Born and raised in a multi-racial home in Charlotte, NC, Stephanie Watkins-Cruz is a very proud advocate for all things diverse and inclusive. A full time student at UNC Asheville...
A few Saturdays back I was able to experience two sides of Asheville in one night.
Usually there's a mix, or usually I just experience one and not the other. Most of you at this point are probably wondering what I am talking about.. I'm talking about the racial divide in Asheville. On this particular Saturday, I physically got to see and experience both sides.
First stop of the night was Aloft, one of - let's be real- my favorite of few favorite local groups, LYRIC, was performing. Aloft is somewhere I used to go a lot when they had Salsa every weekend, and no they cut it down so I only make it there every once in a while. But anyways, LYRIC was playing there, for free. A large group of my friends and I all went and had one of the best times that I've had in a considerably long time. The best part was (aside from the music)? Was that people of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, and even ages were having the time of their lives too. That to me is a good time – when the atmosphere is mixed and people are there and truly enjoying everyone's company. Granted the "everyone's company" part may be difficult but just being in a place where for a second, it looked as if Asheville had the mixed demographics of a metropolitan city versus a rural southern town (slight melodrama) and it was absolutely beautiful.
This lasted until about midnight and then we went to our next destination. Ben's Tune Up. Ben's is a place I truly love and have fun at, so I will say that first before I continue telling you about my experience on Saturday. Never have I felt unsafe or uneasy here, it was one of the first places I went to once I was legally able to, and the environment was friendly.
On Saturday, my friends - a group of about five now, four out of the five are people of color, walk into Ben's and we stop in our tracks. We are 5 of maybe 7 people of color in that entire establishment. Now it is possible that I missed a few, there was probably 12 at the time we were there. But even with a 12-deep crew of multiple cultural identities one could not deny nor ignore the blanket - sea of whiteness that we'd just walked into. And for the very very first time I felt uncomfortable. You see, going to a PWI I am used to this sight, and from it, students of color suffer from white fatigue syndrome. When I go out, my goal is not to feel this, since i'm out and not within the confines of the campus bubble, I don't expect to feel this way, but I did.
And so what did we do? We took stock and noticed a few things : 1- Sea of white folk, 2-really low and quiet music that was't danceable to 3- We were being stared at. From that point on we took one more look around and then left. Immediately.
So why do I share this?
I share this because I think that often times it is easy to see an event or a concert like the one where LYRIC performed, and assume that this is the way Asheville looks all the time. I share this because it is easy to hide behind our appreciation and mass support of global cuisines, and yet not look at history, not look at facts, not look at the physical consequences of gentrification, urban renewal, the new urban renewal, and just plain diverse demographic depleting factors... I share this because it is possible in Asheville, the town hailed for it's liberal tendencies and diverse characteristics, to have a place on a Saturday night be virtually absent of people of color.
I'm not saying this to down on the establishment. Once again I usually enjoy Ben's Tune up and so do my friends. However, I am trying to call into to check the city wide efforts to truly make sure that our home (whether temporary or permanent) is a home that EVERYONE can enjoy. Not a segregated, mapped off, and red lined version. The tourists come and go, but there are people here, that live here, that have lived here their whole lives, that don't even go downtown because they feel like there is nothing for them there.
I share this to encourage readers to look around you the next time you're out and about... and to question yourself and the city... what can you do better to promote TRUE inclusivity and cultural competence?
We might be pretty to look at but we need to be nice to live in (for everyone) too.