Jasper's legacy

June 24, 1998|By Cary Clack

SAN ANTONIO -- Rainbows often follow storms, breaking the darkness with an arc of iridescent hope.

The storm of racial hate that swept across the life of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, can never be expunged from that community's landscape or the nation's consciousness. The act was too brutal and resonated with memories of times past when black bodies hung from Southern trees.

But in the aftermath of Byrd's death, hope is seen as Jasper's residents -- black, white and brown -- reach out to one another to grieve and comprehend the vicious crime. For the residents of Jasper, a town that doesn't fit the stereotype of a racist East Texas town, this is a time to reacquaint themselves with one another and strengthen their bonds.

The hope that breaks through the darkness of Byrd's last night on earth is that nationwide, Americans rededicate themselves to seeing one another as individuals while appreciating the wealth of cultures that enrich this land.

It shouldn't take a gruesome killing to remind us that racism still thrives. It remains a virus left unchecked.

The antidote to defeating it is as old as the virus itself: education TTC and creating relationships. For those who don't live lives that virtually segregate them from people of other ethnicities, this is easy. For others, it's going to take work.

A year ago, President Clinton proposed a national dialogue on race. His intentions were good but both the series of town hall meetings and the advisory board fell short.

Racism won't be overcome by new hate-crime laws, a government edict or a presidential commission. Its conquest will be at the hands and in the hearts of people who choose to know and learn from one another.

A character in Carlos Fuentes' novella, "Constancia," asks, "How long a vigil, I ask myself, does historical violence impose on us?"

The historical violence of racism will impose its vigil as long as we are less vigilant in fighting it.

The rainbow over the United States after the storm in Jasper is the hope that racism will be defeated. But the rainbow also can be a warning of the consequences if racism persists. As an old spiritual says:

"God sent Noah the rainbow sign

No more water, the fire next time."

Cary Clack is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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