Letters to the editor

Friendliness begets friendliness

It was with great interest that I read Eileen Duignan-Woods’ diatribe against Asheville [Letters, April 8], because I believe her complaint brought to light a pressing concern for the people of Asheville and Buncombe County: the ongoing effort of newcomers and natives to peacefully co-exist in this area.

Given that there are two sides to every story, it would be hard to gauge the validity of Ms. Duignan-Woods’ accusations, or the intent with which she made them. However, it is obvious that her tone is arrogant, which is the very attitude that makes many natives loath to see transplants arrive by the carload.

This is not to disparage all newcomers; most are fine people who assimilate well by accepting their new communities on their own terms, and they make great neighbors, business associates, etc. Acceptance is the key word. From a logical standpoint, it makes no sense for someone to come into a new community and expect its members to automatically think and behave like them. Yet, this seems to be the case with transplants like Ms. Duignan-Woods. They come here, full of superior attitudes, certain that their knowledge will dazzle the unwashed bumpkins, not realizing that we have our own knowledge and perceptions, thank you, and we don’t appreciate them being disparaged.

I wonder if Ms. Duignan-Woods exhibited this attitude in her dealings with business people, churches, etc. Maybe these people would have been more welcoming if she had given them credit for being intelligent, capable people, and had not assumed that they needed to be enlightened to her superior way of thinking.

But newcomers aren’t solely to blame for this cold war of perceptions. Some locals are openly hostile to the thought of “Yankees” and “foreigners” living next door. Maybe they’ve let bad past experiences color their thinking. Or maybe some predisposition toward standoffishness or fear of change keeps them from reaching out. People in this area generally are rooted in traditions going back several generations, a rootedness unfathomable to a transplanted urbanite. So communication breaks down on both sides.

There’s also a fear that the “outsiders” will multiply to such an extent that they will take over and recast the community in their own image, or the image of the place they left. This is a concern of mine, but I think that enough intelligent people would rise up to put a stop to that, if it should ever happen.

The Buncombe County area has many wonderful qualities, and I don’t think anyone would want to see those changed in order to make the area upscale or sophisticated. Maybe we don’t offer high-brow specialty shops or 24-hour cleaners, but we do offer a relaxed, peaceful way of life, among people who are, by and large, courteous and friendly — at least to those who are courteous and friendly to them.

I’m sorry that Ms. Duignan-Woods feels she was viewed only as a source of revenue by those she encountered and that she was unwelcome here, but her arrogant assumption that she has the knowledge to save Asheville, in spite of itself, is galling. Perhaps the newcomer who replaces her will be more understanding.

— Andrew Bishop

WNCAP should embrace the black community

Sir Norman Angell said: The vested interests … can only get the public to act as they wish by manipulating public opinion, by playing either on the public’s indifference, confusions, prejudices, pugnacities or fears. And the only way the power of the interests can be undermined, and their maneuvers defeated, is by bringing home to the public the danger of its indifference, the absurdity of its prejudices, or the hollowness of its fears; by showing that it is indifferent to danger, where real danger exists, [and] frightened by dangers which are nonexistent.

In 1996, HIV+ African-Americans accounted for more than half of the deaths due to AIDS in Buncombe County, N.C., USA. This problem is not the Western North Carolina AIDS Project’s fault, but rather, it is a result of the human condition. These figures are astounding, as only 33 percent of WNCAP’s clients are black, and only 8 percent of Buncombe County’s residents are minorities.

Many of us in WNC have been asking how long will it take the local HIV/AIDS community to embrace the race that is suffering the most? WNCAP has hosted a finale party for “A Night to Remember” (fundraiser) at the Haywood Park Atrium in Asheville, in the falls of 1996 and 1997. At the 1997 finale party, only a handful of minorities attended. In part, this may be due to feeling unwelcome, and many other cultural factors surely apply. This year’s finale will feature entertainment by Kat Williams and Fred McDowell, along with coffee and dessert. To attend the finale only, a donation will be accepted at the door. Could this also be part of the reason for low minority turnout?

With the upcoming fundraiser, we have an opportunity to embrace the black community. Would it be so bad to hand out a bunch of free tickets to this event? … What do we have to lose? This event might turn out to be the networking opportunity of a lifetime, if cultural diversity is a part of the evening’s purpose and money did not appear to stand in the way, for some people of color. …

WNCAP [could] print a free … ticket … that can be passed out, perhaps to the Black Ministerial Alliance, for distribution. … If each minister were given 10 pairs of tickets (about 240 [in all]) to give away, this would be considered inviting. With a typical 1:4 showing, about 60 people would get free dessert and coffee. These folks are potential future volunteers, buddies, outreach workers, care givers and/or donors — or, possibly, even future clients.

HIV/AIDS has come out of the closet in western North Carolina recently, and now would be a good time to … take advantage of the exposure. Why is it that, when I attend meetings of all types in WNC, hosted by many different organizations (AIDS-related or not), that one common thread — lack of participation by people of color — ties them all together? Is it because of some underlying myth about the black community that allows “us” to not invite “them”?

When I speak up, I often hear a lot of “them” and “they,” as if to say an entire cultural group is making decisions based upon a few leaders or figureheads. This war (on AIDS) is won one person at a time. … We cannot morally allow ourselves to wait until “they” all decide to show up at one time. We must invite “them,” one person at a time (or, in this case, 20 at a time). In this way, “they” can become a part of “us,” at no charge for the experience.

If only a few folks from the black community show up for the “Night to Remember” finale on May 16, we have won the first battle. And what will it have cost for the effort? What will be the cost for not trying at all? … The AIDS gravy train should welcome people of all colors on board … even if doing so will raise no additional money. By the looks of this event, historically, WNCAP is not likely to make any substantial money from the black segment of the local population this spring, anyway!

But … in the future, when WNCAP hosts any event, perhaps the HIV community will be more accurately reflected. And what will all this goodwill cost? Approximately 60 desserts, some coffee, a little paper … and hardly any sweat at all. Perhaps many of “us” do not embrace the black community out of our own fear of “them.” Of this crowd — I am not one.

— Kevin P. Nuttall, AIDS Activist

Bad Asheville speaks

I found Eileen Duignan-Woods’ letter [April 8] — depicting Asheville’s quality of life as “grossly exaggerated,” the housing “homely and bad,” the water undrinkable, the air polluted and the retailers and citizens unwelcoming and closed to her needs — so negative it was comical.

Let’s all slit our wrists, Eileen! And on the hand that’s left, let’s consider the many residents from “Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, New Jersey” and yes, even “New Yuk,” as we native idiots supposedly refer to it, who have managed to live happily here for years. Could you really not find a dry cleaner in Asheville that was open all day? Did you really find a whole “community that makes no bones about the fact that ‘outsiders’ are not really wanted”? Or was it, as it is in most cases, a few people who were rude and derogatory? (Hope you weren’t sharing your positive thoughts with these people while you were waiting for your service with a smile!).

I found your dark labels for the citizens of Asheville stereotypical, attacking and extremely condescending.

Go ahead, though, run as fast as you can to Charlotte. But stop by your mirror first, and take a look. You might find that the problem lies there. But if not, we’ll be here, “arrogant and greedy” — with a hand out, ready to lure you back to Asheville. Just kidding, Eileen. There might be poison in your pocket.

— Darlena Moore

Win/win paradigm hurts no one

I am writing in response to the questions M. MacEwen raised [Letters, April 1] regarding my commentary, “Asheville: America’s Healing Capital?” [Commentary, March 11]. Your concerns are all valid, and extremely important considerations in building our local economy. At the same time, you took a number of things I said out of context and paired them with some very negative pictures. A win/win paradigm does not harm our ecology, nor our economy, and that is basic to all of my proposals. The Asheville area is growing, whether we like it or not; our challenge is to bring that about in a way that is most beneficial to our community.

— Carolyn Ball

Fight for safe workplaces

Every year, approximately 68,000 American workers die from workplace accidents, or from cancers and other illnesses they pick up on the job. Every day, about 36,000 workers are hurt, and 2,300 are made sick, according to labor and government experts. (Twice as many Americans are killed by workplace accidents and illness each year than are murdered.)

Twenty-seven years ago, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) as a result of labor unions advocating and fighting for standardized health and safety protections for workers. Even with the protections offered by OSHA, there are still too many workplace injuries and deaths. Yet, rather than strengthening job health and safety laws, big business and right-wing lobbying groups are hacking away at the few [remaining] mandatory health and safety protections that working people have. This year alone, legislators who do the bidding of corporate interests have introduced eight bills designed to make compliance with OSHA voluntary, limit OSHA standards, and cut safety training by 90 percent.

In our own state of North Carolina, some 200 workers die from workplace accidents each year. Countless others die as a result of work-induced diseases, such as brown lung, asbestosis, cancers resulting from chemical exposure, and silicosis. According to the N.C. Department of Labor (1993), one in every 13 workers has suffered a workplace injury or illness. The point is that most, if not all, of these deaths and injuries do not have to happen.

On April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day, to remember those who have suffered and died on the job, or have been injured by dangerous conditions, or diseased by exposure to toxic substances. Workers Memorial Day is a day to remember, but it is also a day on which AFL-CIO union members recommit to stopping these tragedies in the future. This April 28, we call upon all workers, their unions, employers and elected officials to join the fight for safe and healthful workplaces.

— Laura Gordon

[Gordon is secretary of the WNC Central Labor Council.]

District attorney answers to the voters

It has been a year since the District Attorney, Ron Moore, brought charges against myself and two others. Since bringing the charges, he has delayed taking any action on the cases. Two of us waived lower-court hearings to speed trial action. Another has yet to have his case heard in lower court. Mr. Moore has seen fit to do nothing on these cases. Why?

According to figures distributed by the Administrator of Courts in Raleigh, in fiscal year 1996-’97, Mr. Moore dispensed with over half of the cases he charged in 108 days, and 90 percent of all cases were dispensed with in 328 days. The continuance of my case (now over 365 days) serves no purpose. Why?

It is my opinion that Mr. Moore is doing nothing because he has no case and, after much-publicized arrests, is embarrassed to take any action, therefore he is taking no action. Meanwhile, my life is on hold, and [my] livelihood negatively affected.

The trouble is that the district attorney answers only to the electorate. No complaints can be filed against him. No legal action [can be] taken. As a result, I am appealing to you to consider his inaction on this matter in the primary and general elections, because you, too, could find yourself in the same legal limbo.

Even though my case is well over a year old, no new investigation is ongoing. Even more surprising, after a year, I have not been able to present a plea in court in this matter. In case you have any doubt: not guilty.

— Jim Scott
Laurel, Mont.

[Scott is the former Asheville Civic Center manager accused of defrauding the city by reporting the Center’s expensesas lower than they really were, in order to qualify for a larger bonus.]

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