On the issue of Charlotte's social subconscious self-segregation | CLT Blog

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.


  1. Matthew Vincent 5 May 2009 at 9:58 AM

    Sorry you can’t find any friends, but the de facto human condition for those of us occupying major American metropolises tends to weigh out on the lonely side.

  2. Justin 5 May 2009 at 10:06 AM

    I wish the understanding of why South Carolina left the union was because of states rights. Slavery was an underlying issue to states rights.

    Charlotte, in my experience, is a city of image. The population mingles with those similar to them in an effort to preserve their image. But this happens everywhere. I lived in Chicago for three years and struggled endlessly to be involved and invited among circles of friends. Difference is that many living in the Chicago region have a ‘cold’ approach and aren’t all that friendly in the first place.

    I left Charlotte back in 2004 because I didn’t have any family here after my mother moved back to Illinois. When I returned last January, I did have friends extend their welcome to what is typically family events. One family lives in Mount Holly and the other lives on the south east side of Charlotte which is a New York family.

    Maybe it’s a matter of connection, my experiences with southern individuals in general have exposed the connections they hold closely. If you don’t go to their church, live in their neighborhood, grow up here, or be family you just might be out of luck. Those are the people they probably feel they can trust the most. I can’t imagine anything wrong with that, it can be discouraging though.

    I think it’s time to start connecting with other transplants that are in the same boat as you. There are plenty of us out there!

  3. Charlie Pratt 5 May 2009 at 11:11 AM

    This is a bold assertion, Ms. Kane.

    I’m a Charlotte native — one of the dwindling few, it seems — and can say without equivocation that there is truth in what you’ve written.

    It never surprises me that there are trends in groups, organizations, circles of friends, etc. People that think alike or have a common interest tend to share some similar qualities. When it occurs in an an entire city, however — it truly flabbergasts me.

    It’s a self-perpetuating thing, too. What happens when someone continually runs into the clique-monster? They grow frustrated, annoyed, and more often than not, get eaten by it themselves. They pocket their cynicism, hang on to their friends, opt to preseve what little they have left and, instead of fighting the beast, they add to its size.

    Charlotte has always behaved like the slightly-nerdy kid who wants desperately to sit at the cool kids’ table. Instead of being himself, he begins to spend more time on his image, his appearance, and style. He isn’t content with his natural self, so he begins a never-ending process of self-tweaks, until after a while, he doesn’t know who his friends are and he’s forgotten his own merits. He just wants — please, oh please — to be liked by all the other popular kids.

    Charlotte is this strange dichotomy of transplants who want this to be some sort of a metro-Southern utopia, and natives who, well dang, pretty much like it the way it is. Until the balance swings one way or the other, we’re going to continue being what we currently see. Charlotte has come a very long way, but true systemic change can take many, many years.

    They say they first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? Hopefully your words will sting a few readers just enough to be a bit more inclusive this weekend when they throw that private shin-dig none of us know about.

    Thanks for writing.

  4. Katie Mo 5 May 2009 at 11:12 AM

    Wow, Matthew — that’s kind of an assuming comment!

    I, like Desiree, am a transplant. Originally from wwaayyy up north though I spent the majority of my years in the RDU area. Coming to Charlotte I found it easy to integrate with people I already knew on an acqaintance-type level, though I attended many events on my own (and ran into people I knew socially there).

    However, making a new circle of close friends? That’s a different story. Even though I grew up just a few hours away, Charlotte and it’s many cliques were slow to welcome me “into the fold”. This isn’t to say that I went without, as my social calendar was pretty full with people I knew previous to moving, but I’m also well aware that this was a luxury few transplants have.

    Before leaving Charlotte for NYC earlier this year I was pleased to realize that not only had I developed a large circle of acquaintances, but also a solid circle of close friends. Ones I knew I could depend on if the time ever came (and it did, though not to the degree of Desiree’s, in my case).

    This took just shy of 3 years to cultivate, and I believe it would have taken much longer (as most things do) if I didn’t already know people when moving to the city. Some of my close friends and many of my acquaintances were people I had known previously and carried through. Quite a few of these truly amazing people were new, and I do still keep in contact with most even after relocating.

  5. M 5 May 2009 at 11:48 AM

    Wow. I just can’t agree with any of this rubbish. Despite what you claimed to be the norm, I’m a Charlotte transplant, I didn’t grow up here, and I don’t go to any church at all, yet I’ve had no problem building a strong network of close friendships. And I can’t chalk it up to being naturally outgoing either. I’ve found no reason that if you’re not nice, helpful, and trustworthy to others that they don’t reciprocate, just like anyplace else. But just because I’m nice doesn’t mean anybody should expect me to bend over backwards to help everybody I meet either. People anywhere have their own lives and their own worries and it’s just natural for people to not have time nor want to accept the burden of worrying about every single person they meet. Or if you’re only talking about the experience of just a few “close“friends then you’ve really overstepped your bounds by making such generalities over the entire city as a cultural local plague. Perhaps the problem with your viewpoint is the crowd you’re trying to hang with.

    As for class separation, that’s anywhere you go, not just Charlotte. If you’re not an old school, wealthy, southern businessman over 50 years of roots in the local community, then why would you expect to so quickly be added to the speeddials of these people you have nothing in common with. I’m a Yankee, but I’ve always considered southern hospitality to be mostly about being polite and inviting, but not without common sense limits. Do you expect every person you know to become a doormat that owes you their full time and attention 247?

    Also, if you don’t ask for help from your friends when you need it, you have no right to complain that they weren’t there for you. Take some responsibility for yourself.

    Sorry, but it just sounds like you’re complaining like a spoiled child and inappropriately projecting your skewed views as a generality over the entire city.

  6. Jason Keath 5 May 2009 at 12:33 PM

    Seems like people separate themselves everywhere. High school, college, work. Every city, probably every town is America has these issues. It is always good to work towards a solution, but it is not a Charlotte problem. It is an everywhere problem. I have experienced similar things in California, Philadelphia, Wisconsin, Boston, etc.

    If you are a newcomer in any place I would say you have to reach out and find the people that will include you. It won’t necessarily be easy, that is human nature.

  7. Kate 5 May 2009 at 2:02 PM

    In my experience it is a social thing not a Charlotte thing. I have oddly begun to notice that my close open mind liberal friends are truly just more self-absorbed and less socially concerned then the think or say they are. And the @s$hole conservatives I associate with talk and think in a truly flawed way, but are genially nice people and more reliable…..but that is just my observation as of late.

  8. Marty 5 May 2009 at 2:22 PM

    Living in the south all my life, this seems perfectly normal. You mean it’s not the same way everywhere?

    Okay surely not as much in LA or NYC, where EVERYONE is a transplant… but down south it seems like the status quo, everywhere…

    I’ve been here 23 years and am just now to the point where I bump into people I know on a regular basis. I used to go 5 years at a time without that happening. Then again, I’m not the most socially outgoing person in the world, so maybe a tougher nut to crack than most.

    Join a church — heck, join several. And of course, BE the friend you’d like to have… there are plenty of other new charloteans who crave just the sort of freindships you do.

    Best of luck, and don’t let the yuppies get ya down 😉

  9. Rhi Bowman 5 May 2009 at 2:23 PM

    I hopped from Montgomery, AL, to Atlanta, GA, to Charlotte.

    In Montgomery, I’ll tell you — you’re welcome to visit, but it’s not suggested that you stay. That’s just how it is. (Unless you’re rich, of course; society loves money.)

    In Atlanta, I was immediately enveloped by a huge group of people who I still consider friends. I was too busy there, but it was a blast. Of course, most of the Atlanta population is from elsewhere — or, at least that’s my experience — so my friends were from a variety of places around the country and world.

    In Charlotte, I experienced a lot of the same feelings you mention in this post. Even the friends I already had in Charlotte when I moved here seemed stand-offish to some degree (and they still do; no they’re not natives).

    Here’s what I’ve decided:
    Like one of the other commenters said, Southern hospitality isn’t about invitations or welcomes; it’s about being nice. There’s an old saying, as long as you attach “bless their heart” to a statement you can say whatever you want. As in, “He’s a classless bastard, bless his heart.”* To me, that sums it up. My super-Southern Belle grandma will be sweet as candy so someone’s face then turn around and shred them in a gossip circle. Take Southern hospitality for what it is, a superficial custom that doesn’t actually mean a hell of a lot.

    Here’s the other thing I’ve decided:
    If you want to be involved, you have to put yourself out there. Just because my friends couldn’t make time for me when I first moved here didn’t mean they love me less, they’re just busy — aren’t we all? They commented, a year or so after my move, that they were impressed with how I got so involved in different organizations so quickly, even saying they didn’t think they could do the same themselves.

    To me, these are the lessons in this post — correct me if I’m wrong:
    If you want to be accepted, accept others. If you want to be involved, jump in.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to spark this type of dialogue. In fact, I think it’s helpful. It often takes an outsider’s point of view to help people see themselves as they really are, or at least as they appear from a distance. Look at all the conversation you generated right here on CLTblog! Go you. Hold up the mirror, don’t be shy. This city is evolving, it’s good that we check in with her progress now and again.

    And, now, on to important business … let’s meet for lunch or a drink sometime and talk some shit about the Q.C.

    Rhi B.

    * I’ve now expanded this to “… in the most loving way possible.” As in, “He’s a raging ass-hat … I mean that in the most loving way possible, y’all.”

  10. Dave Potts 5 May 2009 at 2:31 PM

    I think there’s definitely some truth to what Desiree is getting at, and Charlie’s comments above (I’m also a native) do hit home to a certain extent.

    I wonder though if friendliness, or “neighborliness” also depends in part on the environment. I don’t really know the people in my neighborhood from Adam — how can I if the sum total of my interaction with them amounts to a wave as I drive past on my way to work? Or if the options I have for a third place in my part of town are mostly anonymous chain establishments where customer interaction is dictated by a corporate handbook? Maybe our relentless quest for growth has shortchanged us a bit when it comes to the type of strong, integrated communities you see in other cities.

    All of Charlotte isn’t like this though, and I’d encourage transplants having a tough time to do a little more exploring. It can be tough here, but if you dig a little deeper, you can find what you’re looking for.

  11. Greg Hinson 5 May 2009 at 3:30 PM

    First and foremost, let me give you a little history lesson. Southern states succeeded from the union because of STATES RIGHTS ISSUES! Slavery was just an underlying issue the Federal Government used to impose its power over the states. There were many southern abolishist that vigorously fought for the end of slavery however, supported succession from the union base solely on the fact that we did not want the Federal Government to have the power to impose any agenda on the states. Sad thing is, 140 years later our states are still being pushed around by the now HUGE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Talk about a slippery slope! And it’s the many people like you that write without knowledge that the Civil War was solely about slavery. It was clearly about the Federal Government being able to tell any state what they must do or suffer consequences. Talk about a slippery slope, just look at our Federal Government now! Slavery would have ended either way. As I stated, there were many southern citizens that were against slavery, my ancestors to name a few.
    Second, being an original Charlottean, you could not be further from the truth about this city. All my life I have watched as countless people have migrated to Charlotte. Back in the early 80’s many were from up north, New York to be specific with IBM, then from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and all across New England. And I will state that all the citizens of Charlotte, originals and transplants, have always welcomed these new people. In the last 15 years, people have moved here from all over the US and the World for that matter and I still find it the same; we welcome all that want to positively enrich our community. Unfortunately, anywhere and everywhere you go on this earth you will find evidence of “class separation”. This is not new and probably is noticed more by those considered in the “have not” class versus the “have” class. I think you are out of line in singling out Charlotte for something that goes on everywhere, especially where you are from, Las Vegas. Are you serious???
    As far as “southern hospitality”, it’s evident that you do not know what this means! And because you are using your experiences in a city as large as Charlotte proves that I am right. You can’t find it here. Not in Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta or any of the larger metropolitan areas of the Southern States. It’s been concealed by those that have moved here from other areas of the country and out number us “Southerns” in these cities. To truly experience real southern hospitality you must hit the road. Visit Asheville, Boone, or go to Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, or any small town. These are the southern cities that still have their southern roots and are still the majority of the population. You also want to know what you are looking for; a friendly smile, a simple hello, a gentleman that opens a door for a lady, good manners, someone that try’s to help out when you have car trouble, or someone that kindly gives you accurate directions when you become lost.
    Southern hospitality however is not being told how “we do it back home” or “how you should do it”, or thinking that you can degrade or say whatever you please. This won’t work here and probably won’t work well where you come from.
    Moving anywhere is difficult for anyone, especially when you don’t know many people there. There’s the new culture that you must adapt to, it’s not going to adapt to you. You have to get out on the social scene and networking events where you must have the confidence to walk up to strangers and introduce yourself. There’s community service, church for those interested, and different organizations you can join. You must do this over and over until you find the right people for you to build that friendship with. The problem is most people don’t have the motivation or self-confidence to go it alone and do these things. So they sit around and complain as to how “clique-ridden” the city is, or how nasty and rude the people are, and so on. These people are not doing what is necessary for them to accomplish what it is they are searching for.
    I would like to invite you out to one of my events sometime and introduce you to the citizens of Charlotte that I associate with. You can take your pick; I’m an active member of Business Leaders of Charlotte, I volunteer with Hands on Charlotte, and I’m part of the founders of http://www.TakeBackTheRepublicanParty.com, which whole heartedly supports States Rights. I do hope you will give me the opportunity to show you the better side of Charlotte. I don’t know that I can show you true southern hospitality around here but I can assure you that you will be in the company of a true Southern Gentleman.

    Thank you,
    Greg Hinson

  12. Mark 5 May 2009 at 3:51 PM

    As a New Yorker who recently moved to Charlotte (going on two years) I think the only thing I agree with in this article is the statement, “I think many of the assumptions about “southern hospitality” are misplaced and that’s what leaves people new to the area flabbergasted.”

    I think people who grew up outside the South have bad stereotypes of what the South should be and those stereotypes are based off myth, movies and misperceptions.

    I agree that I’ve found a number of cultural shocks in moving to Charlotte (primarily being able to walk around the city center in under 20 minutes and a lack of real retail inside Uptown) but not being welcomed or invited to things because I’m a non-native is not one of them.

    I do wonder what kind of invitations and events the author is speaking about? Maybe I am missing something here? It did take me much longer then anticipated to find a job, and I believe a big cause of that was my lack of business network connections. While this would be the same in any city, I do believe that situation is a little more acute in CLT; however I don’t think that is the same with the social scene.

    Perhaps, and this is a big possibility in my mind, being from NYC, my perspective is different than the author who grew up on the West Coast. Maybe I’m more direct in my approaches to others instead of waiting for them to approach me, or maybe I just more thick skinned and I haven’t noticed people not being welcoming.

    All I know is that I feel pretty at home in CLT, and I think it’s simply because I choose to make it my home and sought out people who I click with instead of people who belong to a(n alleged) clique.

  13. G. Poth 5 May 2009 at 10:39 PM

    I’ve lived in a few different US regions — Connecticut, New Jersey, the Detroit area, Austin and then moved to Nashville, on to Detroit again and finally ended up in Charlotte.

    I have had a very different experience from Desiree’s. I am forever impressed by the people I’ve met here, some whose families have been here a number of generations, who have taken the time and effort to embrace me. These are people who have no need to build their circle of friends, yet have still welcomed me with open arms.

    I’ve been so blown away by southern hospitality in Charlotte that I’ve joked if I had something as minor as a papercut, that someone would undoubtedly bring me a meal.

    I could go on and on but I’ll always be grateful to the Charlotte natives who have welcomed me into their fabulous city. I’ve not found this to be the case in other cities…

  14. Trent 6 May 2009 at 2:57 PM

    No idea what slavery has to do with this, for one thing. You’re gonna have to connect the dots more for me as to how that relates to the subject at hand.

    I’m a native Charlottean and although I completely disagree with almost everything you’ve said here, I suppose the argument against me would be I’m biased (which, of course, would be true). So my question is — have you been a transplant in other cities and found that it’s different?

  15. Alex 10 May 2009 at 10:23 AM

    I am not a Charlotte native, but I spent a lot of time here growing up, and this is the second time in my adult life I have lived here. Charlotte’s incredible growth has been a large contributor to your experience. In many ways, 20 years ago, this was still a small town mindset community, and for many, the social characteristics of the city do not match the population size. Charlotte is a city that is still in transition, and largely without a single dominant culture or characteristic that defines her personality. There are elements of the old South; ethnocentric, polite, yet cautious. There are also contributions from our growth and new citizens; sophistication, development focused, and straight forward. The growth of the financial industry here has been the largest contributor to our current state, as we have become a city of finance, with many people dependent upon banking either directly or indirectly. Our focus in finance and growth has far outpaced our concern with developing our urban culture, so we are finding ourselves not really having a unified concept of what it means to be a Charlottean.
    The best advice I can give is try to find a group of people based upon common interests. In the old South, a group with common interests is generally your family, or people that attend your church. Obviously, this is part of the problem if you don’t have family here or attend a local church. There are social groups in the city that do interesting things, and it isn’t too hard to find them if you’re looking in the right places. Good luck.

  16. Alicia 14 May 2009 at 11:50 AM

    First off Desiree I am from California and I was not raised here and I had no problem getting friends, being called or invited to anything. Honestly it has to do with number one personality and frankly I am not so sure you have one. Thus the reason your phone is not ringing and why your always being told about the party after the fact. Your looking in the wrong places my dear you are pretty much sterotyping the city as a clickish and snobby town because you can’t make friends and that’s shallow. I wouldn’t invite you to anything either!!!

  17. Cat 18 May 2009 at 10:36 AM

    The comments amaze me “I am from xyz and I didn’t have a problem so stop whining”…Is it possible that the few of you who didn’t have a problem were the exception and not the rule? I moved here in 19777 years old folks. And I know exactly what the writer is talking about. From the separation in the cafeteria at Carmel Jr. High when it was still Jr. High. To the big push for the tournament and then no place to go or hang out at night. To the party photos on Charlotte.com every weekend that have the same 20 people in them. Let’s face it Charlotte is very standoffish as a community. This isn’t a place where you are going to walk into bar Charlotte after work and have a drink strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. For that matter how many of the “that wasn’t my experience” commenters have actually met someone they didn’t know from school, they don’t know from church, they aren’t somehow connected or related to and have worked with said person for a few years and still not hung out with them outside of lunch or been to their home or know anything other than the how was your weekend info?

  18. sarah 9 Jun 2009 at 8:00 AM

    maybe you need to reexamine who you are trying to “fit in” with. I see Myers Park mentioned — well what kind of reception did you think you would get here? I have lived in Charlotte for 22 plus years and have made many close friends through business and my personal life — you just need to ask yourself who exactly do you want to align yourself with — genuine, down to earth people or.….……don’t blame the south, look at yourself and decide who the real people are — by the way — the cliques that you speak of exist in the south, north, east, west.

  19. Steven 6 Dec 2009 at 1:49 PM

    1) This problem doesn’t really relate to slavery.

    2) Though the south believes in kindness, it is probably the least trusting part of any area of the US. That is probably where your problem lies. People are not building close bonds with you either because they do not trust you, or perhaps they do not trust anyone. You have compounded this by not going to church. Religion and superstition is still a big part of the south. People in the south are kind but they are not accepting, and if they do not accept you and your beliefs they will not try to build close bonds with you.

    Southerners do not give their heart away easily for this reason. They know how unaccepting and judgmental other southerns are so they are less likely to share who they really are in fear of judgment.

    3) The south is also socially lazy. It is normal for people to make a small group of friends and then put forth no effort for the rest of their life in getting to know new people. This is a big contributor to why the south still appears segregated. Both white and black southerns put forth little to no effort to make friends outside of the people they know from family and church.