Reader: Undercurrent of racism is present
Living in Elkins can feel like a paradox. As a white woman living in Elkins, I often feel safer here than anywhere else. I don’t question whether or not I will experience violence when going about my daily routines: not while exercising; not while checking in on a friend’s pet when that friend is not home; not while entering a church building to which I have the access code late at night. I’ve never been followed, treated with suspicion, or discriminated against. That is a luxury that many other residents of this country, this state and this country do not have.
While sign posts leading into Randolph County say “Welcome Home” with maple leaves and bluegrass instruments, there is a more sinister welcome that many of us who are residents of this county have experienced. The Ku Klux Klan also seems to have a home in Randolph County.
This is not something we like to talk about because it is rarely mentioned in the many many conversations I have had with other residents of Randolph County. However, once you bring it up, either a shock of horror or an expression of deep recognition is likely to flash across the face of the person you are talking to.
Partly because we pride ourselves on our friendliness and our eagerness to be neighborly and kind, it is hard for us to believe and acknowledge that our idyllic community, nestled in the mountains, surrounded by natural beauty, could be home to such legendary hatefulness as the KKK.
The undercurrent of racism in Elkins and Randolph County is easy for white residents who do not experience racism to forget until the flyer is left at your door, or, until a man on a bicycle rides by your house shouting “white power” when you have a black friend over for a visit. Without building friendships with people of color in this town, it is possible for white residents of Elkins to completely miss the racism that our neighbors of color navigate every day.
Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade and Nina Pop were not murdered in Elkins.
However, in the past five years, Freda Gilmore was beaten by police in Charleston; Garrick Hopkins and his brother were shot dead by a white neighbor in Barboursville; James Harvey Means was shot dead by a white vigilante in Charleston. Black Lives Matter is not a movement that is far removed from us in Elkins.
Instead, joining this movement is a way to say that we reject the invitation from Klansmen to join them in their legacy of terror and white racial supremacy by saying out loud that in Elkins and everywhere in the world, Black Lives Matter to us.