There is a constantly looming and difficult question concerning whether marginalized communities/persons in the effort to construct spaces in which they feel safer and more able to both empower themselves and connect with others like them and who share their interests are in fact re-segregating themselves. If the most reasonable response to this question is 'Yes,' those efforts would be guilty of undermining the more prominent struggle for the social and political right to equal access/opportunity and protection from unjust exclusions. I want to suggest that a more reasonable response would be 'No' because the two arenas are not mutually exclusive.
The u.s. is a segregated society which makes it difficult to conceive ways in which I might segregate myself further. The schools are more segregated now than prior to the Brown vs. Board decision, and this is not a result of our re-segregating ourselves, but it does strongly suggest that there is still a place for the traditionally Black Colleges. The unemployment rate in African-American communities has been since 1954 and continues to be twice that of the larger society. The median income for African Americans is $10,000 less than for white Americans and has been so since 1880.
The criminal justice system is overwhelmingly filled with African-American women and men and Latinas/os. The military continues a discriminatory policy toward lesbians and gay men even and in spite of the recent Supreme Court decision that makes our consensual sex legal (an odd thing, indeed). Young homophiles are violently beaten in schools and gendered 'others' continue to be victimized by hate crimes. Driving while Black, Arab-looking, et.al., is not a fiction. Domestic violence, rape and incest continue to permeate the lives of women.
So there must be a recognized difference between segregation, whether open or tacit, that is state-sponsored, and that which is a response to existing segregation. When folks are constructed as groups of 'others' in a society and deprived of full and equal participation on the basis of some common characteristic, then voluntary associations are both inevitable and necessary. If groups of women had not voluntarily come together as women to talk and share their lives, many of them would not know that they were not alone in struggling with incidednts of rape, violent partners and familial sexual abuse. These groups provided a door through which both support and the beginnings of further healing could occur. This was certainly not women re-segregating themselves. African Americans, Latinas/os, and other marginalized folks are already segregated with respect to housing, employment, and other avenues of full participation. It is simply not possible to do it to ourselves.
Our ability to strategize, build institutions in our communities and receive some degree of comfort depends on the formation of voluntary associations. We cannot keep anybody out legally anyway which is the opposite of what can be done to us. While we may not be subjects of open state-sponsored segregation, the stats suggest that something tacit is occurring anyway. African Americans with college degrees are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as whites with the same education, for example. That smells of segregation to me.
Until the successful affirmative action program of racism is over and proper balancing occurs, there is no 'even playing field' here. Every social ill in this country—from 45 million folks without health insurance, the rise in the number of poor children, federal and state deficits that will result in cuts in social services for the vulnerable and education—all speak to fewer and fewer 'boot straps' for marginalized people, many who live at the intersections of race, class and gender, and thus may be multiply affected.