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Congregation vs. Segregation

By: Flora Oliveira

Segregation (noun):

Seg·re·ga·tion | /ˌseɡrəˈɡāSH(ə)n/

Definition of Segregation:

The enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment.


Congregation (noun):

con·​gre·​ga·​tion | \ ˌkäŋ-gri-ˈgā-shən\

Definition of Congregation:

An assembly of persons : gathering especially : an assembly of persons met for worship and religious instruction

With social media, fast fashion, and the surge of (yt) wealth, black culture is appropriated, challenged, and misconstrued. There are countless examples of the disenfranchisement of black culture but more recently, I encountered a video which disparaged the crowd. Much like at your high schools’ afterparty to prom, the crowd was dancing. Except unlike most of yall’s prom, all but a few invitees weren’t black. 

I say invitees here, to clearly distinguish the spatial relation present. This dance floor exemplified a safe space for black individuals. Regardless of the new forms of dancing, this space was similar to black dance floors years, even decades, before it. All events had the same goal of providing a space that prioritized black culture and black safety, in a congregated-like environment. 

Now, as I provided above, the definition of congregation delineates from that of segregation, but I stand here challenging this very definition of congregation as well. I believe that in this era of safe spaces [you can look at why safe spaces are important and what they are here or here], congregation has a slightly different meaning. A contemporary example of congregation can be seen in college campuses through the use of safe space for those alike. Safe spaces have flourished mainly on campuses, while congregation in a general sense has existed within the black community for some time. Congregation, or the idea of congregating, has always been familiar to black culture through local black restaurants, hair salons/barber shops, certain neighbors’ homes, churches, or even neighborhood recreational spaces (e.g. YMCA). Although a new trend to the media and campuses, safe spaces take distinct features of racial congregation— being that safe spaces provide a space for people alike to gain support, advocacy, and resources in their daily lives. During times of segregation and the never ending abuse, you could find a friendly home, or local business where you were guaranteed mutual understanding, support, and love. Black culture has always implemented these spaces into their daily lives, and by welcoming non-black people in, we are taking leaps of faith. Although appreciation for our culture is welcomed, appropriation and disenfranchisement is often what we get with some invitees.

The reason I bring this up is because recently, a YouTuber, who I will not credit (due to his avid entitlement and demonization of black culture), posted a video of a party whose attendees were mostly black. This YouTuber entered a black space, and unleashed judgement and microaggressions all in the name of fame. Now, if coming into a black space, terming it r*chet, then going viral, and gaining something from it isn’t appropriation, I guess I don’t know what is. 

Regardless, the point here is not about this Youtuber’s gross use of derogatory language that further marginalizes black folk, it is what came after: the terming of congregation (i.e. the party) as segregation, which then morphed into a justification of the guest’s language. Non-black commentators and viewers continuously justified derogatory terms used against the black crowd, because to the comentors, black people’s “self-segregation” was enough evidence of being “behind the times”, or not yet developed (mentally, physically, economically, etc.)**. Not only is this comparison of self-segregation and congregation used on HBCUs, it is used on several forms of black congregations to deter from the fact that POC needs safe spaces even in 2020. This argument of congregation being self-segregation is flawed, anti-black, and skews the perspective from the real conversation that needs to be had: POC need safe spaces and those are found through congregating.

For those who aren’t getting it still: congregation isn’t just a religious gathering, it is a gathering of people who share commonality (whether through religious, political, cultural, etc views). Congregation of black people protects the integrity of perspectives, culture, and image. With a world that is constantly challenging black lives comes the need for congregation (now known as safe spaces in colleges). Congregation provides a unique set of benefits such as a communal space where you (hopefully) won’t get shot for being black, where you can have fun and (hopefully) not get imprisoned for being black, and where you can avoid random judgemental, racist, and ignorant people. Living in 2020 while black, and honestly, living in any time period, anywhere, while black, means constant discrimation and fear.

It is already challenging to maintain these congregated spaces which protect our blackness, but now, we also have to deal with this new age of influencers coming into them and persecuting our norms for ‘clout’. The erroneous argument that safe spaces are acts of segregation — although clearly driven by ignorance, directly correlates congregation and segregation. So, let me be very clear, since y’all don’t seem to know what segregation is. 

Segregation is a forced and violent separation of people based on race, nationality, and/or ethnicity. This forced segregation is most blatantly* exemplified when discussing any time frame in the US before 1964, when segregation was legal. Black and brown bodies were heavily policed through segregatory laws, such as the Jim Crow laws, which legally allowed black and brown bodies to be treated, seen, and talked about as lesser than white bodies. Although legally, segregation came to an end, it is very well known that the systems, which govern our daily lives, have racist ideologies implemented into them. These ideologies create conditions which always prioritize white lives over black lives. 

By congregating, black people can support one another, and attempt to avoid the inequity which they would otherwise face outside of these spaces. Now, when non-black people come into our spaces and bring the same ideologies that do us harm, that is when we, as a black community,  must make clear that they are guests in our black, congregated space. Being a guest does not mean you can disparage, disenfranchise, or continue to misconstrue black culture, because the invitation can be revoked as quickly as it was given.  

*I asterisked blatantly because, to this day there is blatant racism happening around the world, but most people who use this argument refuse to see racism as anything other than the times of Jim Crow or more presently, the KKK. 

**This is the denial of coevalness or in other words: “a way of seeing the world in which various contemporary societies are interpreted as literally living in a different historical epoch”- Johannes Fabian