On the issue of Charlotte’s social subconscious self-segregation
Posted on 4 May 2009 by Desiree Kane
photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
Charlotte’s social scene has a dirty little secret that everyone will talk about but no one is willing to own.
When I first moved to Charlotte I was surprised as to how the notion of “southern hospitality” was alive and well. Native Charlotteans are nice, they’re social, they’re around town and will willingly and liberally give you suggestions on where’s good to eat locally.
But then there’s an underbelly that doesn’t rear it’s ugly head until you really try and involve yourself in local culture & community.
Being new to the city I noticed quite quickly that no matter how much you put yourself out there, offer to have people over and invite people in, Charlotte is so clique-ridden that it’s tough to make lasting friendships. Even worse, it’s hard to get your phone to ring with invitations to, well, anything.
Many Charlotte transplants experience the same thing that if you don’t a) grow up here, b) go to church here or c) both, it’s a pretty safe assumption that you’re going to have a tough time building a strong network of close friendships. You have to seek them; Do not assume you will get invited in and that this revolution will be televised.
I spoke with my co-worker Steve, a Baby Boomer who was born and raised in Myers Park, about this phenomenon and he confirmed that it’s been going on longer than even he can remember. So it got me thinking: this separatist mentality probably has roots in the history of the South and the whole fight to maintain segregation thing. I mean, what else could be expected of a region that was willing to fight to the death to keep their slaves? Dare I say this mentality has never died but just become more insidious and subversive in its execution?
Being from the West coast I have to pull into account that I’m completely foreign to the notion of separatist ideas in social settings, so it’s even more pronounced to me. It’s been difficult to acclimate to a different social environment than what I’m used to. It’s true that everywhere, perhaps in the entire world, one can find people who naturally group things and people together because of similar interests and, it is indeed in human nature to separate things out sometimes either consciously or otherwise (for example: I separate my M&Ms out by color and eat them accordingly. Does that make me a “separatist”? Possibly!). But rarely does one find a place where social activities are so private like Charlotte.
I think many of the assumptions about “southern hospitality” are misplaced and that’s what leaves people new to the area flabbergasted. Growing up in Las Vegas I always thought southern hospitality was about people being open-armed and welcoming into social circles due to some element of inherent kindness the South has cultivated. In reality southern hospitality is about being inclusive but outwardly kind still. It’s difficult to penetrate social circles and it’s confusing to people new to the area because everyone is so welcoming but they just, simply, don’t reach outward beyond current their current group of friends. For example: they’ll tell you about the party they attended the previous weekend and how much you would have liked it and should have been there, but, no matter how close they may seem, they won’t think to invite you, being that you’re outside their current social circle.
During a particularly tumultuous time in my life last March there was no bigger indicator of this for me. Within one month’s time I separated from my husband, had surgery, and my parents moved from NC to California. Being that I’m an only child, I didn’t have family locally to rely on for support during this time. I was painfully and utterly alone. I had a large reaching network of acquaintances who espoused well-wishings and told me if I needed anything to call but … when the time came for me to need them, if I didn’t reach out, I would have been even more alone than I already was feeling. When I was so sick I couldn’t call and ask for help, I didn’t receive a single phone call. I don’t attribute this to conscious efforts to exclude me from people’s thoughts; I attribute this to the way Charlotte people just are from what I’ve experienced. The more I speak with people about this phenomenon the deeper the rabbit hole goes.
Charlotte locals across the state, I’ve found, have a reputation for being separatists. People here are self divided by not only generation and race, but even deeper they divide themselves by socio-economic classes as well. What’s up with that?
I’m curious to see how, as time rolls on and as the Millennial generation comes into it’s own with their Utopian ideals of human equality, this trend continues, if it continues at all in Charlotte. I just really hope when I’m in my 50s I don’t feel the way Steve does, that “Charlotte’s always been that way no matter how much I want to deny it”. That would be tragic considering the leaps and bounds we’ve made as a country towards instilling ideas of basic human equality into our younger generations.
It’s time to stop telling it, Charlotte, and start living it.