expanded dramatically. With the country’s engagement in two major world wars, and many of its young men serving in the armed forces, many all-male institutions were forced to admit women in order to survive financially. Other prestigious private universities, like Harvard and Yale, and even some of the more exclusive state schools, like the University of Virginia, which never suffered from shortages of qualified male applicants, were finally forced by new legislation, Supreme Court rulings, and the changing mores in the sixties and seventies to admit women. The most important bill passed by Congress at that time was the 1972 Equal Education Act, which made it illegal for any institution of higher learning that received federal funding to discriminate on the basis of sex. Today, nearly all public and private colleges and universities in this country are coeducational. It was after World War II that previously all-White colleges and universities began to desegregate by race. The initial push to do so came from the landmark 1954 Supreme Court...
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