To be, rather than to seem

On loss and perseverance as a Tar Heel and a North Carolinian. April 10, 2016.

My family moved to North Carolina when I was just starting second grade. I grew up in Raleigh and went to college just down the road in Chapel Hill. Sure, I was born in Georgia, but I was raised in North Carolina, and when people ask where I’m from that is the answer I give.

I haven’t lived there, though, since 2010. I left to reside in a tent while making my way through the US and Canadian Rockies. I then settled in New Orleans for three and a half years, picked up to live for awhile in a different tent in New Zealand, and am currently coming up on two years in Boston. Still, North Carolina is and always will be my home.

With UNC Chapel Hill being my alma mater, you might correctly guess that it has been a tough week to be a Tar Heel. Our men’s basketball team lost in heart-wrenching, soul-crushing fashion to Villanova in the NCAA National Championship game a week ago. We were a team with flaws. We were inconsistent. We lacked the depth of talent across positions that is critical to being a powerhouse team. None of that seemed to matter. By some combination of determination, skill, and luck, we made it to the big dance.

I believed in our team. I cheered with intensity as Joel Berry carried us in the first half. I applauded an amazing display of defense, screaming my discontent with the refs’ differing opinions. And I fervently hoped as Marcus Paige defied all odds and brought us neck and neck with Villanova in the last minutes of the game.

We all know how it ended. How 4.7 seconds changed our fate.

What I did not expect was the level of dismay I have felt this past week. We won the ACC regular season, were ACC Champs, and had a stellar performance in the NCAA tournament that will result in another Final Four banner hanging from the rafters in the Dean Dome. By all accounts, I should be pretty happy despite the loss.

I have realized, though, that the disappointment I am feeling has to do with a lot more than one game of basketball. The way it felt when Kris Jenkins sank his game-winning three is, for me, not an unfamiliar feeling. Yea, it has been a tough week to be a Tar Heel, but it has been an even tougher few years to be a North Carolinian.

Our state has made national news in recent years for actions unbecoming more times than I am comfortable admitting. It started with the athletic-academic scandal at UNC — the first public university in the nation, the “university of the people” — that broke in 2010, tarnishing the value of my hard-earned degree. It picked up speed with a constitutional amendment against marriage equality a few short years later and has not relented since the 2012 elections brought Republican control over both the NC executive and legislative branches for the first time since 1870 (for full disclosure, I am an independent, and have voted for republican, democrat, and third party candidates). A perusal of the Wikipedia page on Moral Mondays will give an outsider all the necessary information on what has since ensued. Curtailing voter rights and pulling the rug out from under teachers have been among the most egregious actions.

Most recently, taking advantage of a special session to address the issues of access to and safety in restrooms, our elected officials passed a state-wide nondiscrimination policy, and they proceeded to do so without including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Moreover, the ability of protected classes to seek damages for discrimination by employers is no longer allowed under state law. When presented with the opportunity to protect the human rights of all its citizens, elected officials instead opted to align public policy with the values of only a portion of its citizens, to the exclusion of certain other portions of our community. They would seem virtuous, were it not for the poorly veiled bigotry of their actions.

There is a segment of President Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was shot and killed in his church in our neighboring state for being black, which is particularly relevant to the state of politics in North Carolina:

“Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.” What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of the recognition of ourselves in each other. That my liberty depends on you being free, too.”

My liberty depends on you being free, too. This holds true whether or not we agree with one another’s beliefs and actions, and is where certain NC elected officials have missed the mark completely, time and again.

Living in Boston, I regularly find myself defending the South, trying to dispel the very real attitude of northern superiority. In one of my favorite essays about Chapel Hill, Wells Tower writes, “I submit that we have salvaged most of what is good about the Southern way of things and left the unpleasant bits at the curb.” When the elected officials of the state of North Carolina are doing their damndest to prove the sentiment of northerner righteousness well-founded, to prove themselves wanting of moral fortitude, I am less than satisfied these days with knowing the Town of Chapel Hill at least has had the good sense to progress.

I find it increasingly hard to say that I am a North Carolinian with the same satisfaction I once did.

Although I certainly don’t think basketball solves any of these problems, man, I really could have used a win.

When pressed on not wanting recognition for helping to desegregate restaurants in Chapel Hill, Coach Dean Smith famously said, “You should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.” He was a man of integrity and honor, and unlike some of NC’s elected officials, the embodiment of our state’s fine motto, Esse quam videri: “To be, rather than to seem.” He would have undoubtedly agreed with Rev. Pinckney.

My mind keeps going back to Paige’s shot. To what it represents: a display of perseverance and hope in the face of challenge. Even though it was hard, Paige did what was needed. There are many life lessons to be learned from basketball, and this is the one I’ll take away from our loss against Villanova.

We, as North Carolinians, have more than 4.7 seconds to change our fate. When I come home someday, to live beneath the oaks and dogwoods again, I will be bringing my integrity and my vote along with me. I won’t be proud to do what is right. I will just hold on to perseverance and hope, and do it.

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Originally published on April 10, 2016.

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