Op-Ed

Native vs. newcomer: How NC politicians seek to divide us

Sen. Bob Rucho, left, and Rep. Mike Hager confer on the House floor
Sen. Bob Rucho, left, and Rep. Mike Hager confer on the House floor cseward@newsobserver.com

I was born and grew up in Charlotte. I attended college in Raleigh. I now live in Durham. Knowing these things, no one would confuse me with a newcomer to North Carolina.

Yet if we were to listen to Mike Hager, a Republican representative in the N.C. General Assembly from Rutherfordton, someone who knows only where I live might think that I am one of the state’s newer residents.

You see, The N&O paraphrased recent remarks that Hagar made: “Gov. Pat McCrory’s stand on HB2 plays better in most rural parts of the state than it does in urban centers populated by newcomers.”

While this part of what he said, about newcomers, was paraphrased, the remarks that the paper quoted are even more revealing: “We’re not willing to subjugate our moral values or philosophy just for the sake of getting another sporting event.”

Hager’s remarks

With the context of Hager’s other remarks, it’s obvious that he wants to suggest that new residents are a threat to North Carolina’s longtime residents. The implication is that longtime residents are principled. That they are morally superior to newcomers. That newcomers are willing to subjugate their moral values for a sporting event.

These suggestions are, of course, fallacies: New residents of North Carolina are no more or less principled than longtime residents. As well, Hagar’s ideas don’t tell the whole story about newcomers to the state:

Between 2010 and 2014, more than 56,000 people moved to Mecklenburg County, and more than 64,000 moved to Wake County, according to Carolina Demography, an office at the Carolina Population Center based at UNC-Chapel Hill. During that same period, 61 percent of the state’s population growth came from people migrating to the state, both from inside and outside the United States.

These new people are moving to urban areas, such as Charlotte and Raleigh. But the population also grew in more rural areas. From 2010 to 2014, Brunswick County in southeastern North Carolina had the second-highest growth, percentage wise, of any county in the state at 10.6 percenet – just two-tenths below Wake’s growth rate. Harnett County was third, with 10.5 percent growth during the same period.

When framed by the facts, Hager’s oppositional groups don’t hold up.

Politicians love to divide citizens into groups like this – rural and urban, newcomer and longtime resident – because it makes those of us in one group think that we are better than those in the other group. It puts us at odds and divides us, rather than bringing us together as North Carolina residents.

What’s more, this oppositional rhetoric suggests that people who are new to our state should have less of a voice. But that’s not democracy; it’s the opposite of democracy. In fact, it’s a throwback to a dark time in North Carolina, in the South, and in the United States.

It’s a suggestion that the new residents of our state are “carpetbaggers,” a term that carries with it a connotation of opportunism and greed. What’s more, the term dates back to the Antebellum South, which reminds us of times when the citizens of our state were segregated into government-sanctioned groups: black and white, those who owned land and those who didn’t, men and women. Within each of these separations, one group was given power, rights, a voice, a vote and even freedom (white, landowners, men), and one group was not (black, non-landowning, women).

A wonderful state

This is not the North Carolina that I want to return to. I don’t see myself in opposition to the newer residents of our state. In fact, I welcome them, knowing that the reason people want to move here is the same reason I still live here: North Carolina is a great place to live, a wonderful state populated, for the most part, by kind, caring people.

It does our state no good to draw false lines in the sand, to pit those who’ve lived in North Carolina for years against those who are new to the state, to pit those who live in cities against those who live in small towns. Yes, new residents will generate some change in our beloved state. Yes, new residents should also endeavor to understand their new home. But it’s unfair – perhaps, one might say, immoral – to suggest that an entire group of people, new or longtime residents of the state, would want anything but to make North Carolina a great place to live and work.

Leslie Maxwell of Durham is a writer and writing instructor at Duke University.

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