When we sat down a few weeks ago to look at the work of former North Carolina Fund photographer Billy Barnes, the photos of economically depressed parts of our state in the early 1960s spurred a conversation about poverty then and now. A series on WUNC radio broadcast in conjunction with Barnes’ exhibit also explored the issue. The general consensus was that we are far from the days when rich, white neighborhoods had all the amenities–police and fire protection and water and sewer service–and poor neighborhoods, black and white, did not. Poverty, we thought, had a somewhat different face than when public water and indoor plumbing were sure signs of the dividing line between races and classes.
Then we got wind of a new report from the UNC Law School’s Center for Civil Rights, which reminded us that we still live in a state where there are glaring lines between the haves and the have nots.
As Jennifer Strom reports, if you’ve ever strolled through a clubhouse in Pinehurst, you know they can be lavish, splendid places. But wander next door and you might find something very different–along with a concrete indication that fairness is still an illusive concept for some people in power. With the U.S. Open coming to town next month, chamber types and public officials all over Moore County are busting with pride. They will tell you everything you want to know about their roaring golf industry, their beautiful courses, lovely restaurants and retirement living at its finest.
Not on the list of talking points, though, is how the economic boom that has doubled tax revenues in the last decade hasn’t improved the lot of hundreds of citizens living in areas the towns refuse to annex and provide with services. Build a new pumping station for the golf club? Sure, they say. But a short extension of water and sewer into poor neighborhoods? Nah, too expensive.
The towns and the county, like many places in this state where the color lines and the water lines run parallel, want it both ways. They’re proud of their new gated communities but aghast that anyone would think their public amenities gap racist.
In a world that doesn’t want to hear that a poor, mostly black neighborhood is on septic tanks and shaky wells while the country club next door pumps city water on its greens, it may be tough to convince people that racism is rampant in the government halls of Moore County.
Hypocrisy, though–now that’s a gimme.