I’ve not lived in West Virginia since 2000. I fled the State like a Harriet Tubman, too scared to look or turn back. Just like the Great Black Migration of the early 1900s, I had to flee from experiences of subtle racism (that has become acceptable) which still plagues the state like syphilis. I needed to protect myself, search for myself, and attempt to gain a sense of well being.
Yet despite my Great Migration north, and only returning to West Virginia for a short stint to visit family, I’ve always loved the State for what it has to offer with its outdoors activities.
But then there are moments (like the Presidential election) when the ugly bastard children of West Virginia, and the ignorance spawned from them, emerge. During both times Obama won the elections, people I considered friends and grew up with (who have the same education as I) turned into hideous racist monsters (or were they always these monsters, and I was tolerated simply because I “didn’t act like them [other Blacks]”; and they were tolerated because I had no choice but to learn to do so). With the constant use of social media applications, during this presidential campaign, we felt a sense of entitlement to vocalize our opinions publicly and simply “block” those who disagreed with us. Would we ever block people in our daily lives, ignore them completely, simply because they disagreed? Truly, my life would be a complete bore if everyone thought the same as me and didn’t challenge me. Importantly, I don’t think many people would argue or defame (to such a degree) others as they do on social media.
I remember one such female who wrote me and said (paraphrased), “I don’t want Obama for President. I need a President who cares about West Virginia and the coal we produce.”
It was that moment when I responded, “I don’t think anyone has ever cared about West Virginia. It’s a welfare state.” And, it was true. No one ever cared about West Viriginia, the challenges of her people, or even the history of it. And, pathetically–many people don’t even know it’s a separate State, separate from Virginia–which proves my theories that US public schools and George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” campaign has let us down by producing a generation of idiots who assume lesser quality will allow them to achieve.
However, during the presidential election, Tea Partiers were all focused on issues that I felt were minute, I think as a strategic distraction from other important issues. Meanwhile, the ramifications are beginning to appear in areas such as West Virginia, a Tea Partier State, as we experience the latest chemical spill in West Virginia; a chemical spill that, is a result from poor inspections and regulations of the plant that produces the chemicals to wash coal, housed in an “antique” unit. The interesting thing about this is that, while it has been mentioned that these chemicals are affiliated with coal, few people are discussing it. Would this pertinent information that is being spoken about, but then blanketed with pities, change peoples’ feelings on how dangerous and how unclean this fuel source truly may be? Or, would admitting to that deflate and devalue everything the people of West Virginia, and the Tea Partiers have fought for? Dealing with the real problem head-on should be the solution. Such as questioning why a chemical plant (bound to have leakage at some point) directly beside a source of water that is used for drinking water. If someone truly cared about West Virginia and its residents, inspectors would have never approved this to begin with.
I recall the year I turned six. Many years ago, yes. But, I think it’s remarkable how good my mind still is. Around this time, my birthday, I recall waking up with a horrible chest pain. A pain that I remember and have never felt since; A pain that was so severe words could not be spoken loudly. I scooted myself off of the antique brass bed and crawled (on all fours) into my parents room, crying that “My heart hurt”. Immediately, my parents sprung into action and I was taken to the emergency room not knowing what was wrong. There, we discovered I had bronchial pneumonia, coupled with my left lung collapsing due to so much coal dust in it. I remember seeing, in southern West Virginia, coal dust in the air, on the floor, on our clothes–it was part of our every-day life. Everything was dirty, including us–inside and out. And, basic common sense would tell us that if we can see it, we are breathing it, then it must be unhealthy. Instead, we focus on a cheap fuel source and what brings bread to the table.
Was this a good source of heat for our homes? Yes. Was this a great source of income for my ancestors who mined it (and many others)? Yes. But, I remember circa 1988 when many of my classmates were moving to other states such as the Carolinas. Many of the coal mines closed. Many other opportunities in WV was unknown (and, perhaps still is). People were not accustomed to change.
I work in the publishing industry. I had to move away from WV in order to find work unless I was willing to work at a local newspaper. And that’d be fine, but I wanted something different.
However, when dealing with a lot of people born and raised there, we find a people who are dedicated to their State, yet disillusioned due to the Appalachian mountains separating them from the world at large, and so attached to their homestate that they become blinded and can’t see the self-imposed lower standards.
There’s another world out there and sometimes it takes us to move away to understand our condition; a world where complacency doesn’t exist, but rather people strive to do better and possibly compete with each other, challenge each other to grow; A world where people care about their health, their nutrition, their goals, and even the future generations without compromise.