House Bill 2 has ignited a battle in the ongoing culture wars. North Carolina has become ground zero. Cast as a battle between those wanting to upend traditional cultural values and those seeking to uphold them, it is not one that seeks to reach compromise. The art of compromise has been replaced by the winner take all rule. What does that leave us with as a framework for future dialogue?
Charlotte has long been an example of the “New” South becoming more diverse. Not only was Charlotte one of the early Southern cities to integrate its schools, it tore down its historic buildings and constructed a Museum of the New South to celebrate its leading role in developing the progressive New South.
The underlying values and mentality of the state remain grounded in traditions of the Old South. A former civic leader said of the Old South that “we” had made it that way, and in reference to the future, went on to say that “we” needed to make it a different way. There were silent gasps from those who felt he had gone too far, admitting that the Old South was created on purpose. Or perhaps the gasps were about the idea of making the future different.
Many of us migrated from other cities where diversity is celebrated, not simply tolerated, like in my hometown of San Francisco. It is not the forced or artificial embrace of tolerating diversity that you find in cities trying to be diverse, but the actual pleasure derived from living in a diverse community.
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Diversity is the foundation of the wealth of cities. San Francisco attracts the best of the creative class, generates numerous companies and the largest amount of venture capital, and has evolved into the greatest wealth-creating city despite having the highest taxes, strongest regulations, and among the highest wages.
There is no question as to why PayPal withdrew from North Carolina. It is not a “radical, liberal” agenda, but a company headquartered in a city committed to diversity. It is not an abstract belief but rather the knowledge that wealth is produced by open, not closed minds, by accepting, not rejecting differences.
Charlotte and North Carolina need the benefits that accrue from the exchange of ideas, values, and beliefs: the innovation and creativity necessary to keep pace with a rapidly evolving global economy. We need a new direction and consensus on the future. Without it, we will fall by the wayside. In the future, people will talk about Charlotte the way they talk about once great cities of the past; cities that are today but empty shells of their former selves. There is real danger in being on the wrong side of history.
There are consequences to actions; we are seeing them unfold before our eyes. Or is it that “there are those who have eyes, but cannot see”?
Michael Gallis is a Charlotte-based urban planner.