Race (Again? Again!) and Berkeley

I swear to God, I don’t turn everything racial, because I am not interested in making normative claims, just personal observations.

And my personal observation, after fours years of living in Berkeley, is this: integration is far from achieved, and even on a so-called “progressive” campus like Berkeley, segregation (of the de facto kind) still very much exists. I know, what an “insightful” observation.

But here’s the thing: in navigating Berkeley through the last four years, I always feel strange, as if I’m constantly traveling between two worlds. On the one hand, in taking classes in the Political Science, Legal Studies, and Philosophy departments, I see that most of my classmates are white or Asian (east Asian, so Chinese, Korean, Japaneses, etc), with very few African Americans, Latinos, and southeast Asians (Filipinos, Vietnamese, etc).

Yet when I do work at the Student Learning Center, the demographic suddenly changes: a lot more African Americans, a lot more Latinos, and a lot more Southeastern Asians.

Constantly going back and forth between these two contexts always seem to disorient me a little bit, in part because of the sudden shift in demographics. Now, is there some kind of secret, unwritten, and unacknowledged code that somehow govern this kind of relationship? I am not sure, and I don’t want to imply that there is a conspiracy. But my personal, on-the-ground experience tells me that there is definitely some kind of segregation going on. Now, whether it’s benign or not, I can’t say.

Even in the broader academic environment, I also feel and see this sudden change. I remember one time I attended a Foucault conference at UC Santa Cruz. It was a fairly large conference, with enough people to fill a lecture room roughly the size of Wheeler Hall. I remember going in and looking around in the crowd, and noticing that I was the only Asian person in the whole room. The same thing happened the one time I attended a talk given by some academic from Notre Dame on the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt.

And even outside the academia, I can still feel it and see it. I remember last summer when I interned in DC. I remember walking into the corridors of the Hill to attend hearings and whatnot, and remember how little minorities there were walking the corridors of power and politics.

Again, I am not accusing anyone of anything, but just making a personal observation. It really strikes me how segregated America is, and not even segregated purely on an ethnic basis, but also on class. There are certain invisible lines that demarcate the “right” part of the city and the “wrong” part of the city. It’s like this unacknowledge, unspoken code that says that you can’t go on walking on Market after a certain number of blocks. Or when I visited NYC, how walking along Wall Street for a certain number of streets suddenly brought you into a totally different world. Or when, when I was in DC, after a certain number of blocks, DC appears totally different than the one shown on TV, replete with monuments and the Capitol Hill.

That paradox has always puzzled me: how so much power, influence, and prosperity can be concentrated in such small areas, and immediately outside those areas, it is a completely different world. It has always fascinated me how certain unwritten rules are established that go unspoken in polite company, that warns you to not cross a certain street.

What does it all add up to? A certain regimented, if informal rules that govern the interaction between two worlds. Sure, people may traverse from one to another, but the unspoken assumption seems to be that such journeys are to be taken with the utmost caution. Again, I am not sure if this is “wrong” in any ethical sense, but it does bother me a little bit. It’s just so weird that the difference between one house and another could be the difference between a well-funded school with a good teaching corps and a chronically under-funded, under-performing school, the difference between who represents you in Congress, etc. These ever finer and finer lines slice and dice our geography into little worlds of their own.


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