My last column got more than a little attention, by laying a good portion of blame for Albany’s decline, at the feet of former white residents of Albany, now residing in Lee County. It was by design, a broad brush, naive generalization that reflected the long-standing black/white issue here. It was my attempt to convey what many still in Albany, feel about those that leave, yet still complain about the state of things here. Do I believe that all people living in Lee County are white racists? Of course not, but some are. Some blacks here are just as racist against whites. Ignorance does not play favorites. That was the point, and the reaction of so many, calling me all sorts of things for simply putting in ink, what is said in many private homes all over the area, only served to prove my point. The perception is that both races feel stuck with each other, and have a hard time living together. It’s a culture clash that we’ve reluctantly grown accustomed to.
By the comments that I have received both in person and online, it appears that my little dramatization and exploration of the local mindset, revealed that we are as polarized as ever, if not more so in these hard times. As in all things, there was an element of truth in my article. It is very frustrating to hear my white friends in Lee County, complain about the state of things in Albany. My friendly response to them as always has been something to the effect of; ‘move back and I’ll take your input a little more seriously’. That changes the subject real fast. It is hard to hear someone complain about something they’ve opted out of, while you’ve stayed to work within the broken system as best as you can.
Those few that agreed with the point of the piece without any hesitation or reservation were for the most part, very young and politically liberal or “progressives “as they prefer to be called these days. That mindset is eager to climb on board anything that seems to attack conservative, white established systems, highlighting the polarization that the article was designed to reveal. The older the person, the less likely they were to agree with the concept of “white flight” being a problem. They saw it as an only option in a desperate situation. All of those were of course, white. Many of those came to the defense of leaving Albany, while still making a living here, because of the poor school system in Dougherty County; can’t argue with that.
A few called the piece or even me, “stupid”. Some said I was “race-baiting”. I knew that by using simple terms like “white people” and “black people” over and over, would stir up the passions on both sides, and it did. I hate to break it to you, but we are black people and white people. Saying so is just a descriptive observation, not race-baiting. I’m not real fond of the terms Caucasian and African-American. They seem a bit formal and removed.
Perhaps my approach was a bit extreme, but I think it served its purpose. After decades of work from all quarters, and all sorts of programs and dollars thrown at the problem, all of us in one way or another are still very sensitive about the subject of race in our Albany. We can easily talk about it in private, usually quite viscerally, but public discussion of Albany’s biggest single issue is not something we have learned how to do yet, without calling people names and becoming very polarized.
Sit race down for a second. Anyone should feel free to say that Albany is held back by ignorance and apathy. We are. Our systems today support this industry of poverty and dependence that is slowly killing us. Out of this is born all the social ills that generate the “white flight” in the first place. It’s also true that by leaving Albany, you are taking away the individual capabilities and revenues that Albany needs. I had people on both sides of this argument say in effect, “good riddance”, to the other. I’m not trying to start a fight. I’m just sharing what we all know is being said. Today there is even talk by some of breaking the Northwest corner of Dougherty County away from Albany, and forming a third governing entity. That is the exact opposite direction we need to go.
There are those, white and black, that have entrenched beliefs that cannot be changed, and will always serve to divide us. However, it is not true that Albany today can blame its problems on Lee County, nor can Lee County blame Albany. Those that have left, and those that have stayed each have a responsibility to the other. I guess what I’m trying to say, that I attempted to point out with my draconian social experiment, is that we are not two communities, but one. The line on the map only separates us symbolically. It does divide some of our governing institutions and taxable revenues, but those can be dealt with if both sides understand that to have real sustainable growth in the area, we must find a way to work in unison. Can we?
And For those that seemed so certain of my own political leanings based on my comments, good luck trying to nail those down. I think both the democrats and republicans have more wrong with their messages than they have right. Albany and Lee County do not have the kind of time, money, or energy to be divided along political lines; at least not at the local level. Common sense and problem resolution are the only mantras we should follow. So, to everyone I stirred up or even upset last week, I can only say I did so for what I felt was a valid reason. I wanted to get us talking about it. If my email inbox is any indicator, it worked.