Is West Virginia Racist?  

No, the answer to the title of this article is a firm and resounding no.  No, the people of the state of West Virginia are largely not racists.  I’ve traveled all over the world and West Virginians are among the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever encountered.

If West Virginians aren’t racist, why do they have such antiquated views?  

 

The people of West Virginia are deeply proud and they don’t particularly like change of any kind.  In fact, change is seen as a negative to many West Virginians and disruptive to their way of life.

When West Virginia University decided to put “Black Lives Matter” decals on the back of their football helmets, the reaction by the people of the state was harsh and critical.  The people wondered why this was necessary, why couldn’t the decals say “All Lives Matter”, why couldn’t those football players just shut up and play football like they always have in the past?

Change is hard to create anywhere but especially in West Virginia.  All lives matter, of course, but not all lives are struggling to be treated fairly and equitably.  The image that has helped me to understand Black Lives Matter the most is this: Imagine a house is on fire.  Firefighters rush to the scene to put out the fire.  When firefighters stop at the house on fire to put it out, people run up to the firefighters and ask that they also spray the houses not on fire with the hoses as well.

There’s only one house on fire right now.  The treatment of black Americans is the house on fire and “Black Lives Matter” is the firefighters trying to put the fire out.  The houses surrounding the house on fire are not the problem and that is precisely why they are not getting the same treatment as the one burning to the ground.

West Virginians are not racists and they are not stupid.  They are proud and they don’t like change.  Just 3% of the West Virginia population is black – 94% white – and racial issues have simply never really been an issue here.  This is new and it’s complicated.

Where does West Virginia go from here?

It’s important to try to understand both sides.  Lashing out at West Virginians against the “Black Lives Matter” movement will only make them dig their heels in more.  Most of these West Virginians don’t hate black people and simply view the movement as unjust and hypocritical, and their general dislike of it comes from their perceived unfairness and has nothing to do with the color of anyone’s skin.  They have limited experience around black people and thus have a difficult time seeing the human side of this story.

With that said, there is a very real, very human side to Black Lives Matter and there are a lot of black people hurting.  Instead of focusing on what you feel is unfair or hypocritical, West Virginians, I implore you to soften your stance a bit and see the other side of this.

Like West Virginia Head Coach Neal Brown said, “You have to be naive to think that there’s some social inequality in our country and it’s important that we make things right now.”  West Virginia is the best state in the United States because of its people.  Please support the athletes who have chosen to make West Virginia their home and understand the pain behind their actions.

This isn’t about you.  Your house isn’t on fire.