Segregation and Computing

Having seen just how rabid the segregation laws were all through the USA – not just the South – I wondered what would happen if segregation were still in effect today? I couldn’t imagine bigots being comfortable with the very thought of black data and white data intermingling. Bigotry is a form of mental insanity, and this insanity is typified by an obsessive compulsion to keep everything that touches or involves one kind of person totally separate from another class of person. These people segregated radio broadcasts and movies, for pete’s sake.

Data networks would have to be separate, with state communications safety commissions specifying which parts of the spectrum were for colored wireless networks and which ones were for white wireless networks. Wireless specifications would have to stipulate that the networks were separate but equal… even if the ones serving colored people had substandard equipment.

Wired networks, as well, would be separate but “equal”, with firewalls keeping the rules on what traffic should go where. This would naturally lead to different storage networks, different logon servers, different databases… all in the name of keeping things separate. Why should the records of a colored person be stored on the same hard drive as those of a white person? If they do not mingle in society, they surely should not mingle in the datacenter, or so the reasoning would go.

As an economist, this brings up the economic lunacy of segregation – why should a business be burdened with parallel systems, or deny a segment of the customer base services? It makes no economic sense, whatsoever. The same people that throw a fit about how Washington is meddling in their affairs are not above doing that very same sort of meddling on their own, even if it is more burdensome than the stuff coming out of DC.

As a network engineer, it would have been a nightmare trying to keep and prove all the data bits were truly separate from each other. Networks are designed to serve everyone. In networking, we give preference to services and types of traffic, not people.

But as a historian, I am sure that had segregation not been defeated and brought to an end, we would have such unwieldy rules in place. Their impact would be more than just economic and technical: they would be a further extension of the brutality of bigotry.

We cannot allow the rules of our world to be dictated by those who are mentally insane. Bigotry is insanity, and the cure for it certainly does not lie in holding a position of power.

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