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Editorial - Battling intolerance

April 02, 1998

With a minority population of less than 5 percent, West Virginia might be excused if it didn't take a lead role in the fight against racial intolerance. But Gov. Cecil Underwood isn't looking for easy excuses, but a way to create "a statewide atmosphere of racial harmony through respect, understanding and tolerance." It's a cause the state's citizens ought to rally around.

If you have to ask why, here's the best reason: When people begin using ethnic or racial yardsticks to separate themselves from other human beings, time and energy that ought to spent improving the human race is wasted on hatred and revenge instead. Taken to extremes, it ends in incidents like the one that claimed the life of Vincent Chin in July 1982.

Chin, 27, was celebrating his upcoming wedding at a nude-dancing estsblishment in Highland Park, Mich., when he got into an argument with two unemployed auto workers. The two apparently mistook the Chinese-American man for a Japanese and began complaining that Japan's auto makers were costing Americans their jobs. Then they beat Chin to death with a baseball bat.

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The incident will be memorialized in a play that will open July 10 in Shepherdstown, W.Va. as part of the Contemporary American Theater Festival. The production is being funded by a $25,000 state grant Underwood awarded as part of "One West Virginia," a year-long look at race relations in the state.

Is it realistic, to hope, at Underwood does, that this play will make a real difference in West Virginia race relations? Perhaps, if the play can be tied in with a larger campaign to get people of different races talking about what separates them, and what they have in common.

Something like that won't happen spontaneously. Such a dialogue will have to be promoted, perhaps through churches which share common beliefs despite their racially distinct congregations. Nor will the process be concluded in a year, given the resentment and fear that's built up over many years. For now, we're just happy to see it start.

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