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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

It's time to confront the reality of racism and inequity in Charlotte

Here in Charlotte, we’re always looking up.

Looking up at the skyscrapers we built as we became one of the banking centers of the world.

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Looking up at the cranes that symbolize all the new construction in the city.

Looking up at the jets flying in and out every few seconds from one of America’s busiest airports.

We’re great at looking up. What we’re not so good at is leveling our gaze to see what’s happening on the ground – where Charlotte’s impression of itself meets reality.

Here at WFAE, we have created a Race and Equity team to help us dive into the issues that Charlotte, and all of America, have struggled with since our country’s birth. Our goal is to look at race and equity in fresh ways, to challenge assumptions, and to be honest about our region’s successes and where we still fall short.

We’ve started a series called EQUALibrium to mark where we are after the 2014 study that shook Charlotte – the one that said we were last among America’s 50 major cities in upward mobility out of poverty. Our reporters Lisa Worf and Steve Harrison took a look at an updated version of that study and found new insights. Lisa also did a piece on how Charlotte has spent more than $400 million on affordable housing and pre-K access, but it’s still not clear how much difference it’s made.

A lot of times, when we talk about race and equity, we frame it in terms of historical wrongs that need to be righted — like toppling old Confederate statues or something. Those things do matter.

But I tend to think about racism and inequity in terms of what it costs us right now – not just for the direct victims of it, but for all of us.

The simplest way I can say it is this: When we deny people a chance to rise in our society, we all lose out on what they might have become.

There are surely thousands of Black and Latino kids in poverty right now, in this city, who could become doctors or bankers or engineers if they had a fair shot at opportunity and resources. Every time racism and inequity forces one of those kids — or their parents — to settle for something less, it hurts all of us.

Charlotte has always prided itself on being a city where you don’t need a pedigree to succeed. It doesn’t matter who your grandmama is or where you go to church — if you have hustle and ambition, you can make it here. At least that’s what we like to believe.

This is a moment to confront a truer picture of ourselves. It’s fine to aim high. But maybe we should bring our eyes down from the clouds for a little while, and pay more attention to what’s right in front of us.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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