African-American disenfranchisement in Asheville: Debating where to place the blame

A woman in the crowd reacts to the first in a series of three legacy debates on Nov. 13. Resolved: Asheville has disenfranchised its African-American population was the first debate. The pro side of the argument won 5-0. Photo by Pat Barcas

Who (or what) is the cause of black people being disenfranchised in Asheville? Those arguing that systemic racism is the culprit were declared unanimous winners at the conclusion of a Nov. 13 debate.

Asheville High School and the Wilma Dykeman Legacy hosted “Resolved: Asheville has Disenfranchised its African-American Population,” the first in a three-debate series that will be held through April. Representing the pro argument at the debate were political science professor Dwight Mullen and history professor Darin Waters, both from UNC-Asheville. On the con side were Isaac Herrin, chair of  the Western Carolina University College Republicans, and Carl Mumpower, a psychologist and former member of the Asheville City Council.

The nearly two-hour debate featured civil discourse among the debaters onstage despite some jeers and gasps from the crowd in response to arguments by Mumpower calling claims of institutional and systemic racism a myth.

“The struggle that black people have gone through, historically, is the same as all races,” he said. “The black community of Asheville has subjugated itself.”

The conversation at times took a meandering path, touching on religion, voting rights, incarceration rates and individual responsibility.

“It is absolutely fundamental that we not think in a binary way, that we think in ways that are not mutually exclusive of each other,” Mullen said. “Individual responsibility has always been a characteristic of the African-American community. How else can you explain our survival? But that individual responsibility cannot take the place of systemic reforms.”

Mumpower cited a handful of what he called truths doing great harm to the black community: embrace of certain Democratic policies — abortion, illegal immigration and governmental dependence; rejection of social sciences; rejection of African heritage; and the rejection of the core message of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

In the end, Asheville High School student judges voted the pro side of the argument the winner, 5-0. The next two debates will be Jan. 29 and April 8, with the subjects being organic food and eat-local movements.





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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at Follow me @pbarcas

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14 thoughts on “African-American disenfranchisement in Asheville: Debating where to place the blame

  1. Yawn

    Oh, please. Try not to shoot out our bus drivers in the public housing district and I might actually care.

    • Crystal

      That was the most disgusting comment I’ve ever seen. You could at least had something with so validity to it. Yawn to your seemingly over privileged comment. People like you have no understanding except for those who look like or benefit you.

      • Lulz

        LOL, you don’t suppose all those single moms in Section 8 are defeating themselves lulz? Sorta like why actually try and get out when the government pays for it all.

  2. Disenfranchised in what is probably the most liberal enclave in the state, in one of the most accepting countries in the world? Please. Blacks need only to look within their own communities to identify the source of any problems.

    • NFB

      Asheville the most liberal enclave in the state? Please. Go spend some time in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham the get back to us. Even Davidson passed rules requiring developers to include affordable housing in their developments something that Asheville, with a far more serious problem in affordable housing has steadfastly refused to do for years.

      The notion of Asheville as some sort of liberal/progressive haven is only on the minds of some in town on the self absorbed left and the perpetually victimized right.

  3. yossarian

    I think this what this “debate” was is clear, it was obvious the debate was crafted to intentionally come at the outcome it sought and was biased. Although race relations are an important and serious topic in our country; in my opinion the intention of the debate was to be divisive and provocative.

    There is something that has gone unquestioned and that is reverse racism, not typically by the African-American community but by “white” liberals who want to make race a topic and who want to make us judge and assess ourselves not on the basis of being human or who we are but by the color of our skin. It should be seen for what it is because their actions are ultimately subversive and harmful.

  4. Andy

    It was not a debate done in what I’ve experienced as a formal debate. Neither side presented much of what I expected in terms of citing evidence, though, the ‘Pro’ side did provide some. The ‘Con’ side could barely stomach to support the point of view it was tasked with, ie, defending government. The audience in general had a clear opinion as was expressed by murmurs and sighs and did offer specific evidence to support its conclusions.
    As for the above comments, well, it’s clear that you guys are just blowing off steam, to be polite. Real discussion that was sincere would involve considering data and reasoned arguments, of which there is plenty.

    • c

      Or how about this: both sides are right in some aspects, and both may be wrong in other aspects, for that is the usual nature of compex issues. I do think that Mumpower might have had a different life if he had been black. And Asheville is weird on how it’s public housing enclaves are separatelly dotted throughout Asheville and not a one is in walking distance to a grocery store. In all, it seems that this country is lacking the type of lesdership that can craftily bridge the gap to all of this bickering and race blaming going on. This time it’s not the politicians who are wagging the dog, it is the American people.

    • Gabrielle White

      Thanks Andy, I’m sad that the debate was allowed to happen without apparently having a dress rehearsal. It would have been obvious to the high schoolers it was not actually a debate. I don’t advise going forth with the slotted debates unless this happens. It’s like asking plumbers to go fix electrical problems. MAYBE they know how to do it. who knows.

  5. Priscilla R. Ndiaye

    “Debating where to place the blame,” should not be part of the discussion. It only opens the door for further division and nothing is accomplished but an increase in angry and bitter people. Besides, we know that the responsibility falls on both sides. Perhaps there should have been a conversation with the African-American community first to gain understanding in why there are certain feelings and thoughts. In addition, the conversation could be an opportunity to access where there is need for clarity within and out. There needs to be a outlet for healing to begin. There needs to be a discussion among the African-American community ONLY and then we should come together and have a discussion with the greater Asheville – specifically the authoritative figures. There needs to be a summit. Was there any positive outcome? What authority does Mumpower have to make change? He has already stated “there is no black leaders in Asheville,” so you know where he is coming from and how he feels.

  6. Anne Craig

    I attended the debate and for me it was not so much ‘where to place the blame’ as the key question, but the stated debate theme: “Resolved: Asheville has disenfranchised its African-American population.” The pro side clearly was more convincing because they offered research and statistics to support the ‘resolution.’ The con side could offer nothing but a few anecdotes and blame the victim arguments, completely ignoring evidence of systemic racism that exists in Asheville and our country. I was impressed that such a delicate topic was addressed in a very civil manner, but the racism on the con side was clearly evident. The Asheville High judges were quite impressive in their thorough explanations of how they scored the debate. Kudos to the Debate team, its coaches and supporters!

  7. Curious

    Who selected the representatives of the “Con” team? It seems unfair to put a college student and a psychologist, who appear to have no special expertise on the issues (although perhaps many opinions) against a PhD historian of African-American history in Western North Carolina and a PhD political scientist who has studied the issues/data/statistics of Africa-American life in WNC for many years. Why was it assumed that two Republican activists would best make the case against black disenfranchisement? Are there no PhD social scientists/historians, with academic credentials to match Dr. Waters and Dr. Mullen who might have taken the opposing argument?

    And what does “disenfranchisement” and “Asheville” mean in the resolution (“Resolved: Asheville has Disenfranchised its African-American Population,”) “Disenfranchised” means denied the right to vote. Are African-Americans in Asheville being denied the right to vote? Does Asheville means “The City of Asheville,” that is, the city government?

    • Gabrielle White

      Good points here. The college republican was filling in for someone else who couldn’t make it, so yes, unqualified. Also, Mumpower obviously unqualified. It’s state level where the disenfranchisement is happening as I understand. Poor topic choice. Asheville needs a summit, and a talk to achieve cooperation and a space to talk/connect, eliminate prejudices, find solutions and ACTIONS, regarding our race and equality issues.

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