29 June 2014

Road Closed

A few Sundays ago after playing the service at the Lutheran church I had a "what's wrong with Holly Springs" conversation with two church members -- a "white" married couple I'll call Larry and Karen -- and the minister. Larry and Karen are highly civic-minded and active in the community. Larry holds political office and Karen serves on lots of committees.

Larry complained that the problem is "them" -- meaning the "black" members of the community. "Everybody's agreeable enough but when it comes to time to show up or donate money, you can't find 'em," he said.

"You look at the Farmer's Market down in Oxford. It's a big success. Everybody comes out and the farmer's make money. But here, you never see a black face at...." His wife, a member of the group that organizes the Holly Springs Farmer's Market, quickly but gently interrupted. "Our Farmer's Market is about 50/50..."

"Well, I'm just sayin'...." he added. "They come out for Bikers and Blues but that's about all and they won't help with the planning for that. And, of course, none of the white people come out to that because there's so many black people there.

"And I know people are struggling economically but you can't rebuild a town with only the whites covering the cost of things."

He was quite worked up. I was feeling the same way. "I hear what you're saying. And it reminds me of conversations I've had with some black residents except when they say 'them', they're talking about white residents and they have a different set of criticisms." Karen blushed and Larry wore an expression of angry disbelief.

"Speaking as the perennial outsider," I added, "I think the "Us and Them" framing is one of Holly Springs' biggest problems. It keeps the community suspicious and divided."

The minister smiled and commenced a story about a white guy he knew once whose life was saved by a blood transfusion administered by a black physician. "We're all the same color in God's eyes," he said. "He sent his son to die for all of us."

There is a high Wall around this place that has stood and will stand for a long time. Like people everywhere, the residents of Holly Springs are imprisoned by their beliefs and the opinions that spring from these beliefs.

Whites believe Blacks are disinterested free-loaders. Blacks believe Whites have all the money. Black college staff and faculty believe black townies are uneducated ne'er-do-wells. Church-goers of all colors believe non-churched local residents are pathetic and uninformed and see themselves as under siege by a non-churched (in their opinion) majority of the U.S. These beliefs inform every decision and choice they make.

And there is no convincing them otherwise.

Just like people everywhere. Their minds are on lock-down and closed to new ideas.

The conversation with Larry, Karen and the minister went nowhere. Most conversations I've had here over the past 22 months have gone nowhere. A closed mind is the bane of this sojourner's existence, a ring of Hell. A closed road. When I'm driving my car and I see a "Road Closed" sign, I understand there is no passage, that I risk damage and injury to self if I disregard the sign.

I back it up and choose another road.