Is Charlotte too afraid or do we just not know how to talk about race?

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When I asked a community leader recently why more city leaders aren’t talking about race, she responded, “Who’s rewarded for talking about race or racism?”

Good point.

Who’s rewarded for tackling this issue head on?

Recently, we asked our 21,000 Agenda newsletter subscribers: What is the most important issue facing our city in 2017? Here are the results:

  • Racial tension: 20.12%
  • Education: 20.04%
  • Smart development: 14.25%
  • Income inequality: 13.18%
  • Transportation: 7.57%
  • Crime & public safety: 7.57%
  • Poverty: 6.95%
  • Gentrification: 5.79%
  • Job creation: 4.54%

biggest-issues-facing-charlotte

Race is hard to talk about. It’s much easier for Charlotte to talk over transportation, economic growth, education and development.

Race is the elephant in the room.

As 2016 comes to a close, I’ve spent some time reflecting on previous stories that have solicited a huge reader response.

About a year ago, Katie Loveluck wrote a quick newsletter commentary on experiencing white privilege during a routine traffic stop. Each time a reader submits feedback on our feedback form, our backend system sends my email address the form submission.

My email blew up that morning, as did comments from friends and colleagues. I was surprised by how racially divided responses were. Responses were almost entirely split down racial lines (as self identified): black Charlotteans thanked the Agenda for addressing this and white Charlotteans told the Agenda to shut up and stick to restaurant scoops.

This past February, we published a piece titled: Yes, your leaving Charlotte to avoid black people during CIAA is racist. And we followed it up with a special edition Mailbag due to the volume of feedback.

When you work in digital media, you get a feel for massive issues just underneath the surface of a community.

It’s obvious to me race is the most important issue facing our city.

“Race and racism tend to paralyze conversation and dialogue because of a lack of knowledge, guilt, pain and frustration,” said Charles Thomas, program director at John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “All of us must find the courage and empathy to have conversations that are uncomfortable.”

Because of my job as a media person I’m often intimidated addressing the issue of race. I’m hesitant to publish race related stories because I’m scared of not being perfect.

I end up frozen and putting it off until I know it’s perfect or until I can source just the right op-ed.

Personally, I’m going to force myself into more uncomfortable conversations on race in 2017. I know this is a pathetically small goal, but for me, I’ve decided this is where I’m going to start. I’m also going to stop trying to be perfect when it comes to writing about race.

Should I have done this years ago? Of course. But whatever, I’m doing it now.

What are you going to do? What is Charlotte going to do?

“Just as racism is intersectional in its impact, we need institutional leaders and allied organizations who are willing to place themselves in a vulnerable, but ultimately powerful, position to say ‘for the benefit of everyone in our city, we are going to address the impacts of systemic racism,” amalia deloney of the Media Democracy Fund told me.

“These leaders and organizations need to orient out time, talent, and treasure in service of understanding and dismantling this system and the myriad ways it shows up in our lives, and in the lives and operations of this community’s infrastructure.”

Are Charlotte’s business leaders ready to talk candidly and be vulnerable when it comes to race? Unlikely.

Charles Thomas put it to me directly, “Are we ready as a city to do what it takes to deal with the legacies of discrimination in our community? Is Charlotte ready to change our behavior and change our systems that block equity?”

I don’t think our community is ready to deal with this.

I don’t think we have the right champions, the right language or the right understanding of the issues.

I think we’re too worried about being perfect or saying something that offends somebody.

Unless we’re willing to be vulnerable and have awkward conversations, we’re going to keep talking past each other.

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Ted Williams
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Publisher, golfer, dad and magician (seriously).