In my travels, when I tell people that I live in Charlotte, I receive mixed responses. Some people say, "Everybody's trying to move to Charlotte." Others say they could never live that far in the South because people are racist. Some people are even rude enough to suggest that people in the South are "dumb," which they feel free saying to my face. When I tell them I was born and raised in the South, they sometimes say, "I'm not talking about you." Really.
Having lived all over (including New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), what many assume about different people and places like those in the South is often plain wrong. One of these instances is all of the mania surrounding the building of the Islamic center, wrongly labeled the Ground Zero Mosque. While I can't go five feet in D.C., Philadelphia and New York without hearing about it or watch television without seeing debate after debate after debate, it is in Charlotte where people are not tripping over this so-called mosque — or Islam in general.
Sure, the Queen City has experienced its fair share of discussion and commentary, but we've seen no major standoffs, threats, violence, defacing of property or drama — which is contrary to what many believe about the South. It has not been lost on me that while I supposedly live in this "racist," "fearful" and "repressive" part of the country, those who seem to be most invested in engaging in divisive, fear-driven and oppressive behavior around this issue live north of the Mason-Dixon line. (One notable Southern exception being Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach, who threatened to burn Korans this past weekend.)
There are multiple reasons for this. While New York City, for example, is often seen as a melting pot, where all people are welcome, history has proven that this is not true. People in New York City live in close proximity to one another (some literally living on top of each other), so tensions can rise, particularly when folks have different beliefs and cultural practices.
During the 2001 terrorist attacks, the planes actually hit the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in D.C. Even though the country and much of the world mourned the loss of 3,000 Americans, those who live in that area, including parts of Pennsylvania, are particularly emotional and fearful of another attack. Having said that, some of the people killed in the attacks were actually Muslim. Are their deaths less important because they weren't Christian or Jewish?
Which leads me back to Charlotte. The South will never outlive its horrible public image due to a number of factors, including slavery and the Civil War. Although many Northern states participated in the slave trade, abused immigrants and ethnic and religious minorities and prospered from de facto segregation, they somehow get let off the hook in the discussion of who is racist, sexist and exclusionary in this country. Just because everyone takes the subway together, doesn't mean that New York City is safe from the ills that ail the entire country, i.e., disputes over land and religion.
Say what you will, but Charlotte — a Southern city that is decidedly Christian — has had little to no flap over religious intolerance.
Perhaps it is because Charlotte is spread out geographically that there is little angst about the Islamic community. If you presumably don't have to interact with Muslims on a regular basis, then maybe there are fewer opportunities for drama. Perhaps it is because the terrorist attacks did not physically happen here in Charlotte that we are staying peaceful. Or perhaps, we are not as "dumb" as many people believe. Just like public sentiment believes that the North is this bastion of freedom, some have to believe that the South is the bastion of oppression.
The grown-up in me believes that maybe Charlotte has figured out that it's best to live and let live. Perhaps we know that if you truly believe in your religion and your God, then it doesn't matter what other people practice, where they practice it or what they believe. One thing is for sure: Charlotte's refusal to get pulled into the mania of anti-Islamic rhetoric and action should be celebrated. It shows that we can be greater than our past, and by respecting religious freedom, there is no limit to our future.