It perplexed me to see diversity voted as the third-best reason to live in Asheville [“Best of WNC, Part One,” Aug. 6, Xpress].
This is not because I believe it is inaccurate nor that I lack an abiding love for the general weirdness of our city that the word was likely meant to encapsulate when voters selected it. It was troubling because, for whatever diversity exists here, we are sorely kidding ourselves by entertaining any belief that it is at all meaningful in terms of Asheville’s racial integration.
For instance, despite all the fanfare devoted to our fantastic local businesses, only 2 percent are owned by members of the black community, who make up over 13 percent of Asheville.
Unemployment rates for people of color here are approximately double that of white residents, and the reverse holds true for homeownership rates.
Similar trends are glaring in disparate educational outcomes for Asheville’s students of color, bearing in mind that numbers scarcely describe the social experience.
Embracing diversity is distinct from merely “having” it, and that cannot happen without acute attention to the barriers historically oppressed populations face in finding outlets for equal opportunity.
I raise this not to whine or to point fingers, but because I have some faith in Asheville’s potential to promote consciousness about these trappings of institutional segregation.
For white Ashevilleans, I encourage you to listen to nonwhite residents when they choose to speak about their experiences, whether they feel represented and included, and whether they are able to access the same level of comfort you might feel living in our shared space.
Awareness and humility will not mend all the damage of racial inequality at large, but if you’re a fan of Asheville’s diversity and would like to see it empowered, learning about what that means for those of different backgrounds is an easy, microlevel step toward improving the city’s integrity.
Editor’s note: The Best of WNC third place in the Reason to Live in Asheville category was “Diversity and eclectic people, culture.”