I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1998. I had never lived in the South before and I quickly learned the phrase ‘bless your heart’ could mean any number of things both positive and negative. It was the inflection or the timing or the smiling or sad face that accompanied the phrase that mattered more. Often later there might be a moment that whoever spoke the words ‘bless your heart’ to you pulled you aside and spoke in a more intimate manner, clarifying their feelings or checking on yours. Sometimes a quiet discussion was the best way to challenge someone or to console them. 1998 was a strange moment in Charlotte. It had been a city forced to change by its own residents, by companies that moved there, by the Supreme Court, by all sorts of factors. There had been far fewer quiet discussions, much more yelling in the years that preceded it. From Julius Chambers presenting arguments for Swann vs. the Mecklenburg County Board of Education in 1971 to Pat McCrory fighting with theater director Keith Martin on Good Morning America over the NEA funded Angels in America in 1996 just two years earlier, the region was always in flux.
It’s been almost 20 years since then. People rarely say bless your heart in Charlotte now and the city is ground zero for a battle over a law called HB2. I don’t miss the phrase much, I never really figured it out. I do miss people who spoke quietly and considered their words though. They were skills that those people had learned the hard way. They witnessed the failures of yelling. People don’t hear you when you yell. They only hear the volume. There is yelling everyday now. Sometime in the next few years we will acknowledge the fact that the yelling did us very little good. We will still have LGBT people and evangelical people as neighbors. They will still live some parts their lives differently than us and it still will not effect our lives much at all. There will be times where we understand that treating each other with respect and dignity is for the best. It will be agreed that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law. We’ll calmly iron out the details. Those will be good times. Then we will forget again. We always do. Then we will yell. Bless our hearts.
Gene G. McLaughlin 2016