Good segregation?

Politics and Current Events

Part of being a “cultural mosaic” (hold the eye-rolling until I’m done, please) necessarily assumes some level of difference. If it wasn’t so, we would have a “melting pot” instead. Difference isn’t a bad thing; belonging to a certain group based on that difference – ethnic, religious or otherwise – isn’t bad, either.

So when does it get bad? When the word “segregation” enters into the discussion? It certainly brings some awfully negative connotations with it: ghettos, white-only bars/buses/schools etc. But is it possible that what makes that kind of segregation bad is that it’s forced? When it’s one group saying to another, “you stay there, we’ll stay here” out of hate, or fear, or both.

So is it possible that there’s good segregation?

The Star ran an article today about a housing subsidy in York Region for buildings that limit residency to certain religious and ethnic groups (specifically, one Italian, one Jewish and two Muslim). Not surprisingly, the issue brings up issues of segregation and discrimination, basically that certain groups of people are getting subsidized rent ahead of thousands of other seniors and families who are on waiting lists simply because they meet the ‘minority’ requirements of these buildings.

Two key questions:

Q. Why are the buildings allowed to rent to only certain groups?

A. The buildings are often built by that particular community through fundraising and volunteering. Plus, the buildings are required, among other things, to provide culturally-specific programs in the building. Not much different than the way we segregate some schools, I suppose.

Q. Is the housing subsidy discriminatory?

A. Critics say ‘yes,’ because taxpayers’ dollars are going into facilities that aren’t open to everyone. Supporters say ‘no,’ because it’s seen as a “leg up” for these minority groups, plus the Human Rights Commission says the buildings aren’t discriminatory.

Setting aside the housing subsidy issue for the moment, I’d like to focus on the buildings themselves. If there is such a thing as “good segregation,” do these buildings fit the bill? Shouldn’t people be allowed to live, or study, in facilities that are catered to their beliefs or cultural practices?

Part of me would like to say ‘yes.’ Another part of me worries that although we have the right to segregate ourselves willingly, it seems counter-productive somehow. Aren’t fear and hate born out of ignorance, and doesn’t segregation breed ignorance?

Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio, who helped raise funds for the residence built for seniors of Italian descent, was quoted in the article saying “people feel more comfortable among their own.”

This should worry you. You should not feel comfortable hearing that people feel more comfortable among their own, however true it may be. Because even in the instances when we choose to segregate ourselves, we’re still saying, “you stay there, we’ll stay here.”