Guest column: Isolation Nation – silos of America

The Daily Ardmoreite
Tony Choate

Many have blamed social media for the social and political isolation that has virtually eliminated any meaningful political discourse. Instead of thoughtful discussion, our political lives consist largely of illogical and unsound political rhetoric punctuated by angry shouting matches.

While social media most certainly has a polarizing impact on politics in America, that polarization is largely a result of the racial segregation and social isolation that has been forced on Americans for almost a century.

Beginning in the early twentieth century federal, state and local policy makers used various methods to systematically segregate neighborhoods by race.

This policy of racial housing segregation was planned and implemented by federal, state and local authorities, who ignored or even encouraged violence against blacks who dared cross the color line to live in a white neighborhood.

This policy continues to have devastating negative economic, social and political consequences for not only blacks and other people of color, but for all Americans.

According to the most recent study, only one in four white Americans considers a black person they know to be a close friend or colleague. Most of that 25% probably have only one black friend.

As Chris Rock joked in 2009, “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. All my white friends have one black friend.”

While it may seem shocking that 75% of white Americans do not have even one close black friend, it should not be surprising, especially to those of us who have reached a certain age.

To the best of my memory, I first met a black person on the first day of third grade at Franklin Elementary. It was more than 10 years after Brown v. Board of Education when the first black student was allowed to attend that white school.

Maybe I was not the only child who asked their parents if they could be friends with a black person. Maybe other white children were also told it was ok to be friends at school, but not to visit each other’s homes.

More than 20 years later, our daughter was about the same age when she was invited to attend a sleepover “on the other side of the tracks” to celebrate a black friend’s birthday. Several white parents discussed it. Our daughter was the only “white” child allowed to attend.

By that time, “the other side of the tracks” was used more frequently than “n-town” but the fear born of the unknown remained then and continues to this day.

One glaring example of racial isolation affecting political discourse today is the debate over the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

A significant part of the population misunderstands the phrase to mean black lives matter more than other lives.

Another significant part of the population understands the phrase means black live matter just as much as other lives.

The wide difference in interpretation is due to isolation. Schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1960s. Housing segregation remains a serious issue, and Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America.

Whites have been isolated in our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches, our jobs, our clubs and other places for so long many have become comfortable denying that racial discrimination exists.

This isolation is exacerbated by social media, which leads to a serious and detrimental form of groupthink. Extreme ideas go unchallenged, beliefs are championed in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and any difference of opinion is simply not tolerated.

We have become a nation of political silos and echo chambers that ring hollow and prevent any meaningful interaction.

To make any real progress in America, we must find a way to move past racial and political isolation to confront the challenges facing America as one nation.

United we stand.

— Tony Choate has lived in the Ardmore area for more than 50 years. He earned his master's degree in political science from Purdue University after earning a bachelor's degree in legal studies from East Central University. He worked for several years as an adjunct instructor for Murray State College, teaching courses in American history and American government and politics.