A long trip is nearing its end. I rest in a place that is stunningly beautiful. It is an unexpectedly thought provoking place. The mountains of West Virginia. I have been here before but never during a campaign year. Trump-Pence signs are on many a lawn, as are surprisingly to me, a few Gary Johnson. No Hillary Clinton signs seen so far. As I interact with people here, I can imagine that she would seem quite foreign. I am reminded of the time I sat in an airport near two older ladies watching a television. George W. Bush was on the screen. He spoke but the sound was on mute. One of the ladies said, “I’d invite him to my picnic. I think I’ll vote for him.” Policy and experience were moot. He came across as familiar and likeable. Clinton does not. Yet Trump does? Fascinating.
I am in an area that is approximately 96 percent non-Hispanic White according to demographic tables. Without looking up the statistic, I suspected such a number. I stand out quite a bit. People stare whenever I step out of a car, walk across the parking lot, sit in a restaurant. The culture here is a bit different than my recent experience in South Carolina. There, even if you stand out as different, the culture is such that you “throw up a hand” or acknowledge a presence in some way. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Here … people sometimes seem startled when I say hello or look at them and smile in greeting. Some will nod back. Others just stare. At times I felt uncomfortable, and it wasn’t just the Confederate flags peppering various places. The flags were old and tattered. Perhaps those were really about heritage and not about the new symbolism of hate.
Sitting in a diner — lovely staff, good food –I watched the local news. On screen, a black man was asked by a white man if discrimination still existed. Everyone who walked through the door glanced at me. That’s fine. Once while working with a youth writing program in Boston, we brought the children across town to do an activity. Afterwards we went for ice cream at a nearby ice cream shop. One of the girls leaned against me. She said, “Cynthia, nobody here looks like me. Like us.” I said, “And that’s okay. To go places and to be different. Let’s pick out our ice cream.”
To go places. To be different. Even if one is not readily welcomed. There is value in that especially in a world where it is too easy to view those who are different, those with whom one has had no personal experience, as … well … those who should be held at bay with walls and exclusionary laws that have been passed in the past and can be again.
Because of the various circles I run in for work and pleasure, sometimes people will say to me, “Cynthia, I think you’re the first black person that such-and-such has interacted with.” I have to hope that I am not the last. And I have to hope that interaction is more than what’s shown on TV and in social media.
This is an incomplete post in the sense that these thoughts and my experiences from this trip are still percolating. We’ll see what the future holds. I’m grateful for the opportunity to wind my way through West Virginia and to glimpse just a bit of its natural beauty.