Intergroup Relationships


Segregation refers to the physical separation of two groups, particularly in residence, but also in workplace and social functions. It is important to distinguish betweende jure segregation (segregation that is enforced by law) andde facto segregation (segregation that occurs without laws but because of other factors). A stark example ofde jure segregation is the apartheid movement of South Africa, which existed from 1948 to 1994. Under apartheid, black South Africans were stripped of their civil rights and forcibly relocated to areas that segregated them physically from their white compatriots. Only after decades of degradation, violent uprisings, and international advocacy was apartheid finally abolished.

De jure segregation occurred in the United States for many years after the Civil War. During this time, many former Confederate states passed Jim Crow laws that required segregated facilities for blacks and whites. These laws were codified in 1896’s landmark Supreme Court casePlessey v. Ferguson, which stated that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional. For the next five decades, blacks were subjected to legalized discrimination, forced to live, work, and go to school in separate—butunequal—facilities. It wasn’t until 1954 and theBrown v. Board of Education case that the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” thus endingde jure segregation in the United States.

A group of black men and an old car standing outside a billiard hall.
In the “Jim Crow” South, it was legal to have “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

De facto segregation, however, cannot be abolished by any court mandate. Segregation is still alive and well in the United States, with different racial or ethnic groups often segregated by neighborhood, borough, or parish. Sociologists use segregation indices to measure racial segregation of different races in different areas. The indices employ a scale from zero to 100, where zero is the most integrated and 100 is the least. In the New York metropolitan area, for instance, the black-white segregation index was seventy-nine for the years 2005–2009. This means that 79 percent of either blacks or whites would have to move in order for each neighborhood to have the same racial balance as the whole metro region (Population Studies Center 2010).