When confronted with criticism, it’s only human nature to deny, dismiss and deflect.
Many of us were quick to jeer a Durham-based website’s rankings of Rockingham and Hamlet as the No. 2 and No. 5 worst places to live in North Carolina respectively. RoadSnacks.net wrote off Richmond County’s two largest cities without setting foot in the Sandhills and without speaking to a soul.
We sneered away the rankings as subjective, arbitrary and fundamentally flawed. We questioned the source — a three-month-old website that posts provocative localized listicles meant to serve as cheap clickbait that draws eyeballs to its advertisers.
We picked apart the methodology used to compile the rankings. One of six sets of statistics taken into account was population density, “the lower the worse,” RoadSnacks notes. Well, we like our wide-open spaces, and we won’t apologize for the breathing room our rural county offers its residents.
With smirking satisfaction, we pointed out that the author of the RoadSnacks story wrote “robbery,” a violent crime, when he meant “theft,” a property crime, in the sole paragraph written about Rockingham’s public safety.
Finally, we reminded ourselves and each other about the natural beauty and local amenities Richmond County has to offer. From Hitchcock Creek, Hinson Lake and the Sandhills Game Lands to Discovery Place Kids, Rockingham Dragway and the Hamlet Depot and Museums, we listed the many things that make our county a truly great place to live.
Our defensiveness over RoadSnacks’ hasty and dubious claims is natural. But in our rush to refute the “worst places to live” label, we can’t overlook the very real struggles our communities face. Those figures factored into the rankings, too.
Richmond County’s unemployment rate ticked up to 8.4 percent in June, the 11th-highest among North Carolina’s 100 counties. according to the state Division of Employment Security. Neighboring Scotland County is second-highest with 11.7 percent of its labor force out of work.
Census data shows more than one in four county residents live below the federal poverty line, and our median household income of $32,384 is a far cry from the state’s median of $46,344.
Unemployment, poverty and crime are realities our residents and leaders must confront and counteract in order to preserve the many positives Richmond County has to offer and make our home an attractive place for new industries and new neighbors.
RoadSnacks’ rankings, shallow and misinformed as they are, can be a catalyst for change. We have two choices: Ignore the criticism and pat ourselves on the back to balm our wounded civic pride, or respond with realistic and specific plans to curb crime and improve our economic standing.
In letters to the editor, guest columns and online comments, our elected officials and community leaders have spilled gallons of ink rebutting RoadSnacks. We’d rather they show than tell.
Richmond County is a resilient place filled with hopeful and hardworking people. With government, civic groups and businesses working together, we can improve our residents’ quality of life in real and meaningful ways.
That’s what’s really important, after all. Proving provocateurs like RoadSnacks dead wrong is just the icing on the cake.
Forget denial, Richmond County. This is a challenge that calls for defiance.