In 2012, an initiative called T-SPLOST was turned down by the Metro Atlanta electorate. Something like 70% of voters turned down the measure, which was a proposed sales tax to fund $8 billion for new roads, transit, and local transportation in the metro Atlanta region.
Anyone who has spent time in Atlanta knows that it is a city ridden with transportation issues. From poor public transportation infrastructure, to urban sprawl, to lack of walkability, to 24 hour per day traffic jams… the city has a great need for infrastructure investment if it hopes to compete with cities like New York, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, and Portland for top young talent.
So why did the initiative fail so miserably?
Ask the average voter or politician, and they’ll give you the party line. “The marketing initiative to promote the plan had poor strategy and execution,” or “The specific investment plan simply didn’t serve the needs of the greater metro area.”
But let’s be real: race was a driving factor, whether explicit or implicit, in why many people voted the measure down. If you remove the filter from the way we talk about a topic like the T-SPLOST bill, we would see that we have a race-relations issue in Atlanta (and many other cities across the US). People were scared of what might happen if everyone in the city had easy access to suburbs and the “nice parts of town.”
People are scared of people who aren’t like them. We’re taught to think this way by implicit biases, media, and conversations around the dinner table growing up.
Rather than be honest with ourselves, we hide behind other excuses for our decisions. If we want race to stop being an issue in places like the American south, then we need to start with the bravery to bring it up as a topic of conversation.
Race matters. And the sooner we acknowledge that truth, the sooner we can start healing wounds that were first opened many generations ago. Countries, businesses, and families who embrace diversity of race, thought, religion, and background will be the ones who win the future.
Will you have the bravery to acknowledge the role race plays in your own life? Who could you have a conversation with to learn more about how race changes the way we approach our lives?
Thanks to Phil Olaleye and Willie Jackson for the inspiration for today’s post.