According to 17 Republican members of the West Virginia State Senate, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is “hate speech.” While the Black Lives Matter movement has lasted longer than the Confederate States of America, I cannot help but ask those angry Republicans if that also means the Confederate battle flag is an expression of hate endorsing treason, disunion, and white supremacy. What about a statue of a Confederate general on the Capitol grounds in Charleston?
Furthermore, how many of those angry Republicans spoke up and denounced the displays on GOP Day on March 1, 2019, deemed as anti-Muslim and Islamophobic? How many of those senators supported “the Fairness Act” in order to ensure LGBTQ West Virginians are not discriminated against when applying for jobs or seeking housing? Have any one of those 17 Republicans spoken to Gov. Jim Justice about his unilateral decisions regarding the $1.24 billion appropriated to combat the pandemic? Have they asked why $1 billion still has not been used to help countless West Virginians? But a sticker with the letters “BLM” is what awakened those 17 Republicans to write an angry letter to both Marshall University and West Virginia University?
Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” How many of those 17 Republicans walked or offered to walk with students of color on either university campus? How many have taken time to sit down and listen to the fears, concerns, and stories of West Virginians of color of every community? Instead of getting angry over three letters and a sticker, why not listen to the anger, frustrations, and stories of our brothers and sisters of color? Why is it easier to tell a black man to shut up and play than to point out imperfections of our electoral, judicial, and educational systems or acknowledge possible bias of an unknown number of not just law enforcement but teachers and others in positions of trust no matter how many or how few?
If only we had elected leaders who could sponsor, defend, and pass meaningful reforms to ensure that here in West Virginia equality and justice for all are ensured not assumed. It is not enough for any one of us to say, “I am not racist!” We must be willing to not only prove it but to learn of it and remedy it. Could not every law enforcement officer, judge, prosecutor, and educator be required to take racial bias training to ensure conscious, subconscious, and if possible unconscious racial prejudice can be identified and treated?
Is West Virginia only welcome to those that look like us, pray like us, love like us, and think like us? We need to start electing leaders who have the courage to first listen then speak with both words and actions. Rather than igniting, exploiting, and magnifying anger, we need leaders who exemplify compassion and empathy towards all who choose to call West Virginia home.