This is a belated but still relevant post about last December’s announcement by the Lonely Planet naming Asheville, NC as the “#1 Best in the U.S. Travel 2017 Destination.”

With the announcement came this video:

Sigh.

When it came out, my friend, uber talented photographer Micah Mackenzie, shared the video on his Facebook page with this comment:

“Again!
Can you guess what number we are?
I DID NOT SEE ONE….NOT ONE PERSON OF COLOR in this whole ad for Asheville….Give me a break!”

Give us a break, indeed.

As I study the history of Asheville, I believe a strong case can be made that this city has been packaging itself as a destination specifically for white people for generations. The continual rendering people of color invisible in the narrative of Asheville sends a message that whites are the only people who are invited to visit and live here. If you walk through downtown, the results of this are quite obvious.

[Watching the video, I also want to mention two things about this city’s current identity that continue to grate on my nerves: 1. Beer. Beer is unhealthy and a depressant. It does not raise vibrations. From the behavior of the innumerable wasted tourists I see around town, it is clear that it does the opposite. Do we really want to be a destination for getting drunk? Also, the craft beer field is very white. 2. Biltmore. Living somewhere that is known for an obscenely rich family’s giant house is a bummer. Why celebrate excessive wealth? Why is the fact that Vanderbilt moved an entire African American community in order to build that monstrosity not more widely known? And what about the Native American burial grounds on the property? If we can’t ignore the Biltmore House (my preference), can we a least paint a more complete picture of it?]

My anger about Asheville’s incomplete brand is tied to the economic and other disparities that I believe are related to keeping people of color out of the story. I also believe the story can change. In terms of current day entrepreneurship and food and music and art and activism, our city has rich diversity that can be celebrated. A rich diversity of voices to listen to.

Who do you know that contributes to creating the narrative of Asheville? Are they inclusive? Inspiring? If not, can you be a bridge to a more accurate story? Can you connect people of color to opportunities for contributing to the narrative? These are questions I ask myself and act on. You can too.

word-on-the-street

Word on the Street/La Voz de Los Jovenes. Photo by Jordana Yap.

Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jovenes

A ray of light in our city, and certainly one of the solutions to our issues with the invisibility of people of color is Word on the Street/La Voz de Los Jovenes.

Alli Marshall, A&E Editor and writer at the Mountain Xpress just published a story about WOTS and their fundraiser at High Five Coffee tomorrow entitled, “Local teens produce a bilingual online arts magazine” – click the title or pick up a copy of this week’s issue to read it.

Excerpt:

“From that basis of trust and understanding, the students hope to inspire other young people. ‘Everyone’s voice matters, no matter how young or how old,’ says Brown. ‘A lot of times people of color — Hispanic, African-American — because we’re considered minorities, sometimes [we feel like] we don’t matter as much.’

But Word on the Street offers a platform for self-expression and a place where those voices not only count but find an audience. ‘It makes me proud of being Mexican and embracing that and bringing it to the table,’ says Davilia.”

Hear, hear!