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"Race Matters in Appalachia" Comes to Charleston

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GRAPHIC: Organizers say next week's Summit on Race Matters in Appalachia in Charleston is an opportunity to take a calm, serious look at questions that are too often either ignored or inflamed.
GRAPHIC: Organizers say next week's Summit on Race Matters in Appalachia in Charleston is an opportunity to take a calm, serious look at questions that are too often either ignored or inflamed.
November 7, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A summit on race relations coming Monday and Tuesday to Charleston offers a chance for a deep, civilized look at something that matters, according to its organizers.

Issues of bias typically are either ignored or inflamed, unquestioned or tangled in controversy, said the Rev. Ron English of the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance, who is helping put together the Summit on Race Matters in Appalachia. English said racism only thrives when it's unconscious - and tends to fade when it's brought into the light.

"If you're not aware of how it starts from the inside and how it is transferred to the outside," he said, "then you've missed a critical part of what we need to be dealing with."

Opinion polls taken before and after a policeman shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., hint at the problem. They found that after the killing, white people were more likely to say racial bias isn't a problem among police. After such an incident, English said, the public conversation is caught up in a cycle of shame and blame. The point of the summit, he said, is that it doesn't have to happen here.

"A lot of conversations about race come in times of crisis, and therefore they become very shallow, they become very defensive," he said, "and that doesn't help anybody. We've been through that, done that."

English said an event such as the summit can help people build what he called "transferable" skills - learning how to listen better, or learning to feel more confident that someone is hearing your side and taking it seriously. He said these are useful skills in all sorts of relationships, and in helping people get along in an increasingly diverse world.

"I have personally heard from several people saying, 'This is long overdue, but we didn't know how to do it,' " English said.

The summit will take place in downtown Charleston. More information is on the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy website, wvpolicy.org.

Dan Heyman/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - WV