Segregation is the social division of human beings based on any number of factors, including race, ethnicity, or nationality. It may apply to various situations of daily life, such as eating in a restaurant, using a public restroom, attending school, or going to the movies
Racial segregation is one of the most common forms of segregation and is generally outlawed, but can still exist through social norms even when there is no strong individual preference for it.
Segregation often involves spatial separation of races and/or mandatory use of institutions, such as schools and hospitals, by people of different races—an exception being allowing for close contact in hierarchical situations, i.e., a person of one race working as a servant for a person of another race.
Racial segregation has appeared in all parts of the world where there are multiracial communities. Even where racial mixing has occurred on a large scale, as in Hawaii and Brazil, various forms of social discrimination have persisted despite the absence of official segregationist laws.
History of Racial Segregation
After the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in America, racial discrimination became regulated by the so-called Jim Crow laws—strict mandates on segregation of the races. Though such laws were instituted shortly after the war ended, in many cases they were not formalized until the end of Republican-enforced Reconstruction in the 1870s and 80s. This legalized form of segregation into the mid 1960s.
As an official practice, institutionalized racial segregation ended in large part due to the work of civil rights activists (Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., among others) primarily during the period from the end of World War II through the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Their efforts focused on acts of non-violent civil disobedience aimed at disrupting the enforcement of racial segregation rules and laws. Examples are holding sit-ins at all-white diners, or the widely publicized refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.
By 1968 all forms of segregation had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and by 1970 support for formal legal segregation dissolved. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, administered and enforced by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, prohibited discrimination in the sale and rental of housing on the basis of race, color, nationality, religion, sex, familial status and disability. The civil rights movement gained the public's support, and formal racial discrimination and segregation became illegal in schools, businesses, the military, and other civil and government services.
In the years since, African Americans have played a significant role throughout society, as leaders, public officials and heads of state. On the national level, they have worked in the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and held top Presidential cabinet positions. In 2008, the United States elected its first African American President.
Contemporary Forms of Segregation
Columbia University economist Rajiv Sethi has observed that black-white segregation is declining fairly consistently in most metropolitan areas of the U.S. Despite these overall patterns, changes in individual areas remain small. Racial segregation or separation can lead to social, economic and political tensions.