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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A reality show did not cause the real life reality of America's lingering and insidious segregation

(PNS) -- The howls were loud and long when the producers of the CBS show "Survivor" announced in August that they would racially segregate contestants on their 13th season opening segment September 14. The more charitable critics blasted it as cheap ploy to boost ratings. The harsher ones blasted it as an invitation to start a new race war. There was even some loose talk about boycotting the show and its sponsors, but that didn't go anywhere.

Racial segregation will virtually guarantee the ratings rocket burst that the show's producers desire. In fact, they made no secret that they hope that the controversy will jump start its flagging ratings.

But the show's producers realize that touting racial segregation to get a bump up ratings a point or two is much too brash and crass. The fall back defense is that the experiment, as they call it, will promote diversity. And they're probably right.

"Survivor" has been hammered for the scarcity of black and brown faces. If it takes segregation to get more of them on it, then so be it. In past episodes the show has grouped contestants by age and gender and they eventually bonded with one another. The same will happen with the racially grouped contestants. The different tribes, besides, will eventually rub shoulders and interact with one another.

Sadly, millions of Americans won't do the same. The Sunday church hour is still as the old saying goes one of the most segregated hours in America. In school cafeterias, office lunchrooms, and at countless social events, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and whites more often than not huddle in their separate racial enclaves. Their self-segregation is simply chalked up to personal and social preference.

The recent incident in which a white Coushatta, Louisiana school bus driver ordered a handful of black students to the back of her bus drew rage and protest from black parents. The driver was properly reprimanded. But if she hadn't done this dumb, mindless act, the black and white children probably would have arranged their seating along racial lines anyway.

The reality of self-segregation was revealing and embarrassing at a recent gathering of top Latino, black, white and Asian activists in Los Angeles. The issue was of all things how to reduce ethnic tensions following racially charged incidences of violence in the schools and jails. Midway through the meeting one of the participants stood up and demanded that the group look around the room and note how the participants were sitting. We did, and sure enough, blacks were sitting with blacks, Latinos with Latinos, Asians with Asians, and whites next to one another.

He didn't have to say what we all thought. If those that regard themselves as the most enlightened, and proactive on racial issues, self-segregate, then it takes little imagination to figure that bridging the racial divide is a tough mission. And it's getting tougher.

Despite the well-publicized shove to the top of black executives at American Express, Merrill Lynch, and AOL Time Warner, black CEOs are still a rarity at most Fortune 500 corporations. The overwhelming majority of senior managers at these companies are white males. Years later, many blacks still find themselves stuck in the same dead-end positions, or in corporate ghetto positions such as director of equal employment opportunity, or assigned to oversee special markets (i.e. black or minority).

That's only the big-ticket stuff of segregation. There are the less visible, and less easily provable race distinctions. The cabs that whiz by black or Latino passengers, the police officers who routinely stop and frisk young blacks and Latinos, and the galling indignity of being followed by security guards and ignored by clerks and sales personnel in department stores. They are thorny reminders that race, in far too many cases, still matters.

A reality show did not cause the real life reality of America's lingering and insidious segregation. But if "Survivor" makes millions of Americans think hard about that reality, then the show should be applauded, not jeered.

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Albion Monitor   September 11, 2006   (

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