Ronnie Durham gets upset each time volunteer drivers pick up his five Vietnamese refugee neighbors for English lessons, shopping, doctors' appointments and job interviews.
"You got white people come out and pick them up and give them things and take them here and take them there," the 24-year-old black construction worker said. "That bothers you. You don't see them doing for black people.... Our people are struggling and these people come over and everything's so easy for them. I don't think it's right."
Durham is not alone. Although dozens of volunteers are helping the Indochines refugees adjust to a new life, increasing numbers of Charlotte blacks and Vietnam veterans angrily say the refugees are taking needed jobs, housing, educational programs and government assistance.
About 350 Indochinese refugees live in Charlotte, including 180 boat people who arrived in the last six months. At least 280 are expected in the area by the end of the year, with another 60 expected each month next year.
About 75 refugees live near Durham in Grier Heights, a close-knit, low-income, predominantly black community in east Charlotte. Residents say the refugees, who have all arrived since February, for almot 10 percent of the community. Another 25 refugees are scheduled to move into the area.
"I have very mixed feelings," said Elaine Watson, an Eastern Airlines reservation agent. "No one was ever asked, no one was ever told. We feel like they were dumped on us."
Different customs are also causing problems. Neighbors were offended when one young boy urinated in the front yard, a common practice for children in rural Vietnam. Others complained about the smell of Vietnamese cooking.
Officials at Catholic Social Services, which sponsors most of the refugees and arranges their housing and other immediate needs, met last week with 25 black community political and church leaders to discuss the backlash problem. The officials promised to place more incoming refuges in white communities.
"I think it's authentic resentment, based on an authentic lack of information," said Sister Frances Sheridan, coordinator of the refugee programs. "As far as the people in the black community being outspoken, they have cause for concern. The black employment rate is low and housing is crowded."
The government gives each refugee a $250 relocation allowance, and Catholic officials arrange welfare and food stamps, Clothing, furniture, medical care and other services are donated. English lessons are available.
Sister Frances said most refugees work in factories or as laborers, gardeners, dishwashers and in other nonskilled low-paying jobs.
She said most refugees are "relatively self-sufficient" in four months, off welfare and able to support themselves. That bothers the Rev. James Frieson, president of the 25-church Baptist Ministers Conference.
"We feel if America has a secret to make these people self-sufficient, perhaps that ought to be turned around to help black people," Frieson said. "If black folks can't pass the education competency tests, how can they teach these refugees to speak English and get jobs and function in three or four months? If they got some king of secret, let's help everybody.
"These people are taking jobs traditionally availabe to black people. They are taking houses away from people who live here, who need houses."
Most Grier Heights residents interviewed said they think the refugees should be helped but not at their expense. A small group of Vietnam veterans last week presented city officials with a 50-signature petition protesting all efforts to help the refugees.
"We don't want tax money spent on non-citizens at a time when we're running out of jobs, running our of energy, running out of housing," said Steve Balazs, an Army veteran who organized the petition. "I think we've already given enough to these people."
Despite the tension, there have been no confrontations. Several refugees said they are simply ignored by their black neighbors.
"They're indifferent," said Khanh Dung, 24, a former student from Saigon who arrived in Grier Heights June 21 after surviving a pirate attack in the South China Sea and more than a month in a Thai refugee camp.
"We can't get along too well without neighbors. We don't talk to them and they don't talk to us. I think they don't like us."