Diversity not meaningful in terms of Asheville’s racial integration

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.

Laura Eshelman

Editor’s note:  The Best of WNC third place in the Reason to Live in Asheville category was “Diversity and eclectic people, culture.”


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8 thoughts on “Diversity not meaningful in terms of Asheville’s racial integration

  1. Sarah Bethea

    Why is it that African Americans feel the need to make everything about race? Think about the Asians, Hispanics, Cherokee-do you see them making everything about their race ?
    Are you suggesting that we just give African Americans jobs based on their skin color not ability. That’s the problem – entitlement . If the issue of black racism ends then so does your argument so it benefits the African Americans to keep it alive cause it is used to acquire things, positions, donations, pity all unjustly.

      • Grant Millin

        “Why is it that African Americans feel the need to make everything about race?”

        Somedays it gets really easy to define what civilization is and is not… and equally easy to see who wants betterness civilization and who needs things to be as they are, if not roll back to a darker, more medieval era.

    • Dionysis

      I read the letter twice and found nothing in it that could be construed as a call for anything based upon “entitlement,” but rather a call for awareness. It’s good that there is no such thing as ‘white privilege’, and that our political system and economic systems are completely oblivious to money, status and class.

      And naturally, it is only because African Americans want to continue to enjoy the blessings of bigotry and discrimination that they work so hard to keep “black racism” alive in this country (and elsewhere). Clearly without their persistent efforts, racism would just evaporate.

    • Goodness

      If you were an employer hiring solely on the abilities demonstrated through these entries, who would you choose? What would be your metrics of distinction? Content? Sentence construction ? Grammar ? I find it to be bittersweet and intriguing that your response to Ms. Eshelman’s post implied your assumptions of her ethnic background.

      The term “diversity” is very loosely used when describing the Asheville community; it ideally should be synonymous with “all-inclusive”. A “diverse” community culture begets a wealth of arts, cuisines, literature, traditions, peoples, and thought; all integral parts of a utopia Asheville.

      I believe it’s our responsibility as individuals to create this vision by making ourselves more available as resources to all people within the Asheville community and beyond-not just our neighborhood, dowtown, North or West Asheville. Without making ourselves fluid in each others’ lives, we are a society of Plebeians and Patricians.

      On the issue of entitlement:

      That’s the definition of racism. “… it is used to acquire things, positions, donations, pity all unjustly.” Hmm.

  2. AD

    Diversity, diversity, diversity. What a crock of @#$%. Come on all you white liberals obsessed with diversity. For one, you all chose to move to lily white Asheville, NC and the fact that all of you moved here made the lilly even whiter. Furthermore, it’s 2014: shouldn’t we be looking at ourselves as Americans instead of by color?

    • Dionysis

      How do you know the people writing these posts moved here and aren’t native to this area? Do you believe that only those who move here are ‘liberals’? Have you done a survey and found that liberals in the Asheville area all came from somewhere else?

      As for the fact that we should all see ourselves as simply Americans, of course that would be hoped for in 2014; can you identify any place at all where that holds true, and race is not considered? Why, even now, there are members of the KKK from SC going to Ferguson, MO, and they are not heading there to help raise funds for the United Negro College Fund either. Racism is still deeply entrenched in this country. It does not take obsession to find that condition regrettable and unacceptable.

  3. mg massey

    What about empathy? Have you ever tried to see life through other eyes? Tried to imagine how it must feel to be so hated ? My friends who grew up here of darker melanine, have told me over the years how difficult it is being African American here. I’ve seen it myself.. it’s there.. racism exists.. Why, when a country was built on the slavery of a people ,and the genocide of the other , my Tsalagi relatives, do we denigrate the survivors need to speak of how they feel? Why do their feelings seem to matter less? Prejudice exists along class lines here as well. IN this world where folks tend to run with the herds… there seems no willingness to empathize with the walks of others that one doesn’t understand. Ironically, my own grandfather, had to deny his heritage, and pass as white, to survive living in Alabama after they left NC. He never spoke of his heritage it wounded his soul to have to leave behind who he really was and pretend to be another to survive. How shocking to find this out.. He exampled his heritage by living gently, by being respectful and giving and humble. Yet, he too succumbed to the trickle down hate of those who have to join the crowd to survive. He became
    bigoted towards African Americans.. The hate he was handed in Residential Schools , he passed on to others. I could never fathom his racism till recently. I felt the call of nature and who we once were. Even as a child I knew I was not really one who “fit in ” with the herd..I walked my own path.. a love of anything Indigenous, natures glory , rivers and trees sang to my soul the way they once sang to my ancestors..
    Finding out at 47 that I was actually Tsalagi..(we also have many other Tsalagi ancestors)… was the happiest day of my life. To know I am not full blooded Norman inbred ex royal white is such a relief.. .
    I grew up during the civil rights movement in Alabama, that experience forged my soul and wounded my childs heart to see folks so harmed by others hate. TO know I am actually not white explains my eternal empathy for those of color. Science are discovering new things about genetic memory every day. .The ancestors called me home ..where my own relatives were driven out of. First of my family to live here since the Trail of Tears. This bridge between two worlds, is only crossed by people who can honestly see that we all are related and part of a whole.. Till we realize that.. this nation will suffer.. You all live on stolen land soaked with the blood of my ancestors and the relatives of my friends of color.The least they should expect is respect. Yet when minorities are mentioned.. we are never included in that.. Does it bother me.? NO way.. while this town has been very, very cruel to myself and my family, it doesn’t bother me.. It’s better to be alone than be around people who think your very being is a threat to them.. Some of the most wonderful people I know are not the rich. They are those who have lived through great struggle, and have come out of it with great wisdom. Perhaps one day, all labels will be gone and we all will just be the only race there is, the human race. I suggest you read “The History of White People” BY Nell Irvin Painter a Professor at a NE UNIVERSITY. The history , written by the conquerors.. is far from true. Dick Gregory said in a talk he gave before our POTUS took office, that “it’s always been about white supremacy.” Sadly, I’d have to agree with him. 15 negative ads about our POTUS to one positive..I think that speaks for itself. Our country is divided because we have allowed ourselves to be played in a divide and conquer game as old as ROME. Whats is going on right now.. is a battle of those who do good(kindness) and those who do evil (harm) IF you don’t think so look at the statistic s for the murder of people of color.Yes racism exists.. some folks just cannot deal with the fact .. that they are living on land they stole.. we don’t want it back.. it’s been fouled.. But we do want respect.

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