Like flat-earthers forced to confront the first images of this planet taken from outer space, the uptown crowd had its collective universe rearranged last week.
By now, most people have probably heard that a poll taken by the School Building Solutions Committee showed voters aren't exactly fond of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators and don't trust them with their money.
But those who got their information on the poll from the news didn't get the full-facial wallop that the Charlotte Chamber and the school board did. That's because the poll was constructed in a way that minimizes negative answers.
The pollsters asked people to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements on a one to 10 scale. But if you were asked whether you agreed with the statement "There is a lack of confidence with CMS administrators" and you said you did and gave the pollster an eight on the scale, you'd only be put in the "somewhat agree" category. To score in the "agree" category, you had to rate your feelings a nine or a 10.
That made a pretty big difference in how the answers came out. Technically speaking, 53 percent of voters "agreed" that they have no confidence in CMS administrators. But when you add the "somewhat agrees" (those who rated their feelings a seven or an eight), you get something closer to the truth -- that 74 percent of voters have no confidence in CMS administrators.
When you look at the poll that way, 67 percent of voters said property taxes are too high, 70 percent said there is a lack of discipline in our schools and 59 percent of voters say they don't agree with how previous bond money was used.
That could explain the panicked, last-minute phone campaign the uptown crowd launched two weekends ago to persuade the school board to back Tustin (CA) Superintendent Peter Gorman for superintendent over CMS administrator Frances Haithcock, whom the board dropped like an old bag.
But the shock wave went beyond the obvious. Because local elites apparently don't spend much time outside the elite white enclaves of Dilworth, Myers Park and Eastover, they have continued to operate under the assumption that only racist white people live in the suburbs. And they apparently think all black people -- whom the elites are on a personal mission to save -- are stuck in "inner city" ghettos, which uptown elites politely refer to as "neighborhoods."
So the uptown crowd has spent a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars renovating and rebuilding schools around the urban core while suburban schools swelled to capacity and overflowed and the tax rate began driving people into surrounding counties. African-American elected officials went along with this because their theory -- which some will only tell you about off the record -- is that those who vote against tax increases are racist because tax increases always result in a net transfer of wealth from supposedly white suburbanites to largely poor, largely black areas in the form of services and subsidies.
For the last decade, they've all been riding the same bus, singing kumbaya and praising each other for their inclusiveness. In the meantime -- as this columnist has been trying to tell the uptown elite for almost a year now -- black people did something they weren't expected to do: They moved to the middle-ring and outer suburbs.
By the end of the last decade, Charlotte had become the No. 3 destination city for African-Americans after Atlanta and Dallas, according to a 2004 study by the Brookings Institute.
The addition of 65,000 new African-Americans since 1995 has radically altered the social landscape here. All but five of the county's 30 zip codes saw double-and triple-digit increases in the percentage of African-Americans.
So it was no doubt a shock to uptowners to find out that 67 percent of white poll respondents and 69 percent of black respondents said property taxes are too high. (I know this is hard for some to believe, but thousands of African Americans live in the 'burbs and own their own homes.) When asked if there is inequality in CMS schools with regard to buildings and facilities, only 33 percent of voters and 48 percent of African Americans polled agreed. That's because there is a growing divide between "urban" African Americans and those who live in the suburbs and share suburban values.
They are just as frustrated as white parents are with school discipline. Seventy-one percent of white parents and 68 percent of black parents say there is a lack of discipline in our schools.
Their kids go to suburban schools that are diverse. At suburban North Mecklenburg High School, nearly 30 percent of students are black and 62 percent are white. At South Mecklenburg, 63 percent of students are white, and at East Mecklenburg just 40 percent are. Many suburban elementary and middle schools look the same way.
That's because while school board members bicker over spending millions to refurbish this or that under-used "inner city" school, suburban schools grow more diverse each year.
Hopefully, these poll results will motivate the elites in this town to roll their windows up tight and take a drive to the suburbs. The poll was an utter refutation of everything they've worked for over the last decade and the suburban versus urban propaganda they've spewed that has needlessly divided this community.
The new reality is that the earth is in fact round, and this is 2006, not 1969.