Friday, September 26, 2008

Ugly ducklings in our midst

The ugly fact of racism has been raising its hate filled head in the Valley recently. A Barack Obama sign defaced by thugs in Rockingham County. Numerous reports of stolen and vandalized Obama signs in just about every locality up and down the I-81 corridor. Shots fired at an Obama sign in Augusta County. Because other signs of candidates from both parties are left standing and not vandalized, it seems pretty apparent that this goes beyond the normal theft of signs. It is the blind politics of race hate - pure and simple.
Now comes more news about prejudice, workplace intimidation, indeed, racial terrorism in the central Valley. On several occasions in 2007, Doug Mason, a black man, showed up at his job at Massanutten to be "greeted" by a noose. According to an EEOC lawsuit, L.A. Pipeline Construction Co. violated the law by subjecting a black employee to openly displayed nooses and racial slurs at an Elkton worksite. The company was aware of the problems but took no action to prevent it. The Daily News-Record has the stories here and here.
Now comes the story that many area legislators will consider amending Virginia's hate crime law so hanging of a noose is prosecuted in the same way as burning a cross. A burning cross, the most infamous symbol of the KKK, was used to intimidate blacks who spoke out, registered to vote, or in any way tried to assert their rights during the terrible Jim Crow years. A hanging noose was similarly intimidating in an era where the U.S. southern states experienced about a lynching a week. Both are well established symbols of racial hatred designed to threaten or incite violence against a fellow human being simply because of skin color.
Delegate Todd Gilbert says the noose is on par with cross burning.
Delegate Matt Lohr and Senator Mark Obenshain say they will consider amending the law to make penalties for hanging a noose similar to burning a cross. 
Senator Emmett Hanger sees no use for additional laws on this issue, believing there are sufficient remedies available.
I won't post their comments, rationale, and occasional back stepping - you can read it online at the DNR website.
Racism is a problem that begs for more than a legislative solution. In addition to changing Virginia's hate crime laws, this is an issue for the greater society - churches, schools, civic clubs, neighbor to neighbor - we all must act with conscience and conviction. Don't listen to racial jokes. Better yet, correct the "comedian" and tell him or her you find it offensive. If you hear racial slurs, tell the speaker you don't accept such language in your presence. Teach your children that racism is a great moral wrong. Teach them it is an evil to be exorcised from American life.
Teach your children well.

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