Student Perspectives

We’ve been talking a lot about race in the Weather Vane lately.

I want to recognize that only a very small portion of campus is involved with our staff, and this limits the number and breadth of views we have to print concerning any topic.

The Weather Vane welcomes the student body and community to send us articles and letters, so that we may educate each other from our various perspectives on race and talk more candidly about a theme that EMU finds difficult to address.

Morgan Freeman is quoted from a “60 Minutes” television interview as saying, “How are we going to get rid of racism? Stop talking about it!” in resonse to Black History Month. His criticism validly addresses the ridiculousness of one month encapsulating a demographic whose history “is American history.”

However, this mindset runs the risk of devaluing social groups that are integral to the psychological needs of belonging and self-identity. It can also ignore the social memes underlying racial stigmatization, such as that rampant in the law enforcement and judicial systems, just to name a few.

The former risk is what I want to address here, from an Appalachian perspective. Appalachian culture carries certain stereotypes, and systemic injustices are embedded in areas that fuel the coal industry.

I am not trying to claim that these things are equivalent to racial marginalization. Instead, I want to talk about the value of pride in ethnic, racial, and cultural origins.

Having moved around the Eastern U.S. growing up, I cling to my West Virginian heritage as a grounding point. “Appalachian” is an ethnic identity that gives me a place to feel at home, to know something about the history and culture and common experiences of the people there.

It means that, while I laugh at my family’s self-deprecating jokes (“Waiting for allotments of government cheese is what taught West Virginians to stand in a straight line!”), I will also defend this region and its inhabitants from any and every disparaging comment from others.

Pepperoni rolls, fresh-caught brook trout, beans and cornbread, and fried taters with ramps carry a certain sacredness and excitement, as does the sight of cases of Natty Ice and little old Baptist churches and John Denver singing a state anthem that wasn’t even written for W.Va. I want others to be proud of these mundane and sometimes embarrassing idols that we hold of our home cultures.

I want to be able to introduce someone to the concept of ramps (pungent wild leeks) and the heritage of the coalfields as something new, and strange, and somewhat foreign, and to be introduced to the peculiar stories of their demographic and what they consider home.

Ethnic markers shouldn’t simply assimilate away into the bourgeoisie culture of collegiate Harrisonburg, VA. [all of us pretend that we’re natives to the hotel-like dorms, long strips of commercial businesses, and quaint little downtown.]

Our ethnic and regional origins should be swapped and discussed, a source of pride.

To that end, I again ask the community to inform us of their backgrounds – with their quirks and idiosyncrasies – and help us see how they affect one’s experience of the world.

Then, with a more educated basis, we can start preparing ourselves to discuss race and ethnicity in a way that challenges stereotypes, assumptions, and established injustice.

-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief

Categories: Opinion


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