I moved to North Carolina when I was eight years old. I did not adjust well. I thought the weather was too humid, the food too fried, and the air didn’t quite match the mountain air I was used to in Virginia. But of course with time I learned to fall in love with this state. Its beautiful mountains, its breathtaking beaches, and of course the delicious southern cuisine. North Carolina has been such an amazing home to me. Yet, I realize that the NC I love is also the NC I hate. (and that the NC I love isn’t the same NC for everyone else…)
For obvious reasons I have been infuriated by Pat McCory and the General Assembly. With the voter ID laws (now stricken down yay!), HB2, voter district lines, and the number of other backward thinking legislations that have come out of the Republican controlled general assembly since 2010. But our political climate suffers far more than just republicans versus democrats. There is a fundamental cultural gap that began even before the civil war era. In fact I can guarantee you that those of us who have grown up in counties like Wake or Mecklenburg would hardly even recognize our state if we drove only 40 min out of the city.
I recently was in Edgecombe County for an education policy boot camp held at a local high school. Edgecombe is a small rural eastern district of NC. Its population is only around 56,000. This beautiful place looked nothing like my rich white suburb outside of Raleigh. It was a completely different North Carolina.
During my time with these amazing high school students I realized that the differences between our rural and city counties goes far beyond different geography or the unfortunate gaps in resources and population. They have a different narrative. A different history that was forged from small mill towns and an agrarian society that created drastically different problems than their city counterparts. And in effect the solutions they deem relevant are drastically different too.
I once interviewed the Superintendent of a western rural NC county. He told me that a lot of kids that qualified for assistance didn’t ask for it because they didn’t want ‘charity’. There was a cultural pride of self-reliance that had grown in these rural areas for generations. So even programs like FARM in our schools did not always reach the students they needed to simply because of a cultural gap that is often ignored.
When it comes to this election cycle this cultural gap will reveal itself in the heat of our battleground counties. While, I often am bewildered by the politics that come out of many of our more conservative counties I am also in acknowledgement that those beliefs have come from somewhere; there is a history and a story that has created this rift. I wonder now how we can learn to bridge these gaps and work to find solutions that can work for our whole state. In an ideal situation we would attempt to do this not by approaching it “how the democrats” or the “how the republicans” can help you. But rather by taking the time to listen and learn from each other. It takes a certain humility and empathy to create solutions knowing you are not necessarily the expert in the room anymore. There needs to be a narrative where you as a North Carolinian are working with fellow residents to create a NC we all love and can call home.