ERROL CASTENS: Individual liberty trumps group-think



Oxford Mayor “Pat” Patterson handed his critics an easy “gotcha” recently when he answered a question about a dearth of blacks visiting the Square with a remark about dollar stores.

Patterson is usually the first to admit he’s often not as nuanced as he ought to be, and his statement predictably netted criticism from many directions.

In his defense, though, it’s not racist to admit that blacks are less represented than whites in the income groups that tend to shop and dine and seek entertainment in downtown Oxford.

The Square’s makeup reflects economic reality for many blacks and whites alike who aren’t wealthy. Let me offer a couple of examples:

A Square jeweler a few years ago could not afford her new $9,000-a-month rent, so she moved to a strip mall, and her former location became yet another bar.

A recent business visitor to Oxford realized he hadn’t packed any casual clothes. He picked out some denim pants at a downtown store, but in his hurry the visitor didn’t look at prices, learning only at checkout – to his chagrin – that each pair of jeans would run him well into three figures.

The Square’s demographics also reflect other choices than pure economics for a wide swath of locals who don’t frequent downtown Oxford.

Some despise the Square’s gentrification and refuse to participate in it. They remember a more egalitarian Square, when blacks and whites alike bought hardware, furniture, pharmaceuticals and vegetables there. They remember when The Ice House was not condos but a purveyor of frozen water, when The Gin was neither a restaurant nor a hotel but a place where cotton was processed, when City Grocery sold groceries.

Others take gentrification in stride but decide they don’t need much on the Square that can’t be bought somewhere else more easily and cheaply. Many of us, black and white and brown and yellow, indeed shop more at dollar stores than at Neilson’s or Nella and eat home cooking at home more often than at Ajax.

(Racial imbalance also shows up, by the way, in the Grove and in the Vaught on game days.)

Downtown Oxford may be racially disproportionate, and Patterson probably wishes he’d thought out his response about it a few more seconds. All of us, though, make choices about where and when and on what to spend our resources.

Some love the Square enough to pay the freight. Some don’t.

Our liberty to choose according to our individual priorities and tastes trumps any finger wagging about who ought to shop where.

Errol Castens is a reporter for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Contact him at (662) 816-1282 or

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