Sunday, November 25, 2007

Segregated Sunday

I had lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant with my boyfriend (who is a white Southerner). We were the only interracial couple in the restaurant (not unusual for the South) but what WAS unusual was that my boyfriend was the only non-Asian person (and almost every table was full) for the first half-hour we were there (eventually a white family of four came in). When I realized the different racial dynamics at work, it dawned on me that not only is this a rare occurrence in the South for anyone Asian American, outside of restaurants (seeing a majority of Latinos in a Mexican restaurant or African Americans in a Caribbean restaurant would not seem unusual), is there any place where the patrons would be mostly non-white?

According to my boyfriend, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week--at least in the South--because apparently white Southerners go to white churches and black Southerners go to black churches and with the burgeoning immigrant population, there are also special Sunday services held in Spanish at Catholic churches for the largely Mexican-Spanish speaking population and Vietnamese for the Vietnamese immigrant population (there is a local Baptist church that holds services in English, Spanish & Vietnamese).

Apparently segregation also follows you into death because funeral homes also cater to specific communities--black people go to black funeral homes and white people go to white funeral homes.

I can't quite believe that this is true--and yet, this is the South and as I am constantly reminded by people, I live in an academic liberal bubble and life outside my college town is very different. Perhaps, but I can't help wondering, especially as rates of inter-marriage and mixed-race children increase, what does the half-white, half-black person do? Or the trilingual English-Spanish-Vietnamese person of mixed Mexican-Vietnamese ancestry? I suppose you have your pick of any of the three services, and yet, it seems like the ongoing difficulty of where you fit in is ever-present. And if the rates of inter-racial couples and mixed-race people increase in the South, will there eventually be an option--beyond black, white, Spanish, Vietnamese, English? A mixed-race America church--wonder what it would look like, sound like, feel like...


Lesboprof said...

Two things: First, there is the issue that many "white" and "black" people in the South have always been interracial. People just didn't talk about it. And in the South, for the most part, black trumps everything else. If you are of mixed racial or cultural heritage and some part of that is black, you are considered black by both black and white alike. So, segregated Sunday is already a misnomer.

In one state in the deep South, the drivers' license office has a code for race. They have B (black), W (white), H (Hispanic, and this is a recent addition), and X (0ther, though it used to be for "immigrants"). And they don't ask for your race/ethnicity; the person working there eyeballs it.

Second, there are many many integrated religious settings, most in urban settings and most of them evangelical in nature, which is interesting. There are a few progressive churches, like Glide Memorial in San Francisco and Riverside in New York.

Jennifer said...

Generally, I think you are right--that "black" has tended to trump (after all, the one-drop rule predominated for SO LONG in the South and in the U.S. overall) but in a post-civil rights, post-2000 world, as more and more mixed-race people identify as such--are choosing NOT to follow former prescriptions about race or to "pass" as white (if they are mixed white + "minoritized other"--I do wonder what choices mixed-race people have--people who try to assert themselves as mixed-race and not just be labeled by others.

By the way, I find it AWFUL that someone would just eyeball you at the DMV office to determine your race. And do they have an "A" category for "Asian" or perhaps it's "O" (for Oriental--yes, I shudder, but the Library Of Congress catalog system uses "O" as in "Oriental" for their designation of Asian American materials--UGH).

I actually do think that there are integrated churches in the South--I'm just unfamiliar with them and my guess is that, as you said, more multiracial spaces are associated with urban spaces (or college towns) where the community is reflected in its churches, its schools, restaurants, and yes its churches. I also think that there are reasons why someone would prefer to attend a black church as a black Southerner--ala Beverly Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together at the Cafeteria" argument--I just really do wonder about spaces that are truly mulitethnic/multiracial.

Lesboprof said...

Actually, there was no A or O. Just X. A trip, isn't it? You can check out Aaron Greer's short film, Not Color Blind, Just Nearsighted . He talks about dealing with the Southern DMV as a biracial person. It is a great piece.