Letter: Asheville, racist and unequal as it ever was

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In the area of diversity in hiring, Asheville is just as segregated, racist and unequal as it ever was, and while whites promote Asheville as a tourist and artistic mecca, African Americans are still cleaning rooms in expensive hotels instead of front desk or management positions and not being hired in banks, restaurants and trendy bars in downtown, Biltmore and West Asheville.

Don’t believe the hype; I regret that because of family illnesses and death, I had to return here and see this economic apartheid and old-school segregation. Asheville’s so-called progressives don’t see it, or if they do, they do not admit or say anything or work to change it. You Can’t Go Home Again.

— Johnny Penley

Editor’s note: For more on Asheville’s history, Penley included a link to an oral history interview with him and his father, James Etheridge “Jim” Penley, who died Sept. 1, conducted in 2018 through the North Carolina Room at Pack Library: avl.mx/6uj


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32 thoughts on “Letter: Asheville, racist and unequal as it ever was

  1. Lulz

    Up next hiring quotas that harm productivity. And once it happens, don’t for one second assume that those who are hired under them and can barely function will be able to replaced.

    Also Penley assumes there’s a concerted effort to keep blacks out of the jobs market. Yet the people who show up from south of the border don’t seem to have the same problems. And they can’t even speak the language. Maybe it’s your culture that needs and adjustment Mr Penley. Truth will set you free.

  2. C-Law

    You speak the truth Mr. Penley.

    The carpetbagging Yankee “progressives” are arguably the most racist and hypocritical fiends you will ever have the misfortune of having live in your midst, let alone allow them to rule over you. They are master of “do as I say, not as I do.” Their hypocrisy knows no bounds. Just remember its the white liberal progressives that need the African-American to vote Democratic at 99% with max turnout to cling to power, yet when they rule they want to keep blacks and working-class whites trapped on their plantation as wage and debt slaves.

    • Lulz

      There has to be some sort of effort and motivation on the part of people to want to succeed. My REAL LIFE experience has been that many use racism as an excuse to do less yet expect more. Otherwise the rest of what you say is true,

      Penley makes many general and vague assumptions as to the employee applications and hiring practices of businesses in Asheville. Simply because he wants even more government interference via not only hiring quotas but now job titles and positions as well. And he’s trying to shame others into compliance and conforming to HIS views. Penley subtly admits that blacks cannot or will not compete on the job market and need the government to mete out winners and losers. And in his opinion it’s the business owner who is to blame when in reality it’s many factors that are the culprit. But never do you ever see Penley point fingers at his own culture. And until that starts to happen. blacks will never get above where they are. One other thing Penley fails to realize is these business are in many cases owned by minorities. Hotels in Asheville are majority Indian owned for example. So you really can’t blame whites as he is doing. Maybe Penley need to go in front of council and ask Kapoor about his hiring practices.

      • pottsvision

        Parroting the trendy opinion…

        Its nice to add some sense to the argument.

        You tell me, case by case, the situation… instead of these constant hit pieces against anyone of a lighter complexion.

        I can say with personal experience that people HAVE gone well out of their way to do exactly what the original letter desired – and long story short it didnt work out time after time and the “optics” would appear as if no effort was made… but truly it was a matter of failure by an individual who was given a great opportunity. Many people end up in the position they do because of what they do, and how they treat others… if personal responsibility is never taken, nothing will ever change.

    • bsummers

      Yes, everyone knows that historically, Southern white men have always been the best friends African-Americans have ever had.

  3. East Clintwood

    Asheville is racist and pretends to be woke and progressive? Gee, who would’ve thought.

  4. Curious

    Can Mr. Penley provide some data to support his assertions?
    What organizations is Mr. Penley working with to bring about positive change in racial equity in Asheville?

  5. Enlightened Enigma

    It correlates with the fact that AVL has only about 10% black population to start…maybe Mr. Penley needs to move to Atlanta or DC…

  6. Austin

    A lot of the blacks in my neighborhood drive Mercedes or BMW’s, with a few Escalades thrown in. Looks like they’re doing fine.

  7. Phillip C Williams

    Actually some aspects of segregation are worse . After the city in its wisdom leveled the neighborhoods around Valley Street and Southside Avenue in the name of Urban Renewal and covered those rundown but viable homes and businesses with nice wide roads and parking lots,, they moved the residents to the Projects, which are more segregated and isolated than the old neighborhoods ever were.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      yes, that was the democrat segregationists who did that, starting in 1940 and now we have way more public housing than
      is necessary.

      • bsummers

        You always sound like you have some sort of personal grudge against public housing, Fred Caudle. Why is that?

        • Mitzi

          Enlightened’s meaning strikes me as pretty close to “…way more public housing than PEOPLE DESERVE.” It’s always just desserts with people who have enough as they look down on those who have less.

        • Enlightened Enigma

          my neighborhood is severely affected by PVA with NO cooperation from the non accountable Housing Authority, our biggest enemy.

      • Phillip C. Williams

        Yes – the old neighborhoods and the Eagle Street block were all extensions of downtown…now the minority neighborhoods are “insulated” from the trendy places – or from those with tourist/newcomer potential – by those nice, wide roads and parking lots…and the remaining minority areas (besides the projects) are becoming ever more expensive to live in…

  8. Richard B.

    Mr. Penley is what is referred to as an Anachronism. In this case, not a very positive one at that.
    We have enough folks who underachieve, and have become very good at making excuses for themselves,
    reasons for their shortcomings that they come to believe.
    Easier than rolling up your sleeves and getting to work, as anyone who has come close
    to achieving their goals knows, regardless of skin tone.
    Mr. Penley, instead of providing motivation, provides excuses.

  9. yarbwire1@gmail.com

    To those who think racism still exists in Asheville, I will have to politely disagree with you.
    Your life is yours to do with it. So if you want to make the big money then you are going to have to actually work for it. By work I don’t mean selling drugs , being a prostitute or living off the government.
    Go to college and graduate. Choose a career and stick with it. Don’t quit just because someone was rude to you.
    The older I get the more I see people becoming soft. People need to grow up and be accountable for their own actions or lack thereof. Don’t expect to get a good paying job with no work experience or education.
    Racism comes in all forms towards all colors.
    Life is what you make out of it.
    Are you the master or the slave to money?
    Are you working for your money or does your money work for you?

    • bsummers

      Racism comes in all forms towards all colors.

      Like assuming that if a person of color doesn’t advance in their careers, it’s because they are lazy, uneducated or “soft”?

      BTW, you’re the first person I’ve ever seen who uses their email as their screen name. Interesting choice.

      • Richard B.

        bs – I read yarbwire 1″s comment as referring to folks who don’t have a career, don’t have a goal, or the motivation to think about a “career”, which to most of us I believe means simply working and doing your best in that job. I did not see where he was coming down on people who may leave their “careers”, or who may be happy remaining in the position they currently have.
        Perhaps you’re a bit eager to be looking for hints of “racism” behind every tree and bush?
        I do believe that yarbwire makes some good points, for example, that racism can take many forms perpetrated towards those who are of different color, ethnic origin, etc.
        Does it not strike you that folks who run around shouting “white privilege” to anyone and everyone who they find annoying, looks a lot like some form of “racism”?

        • pottsvision

          “run around shouting “white privilege” to anyone and everyone who they find annoying, looks a lot like some form of “racism”?”

          It *IS* racism… the BS about not being racist because the hatred is directed at a certain race is obviously absurd… re-read that and think about it, if you honestly believe that any hatred directed toward (race) is not racism because (race) somehow garners a unique designation because of racist ideals.

          How how about this – I am not a color… I am not like everyone who has a similar skin tone… I am not like everyone else who descended from the same geographic area.

    • Opp

      I really love what you said and I agree 100%. Thank you so much, this really did something to me. Again. Thank you

    • Kisha

      Sorry you are very,very wrong. There is Racism in Ashville. I came there to visit your beautiful City and was treated with disrespect. And it the streets they were protesting . We decided not to go to Biltmore because it was just too much going on. So as I was coming out the Grocery store I preceded to walk in the Pedestrian walk are and I saw this white woman. She was suppose to stop so I could continue walking across the street to my car. My husband had to push me out the walkway cause she tried to run me over. I could not believe it. Then she skids off to finally hit her breaks into her parking spot. She wanted to make sure heard her brakes./tire .
      Then she gets out the car and slams her door walks past use and rolled her eyes. It was crazy!! Never seen nothing like that before.

  10. Big Al

    Thanks, America, for making MLK Day in January.

    Now we can all celebrate TWO months of “Get Whitey”.

    Do you feel better now?

    • bsummers

      Wait. What’s the other one? I’ll want to be sure to cower in fear all THAT month, too.

  11. Angel

    So after reading this brief article and reading everyone’s comments, I’m shocked. I recently moved here from another state two years ago. I was sold on how progressive Asheville was, and opportunities for all no matter what your race, religion etc. The first thing that struck me as odd was never really seeing a person of color. When I asked my Partner she simply shrugged her shoulders. I later would find out they are all packed and jammed in PVA, deerview, and hillcrest. I found this incredibly disturbing. I’ve had the pleasure to meet individuals from each of these housing complexes and work along side of them. I recently resigned from this company due to what I felt was racism. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this in Asheville. Anywhere you go it’s going to be a little of everything, I get that… with that said I most certainly agree with the writer, especially given the fact after you read some of the comments to this post. This had nothing to do with anyone being lazy, selling drugs etc. so the fact that was even brought up in response to this is disturbing. I’m not sure if it’s racism, discrimination or prejudice or any of those other created words we use to belittle, disrespect each other…. what I will say is it’s most certainly something.

    • MG Massey

      Racism in the south..covered up for centuries..
      Nothing changes but the years..

  12. Beth

    Racism is alive and unwell in Asheville. Always has been. It’s not blatantly Jim Crow but James Crow Esq. now. Racism wears a suit and tie postulating fairness for all just because they have a black truck and black boots. Racism is woven into the fabric of Asheville and Western NC and the natives will not dispute that. Asheville, for tourist dollars, has sacrificed its AA population without blinking an eye. Just look around Asheville and you’ll see the racism-look at Southside-gentrified. Look at Montfort-gentrified. Look at the Block-gentrified. And you think the jobs are not affected??? All of this is apart of a constant, never ending plan to keep perpetuating ‘I don’t see color’ racism. If you want to get tourist to crowd out Asheville-do you really want AA at your front desks, serving your drinks, parking your cars??? Please. Asheville is white-lily white-and that’s how it is advertised, and how the powers that be have wanted it and will continue to want it.

  13. GuyfromNY

    I am looking at Asheville NC for my future home. Being a Hispanic person concerns me in this situation. I was there visiting about a month or two ago and have nothing bad to say about the place.

    Should I be worried about moving there ?

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