This is Nashville.
Much has been made of walls in the public discourse today, whether they should be built, or what benefits there are to being a flower upon one. The walls of Nashville tell many stories, and I’m sure that the flies upon them could tell remarkable tales of the last 250 years, since Donelson and Robertson erected the first.
Growing up I was oblivious to most things. I grew up in Green Hills and Belle Meade Boulevard and its ancillary juts were common thoroughfares, as I was carted around by my mother through my adolescence. Anyone who has spent time in West Nashville has seen them. The grey stone walls serving as fences around the homes of Nashville’s elite. Walls that appear structurally as that any mere gust or shove could topple them, but what they stand for has held firm in Nashville for generations.
These walls were built when the west side of our city was completely enthralled by the farm-land of the Belle Meade Plantation, which still stands today. These walls watched slaves gather cotton under the whip of their master, whose great-great-great grandson now plays golf inside of the same walls at the Belle Meade Country Club.
If these walls could talk what would they say?
Perhaps they would tell tales of cruelty and injustice and how much the city has grown. Maybe they would tell the story of horses turning to cars and mass transit, or gossip of scandals that have ripped through our local government to this day. However, I don’t think that much has changed.
Obviously I am hyperbolizing and acknowledge the successful reforms that time has slowly dragged along, the divide between black and white in this town still festers in wealthier portions. East Nashville long was the white haven of the city, and our town’s black residents were relegated across the river to the city’s west. In 1916 this all changed. A fire ripped through the white section of the town and quickly left 3,000 white residents homeless, and they immediately laid siege to the west portion of the city, leaving the black residents to the ruins of East Nashville. This stayed the same for nearly one-hundred years, until the evils of gentrification, that I have explained in posts prior, showed the great white fiscal saviors of New Nashville committing a mass genocide of established culture and nabbing trendy real estate from people who had inhabited that side of town not out of tradition, but because the charred rubble was no longer good enough for the town’s fair skinned devils.
I think this would be a good time to add some perspective. Yes, I am white and from the west side of town, and no this is not an 8-Mile like epithet of how I am trying to reconcile my color by beating you to the punch. I want to show how some of our city’s misgivings are so egregious that even a well-to-do white teenager in the thick of Nashville’s affluent can recognize racism and admit to my nepotic privilege.
The socioeconomics and geography of our city lend themselves to racism being allowed to fester. There is money in Belle Meade that has been multiplying since it was created by black hands picking white cotton from Nashville’s soft, rolling green hills. This money today buys political power, private education, and affords Nashville’s wealthy to ensure that it is never encroached upon by people of color. Kids today are sent to Ensworth and Montgomery Bell off of wealth accumulated from the times of slavery, so I don’t want to hear that, “it was 150 years ago,” and “it’s about time they got over it.”
The rendezvous point for this alliance is the controversial Belle Meade Country Club, situated on the wealthiest street in Tennessee and the only thing whiter than its front columns is its membership rolls. The prestigious organization has drawn a great deal of controversy in past years as black and Jewish membership has been denied. For many years the only black member was an Atlanta lawyer, conveniently situated five hours away. Until 2012, the club refused to allow in its first black resident member. The Club is so controversial and so blatant in their racism that Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader, had to resign his membership in order to avoid the inherent controversy.
Just miles from BMCC lies a school with fewer black faces in its upper school hallways than Little Rock Central did sixty-one years ago. The racism may not be overt or even uttered at all, but the exclusion is there, and the money that dates back to the days of plantations pulls the strings in all of this.
Not only do the good ole boys of Belle Meade practice their own form of indirect segregation practiced by Nashville’s elite for decades, but new money and Nashville’s school boards have clashed as gerrymandering cases regarding the future of public education in Nashville’s new gentrified landscape have emerged.
Since newly wealthy families have entered into once impoverished areas of Nashville, their children cannot be expected to have to sit in school with children less fortunate, so they draw up all of their collective lobbying power, as the area’s main tax base, and decide that it’s time a new, better, more state of the art elementary school be built. As we all know, they love the culture and aesthetics of the newly rejuvenated areas, but Nashville’s gentrifiers could never be expected to interact with the previous inhabitants.
Socioeconomic demarcations are drawn down upon a map, separating the wealthy homes from the poor ones, and a new school is built only where the wealthier homes sit. Influence is bought, and Nashville’s local government time and time again has opted to cater towards to newer, wealthier residents, as Nashville’s native children suffer in declining school environments. Not only does this restructuring of Nashville’s school districts ensure that rich kids only have to interact with mainly rich kids, but also secures election victories, as large blocks of similar people tend to vote the same way.
It is not only institutionalized racism and fiscal demarcations created by years of white wealth inhabiting certain parts of town, but there is also more overt racism in our home. From the white supremacist gym in East Nashville, to the Murfreesboro White Lives Matter rally, or even the interracial couple was accosted at a restaurant last year, Nashville has held racial tensions in for decades.
We live in a town covered in walls and structures built by slaves and graveyards of Confederate soldiers. We live in a town littered with Confederate monuments and flags, and we live in a town where you can buy your child out of having to interact with people who look, talk, and worship differently than you.
If those walls could talk what would they say?
Would they say things are better now?
Or that they are still the same, just different?
Yes, this is Nashville, but only part of it.
PART TWO COMING SOON.