A Different Kind of Segregation, Martha’s Vineyard Edition

From New York Magazine on the Obamas’ possible summer plans in a wealthy Liberal bastion of non-racial intermingling:

As liberal as it is, the Vineyard is about as racially integrated as a college dining hall—blacks and whites get along fine, but they generally don’t socialize. “There’s not a lot of overlap between black and white,” says radio executive Skip Finley, who started vacationing in Oak Bluffs in 1954 and has been living there full-time for the past decade. “I don’t think anybody’s insulted by it. I’m certainly not.” It’s an arrangement that springs largely from the self-segregating impulse among black Vineyarders, who have come to the island to connect with each other. “We have people here who are black and upscale and racist,” Finley continues. “They don’t want to be around white folks, and they don’t have to.” By choosing to vacation in and around Oak Bluffs, the Obamas would be throwing a spotlight on one of the most demographically unusual towns in America.

More after the jump.

In 1912, a former slave named Charles Shearer opened the first summer inn in Oak Bluffs that catered specifically to black patrons. Only a few dozen blacks visited the island at the time, but over the years Oak Bluffs has become the summer meeting place for scores of what could be called the Only Ones—black professional and social elites who travel in worlds where they’re often the only black person in the room. The Only Ones typically break into fields or companies that admit few blacks, move into neighborhoods where few blacks live, and send their kids to mostly white schools. They are not running from their own—they’re chasing after the best they can get. They aren’t assimilationist; they’re ascensionist.

Senator Edward Brooke, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all made visits to Oak Bluffs. The novelist Dorothy West moved to the island in the forties, working for the Vineyard Gazette first as a file clerk and then, for decades, as a columnist who wrote about the prominent blacks visiting the island. Today’s summer vacationers come from the worlds of academia (like Harvard professors Skip Gates, Charles Ogletree, and Lani Guinier), media (NPR correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault, former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson), film (directors Spike Lee and Reggie Hudlin), and politics (Valerie Jarrett, who hosted the Obamas in 2007). “If you’re upper-middle class and black, this is your spot,” Finley says. “You’re going to find a way to spend a little bit of quality time here on this island.” In Oak Bluffs, the Only Ones become one of many. “I went to a garden party last weekend,” Simpson says, “and you would not believe the occupations of the people I met there. It’s like all the African-American East Coast professionals have chosen this place to socialize with each other.”

Read the rest of the article here. Read more about Oak Bluff’s African American history here.

20 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Segregation, Martha’s Vineyard Edition

  1. We have people here who are black and upscale and racist,” Finley continues. “They don’t want to be around white folks, and they don’t have to.”Why are people being described as "racist" just because they don’t want to vacation with white people, especially when they live, work and go to school with them all year long? What’s up with this Finly person?

  2. @sarah: probably cause it kinda is. I totally get the impulse, and I Self-Segregate For Sanity’s Survival whenever possible, too, but honestly when you see whites doing the same or voicing the same desire they get the hard side-eye. My beef: must we have a cutesy arbitrary nickname to label EVERYTHING? "The Only Ones"–really?

  3. Are these people truly wealthy or are the just the beneficiaries of affirmative action jobs? When I see that the richest black folks are still the entertainers it makes me wonder what these upper class black folks are doing? Are they starting corporations?

  4. agreed miss kate.Well at least I know where I stand. I went to a predominantly white school, live in a predominantly white area, and work in a predominantly white office and yet, I feel that I wouldn’t fit in with these folks. Hmmm. I’m okay with that. In fact, I prefer this way.

  5. @ politically incorrectWhile not as wealthy as their white counterparts, many of these people are much wealthier than most African Americans. Many come from "free people of color" families who were never slaves and have accumulated wealth from when there were black owned banks and other lending institutions. They often sit on the boards of various companies and corporations and push their children towards law, medicine and business. Many have white ancestry as well that some benefited from. But that ancestry is often from centuries ago, rather than immediate. But some benefited from that ancestry in that their white great-great-great-grandparents paid for schooling and other needs not afforded to blacks at the time. While many have given back to the black community at large, they mostly intermingle and marry among each other and other black socialites, which is why there is so little relatively known about them. Suggested reading, "Our Kind of People." World’s most fascinating and infuriating book on this particular class.

  6. @ MonieA lot of blacks with "new money" hang in the area but aren’t accepted by the old heads what so ever. Believe me. Reggie is from outside of East St. Louis, IL. He can vacation there, live there or rent. But he’s not going to kick it with the old fuddy duddies because he’s too dark and not "one of them."That said, I think I would find a lot of the people described in the article a couple of shades of annoying as well.

  7. I don’t think it is racist for minorities to self segregate. They do it because they need a safe space where they can be themselves outside of the judgment and stereotyping of the dominate society.

  8. I read Our kind of People and I still don’t get it. They spend most of their time seperating themselves from regular ol black folks and doing whatever they can to disassociate from us. Not to mention our first black president and first lady aren’t from their community. They have benefited from generations of college educations so they should have developed a couple of big corporations by now and not just showing up on their boards for a resident black face. Why don’t they own the big doctors offices in our community, other ethnic groups seem to have no issue building one and making big money from it. Shouldn’t these folks have created economic infrastructures that can employ other black folks by now. They had a 100 year head start over the rest of us.

  9. I really liked reading "Member of the Club" and disliked his followup, "Our Kind of People." Yuck. The author was half-way endorsing that garbage while knocking it.

  10. "Our Kind of People" was crap! That book was all about the people he knew or wanted to know. There was no other rhyme nor reason to that book. No, Im not just hating, my family was actually in the book. But, as a historian, I cannot endorse it at all!L

  11. So wait, if self-segregation is okay then why don’t they hang around other colored folks? Seems to me like good manners and conversation won’t get you "in" with this crowd. Seems to me like they segregate themselves financially too. Seems to me like they are nothing but a bunch boujie a$$ folks looking for another reason to look down on others.

  12. I’m reading THE ELITE OF OUR PEOPLE, Joseph Wilson’s Sketches of Black Upper-Class Life in Antebellum Philadelphia. As a sociology minor in college (in the past — a LONG time ago 🙂 ) I couldn’t get my hands on enough African-American History books. I have read OUR KIND OF PEOPLE.Do any of you recall a resort called FOX LAKE (Angola, Indiana)? Every summer our family would vacation there for over a decade. Yes, it was segregated but it was the most beautiful place on earth to me. The Mar-Fran Motel would provide two squares a day. I fell in love with the peach cobbler. What’s wrong with being around our own, eating our own kinds of food, speaking our own dialogue, and just feeling the love of your own kind?

  13. ugh…i’m born and raised from boston, ma and i didn’t know this type of shenanigans went on with out people…and yet, i’m not surprised…they can keep their martha’s vineyard…

  14. as a total outsider from europe i find this whole subject fascinating..we all self segregate… it is human..it is the most natural thing in the world.. my circle of friends have the same values as me… this is by innate natural selection.. not by deliberate design or financially led.. some have jobs, some do not have to work for a living.. hell, one is titled – he is a lord..i know when i walk into a meeting in here in england i can guarantee 99% of the time that i will be the only black person in the room… this percentage goes up if i leave the capital when i can be the only black person they will have seen for a decade… or on the telly…yet in ‘the city’ the financial heart of london there are more and more black faces that wear suits and not overalls…i am friendly with our black cleaning staff… i am friendly my fellow (much fewer alas) black executives.. we have no desire to form a club as far as i know.. i have heard there are some around but i personally think these people have too much time on their hands… i just get on with my daily… if i encounter injustices i correct them for those that come behind me…the only people who have ever had issues with me are white women from outside london… i have been offered empty glasses at functions and i just smile at them and introduce myself and ask who they are… i make sure they have died inside and only then do i make my excuses and walk away… it never happens twice and my e-mails are always promptly answered thereafter… smh..now i know our histories and experiences are different but i have to ask…why are you so bothered about this perceived ‘elite’ – it means absolutely nothing to anyone but themselves… it is akin to royalists over here and those that despise everything they stand forthe royal family have no real power… they do not overly influence my life and i thank goodness because as a family – they are a basically a tourism led figurehead and while their antics are jerry springer worthy…i don’t give them a second thought.. i suspect you would not either…

  15. @ MarciI could be wrong (and others can chime in to give their two cents), but I think the sense of anger comes from the fact that black Americans, regardless of their wealth or status, have historically been in the same ideological situation due to racism. Because of this there is always a push for togetherness or a search for "black unity" in the face of racist opposition. Wealth and status could fetch you a lovely home and nice clothes but at the end of the day, the elite had to face the same racism we all did. Many of the elite go into politics or donate to black causes. So there’s sort of this forced relationship forged out of love and hate, solidified by a shared struggle.Even though times have changed, American blacks still get pretty offended when rejected by their own. It honestly doesn’t matter how much money or status they have. There is this attitude of "Just WHO do you think you are! You’re a black person JUST LIKE ME!" Blackness is supposed to trump everything in many cases. Even gender (depending on who you ask). So to be snotty towards the first black president or his spouse is akin to war for some folks. It really doesn’t matter that they don’t have any power. People would have the same reaction if church folks rejected the Obamas or poor black people. There’s just this belief that still exists that we are supposed to hang together (or physically die hanging alone) on issues.

  16. This has ALWAYS happened. I’m from the south; middle class fam. I generally attended diverse schools and I can tell you.a) everybody almost always leans to where they feel comfortable. b) blacks with money, who for the most part are new money try or just happen to link themselves away the rest of the community into some "super black gang of high society". I remember there was Top Teens and then there was Jack and Jill. Top Teens was for most of the blacks of middle class or whatever and Jack and Jill was so called upper echelon.

  17. I don’t have any issues with their wealth, position, or their vacation spots. I just dislike the whole Us vs Them access-hoarding vibe that often accompanies. My interactions with this set have too often involved pretentious cause-celeb networking functions like ski trips and black tie affairs that waste more resources than they raise. It would be nice to see more of the Only Ones being less I-Gits-Mine-oriented and actively reaching across socioeconomic lines to present more opportunities for other blacks to achieve. I wonder how many of the Only Ones are actually proliferating some of the culturally insensitive things that happen to Black Americans and the obstacles we face. i.e. If you are in a position to speak out for/against or move in another direction, and you don’t -you are as much to blame, if not more, than the perpetrators who claim not to know better. Are these C-level muckity-mucks, like Hudlin @ BET, paying for their vacays & benzes by pumping toxic cultural swill into our neighborhoods? These are often the same "They" who position themselves as corporate experts on what "Our" preferences and capabilities are. How many of the Only Ones are personally profiting from the cultural shackles that our community can’t seem to break?(cough Tavis cough Smiley cough)Being an Only One in several facets of my own life, I remind people that yes, I’m great and there are other black people who were better than me that didn’t get this opportunity that I was blessed to have. Stop treating me like a racial anomaly! Look around as see all the other talented people with my hue.

  18. thanks @ danielle for the insight..i will read more on this..my parents had a ‘black collective struggle’ as west indian immigrants in the late 50’s and 60’s however my generation were just told to be 3 times better than anyone else to get on… education is the key… thus i have never been in a situation where "Just WHO do you think you are! You’re a black person JUST LIKE ME!" would come up… to me, it’s an unfounded expectation of others.. and so doomed from the beginning..and as for your dear potus… yes, i am glad and proud of his historical achievement (am equally glad that he is easy on they eye..)we have few black elected parliamentarians here and a black prime minister is a hell of a long way off….(the first woman prime minister ruined it for any kind of diversity here.. the tyrannical, evil cow’s legacy will never be forgotten!) however i am also the first to say he is not my elected leader when discussing him here… i have no ‘blind love’ for him just because he is black (mixed race/whatever, he is this week.. boring!) as his interest lies in america not europe.. he would throw ‘me’ under the bus in a split second to protect his interest…. it would be illogical for me to think in any other terms.. the discussions can get pretty heated when i say this…lol..thanks again.. i will now be ordering a couple of interesting books this week!

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