How West Virginians Can Understand the BLM Helmet Decals

There is considerable pushback against West Virginia University for allowing the school’s football players to put small BLM stickers on their helmets.  A group of 17 state Senators even sent a letter to WVU President E. Gordon Gee* objecting to the decal.

 They cite the more radical statements and positions by Black Lives Matter, arguing that by wearing the decals the players are endorsing a Marxist organization that encourages violence.

 WVU responded by defending the stickers. “It’s important for our fans to know that this helmet sticker is not advocating for any organization or any political stance, violence, rioting, looting or destruction.  The sticker is a call for unity, safety and equality,” the statement said.

 This is a complicated issue because of the nature of the movement. As our Brad McElhinny reported, “Back Lives Matter refers both to an organization—the Black Lives Matter Global Network—and a broader decentralized movement.

 “The Black Lives Matter Global Network sometimes receives criticism for its stated position to ‘disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.’ But the movement is broader and involves hundreds of locally organized groups,” McElhinny wrote.

 That can be a difficult maze for folks to navigate, especially while witnessing violence and vandalism in parts of America.

 Let me try another approach.

 West Virginia is about as white as a state can be.  Ninety-four percent of the state’s population is white and only four percent is black.  As whites, most of us have not been subjected to the same kind of racism as blacks, but we do have some idea what it is like to be misunderstood, dismissed and even devalued.

 We in West Virginia are particularly sensitive to how we are perceived. We recoil when we are portrayed as barefoot, pregnant, moonshine-swilling hillbillies.  We bristle when out-of-state folks reference the capital as Richmond or refer to us as “western Virginia.”

 These and dozens of other slights—real and imagined—are disrespectful and occasionally even humiliating. Now, take those offenses and multiply them by 100 to try to get some idea what it might feel like to be a black person who is discriminated against because of their race.

 It is humiliating and dehumanizing.

 The opposite of humiliation is pride.  We often say West Virginians are proud folks, proud of who we are, our hard-scrabble heritage.  The WVU marching band is even called the Pride of West Virginia.

 Pride gives us a feeling of satisfaction and confidence. When you are proud of who you are, it is more difficult for critics to marginalize you.

The roster of the WVU football team is filled with young black men. They are University students who are excelling at their sport, providing entertainment to fans and generating pride for the state.   

 The stickers on their helmets are not an endorsement of radical action, but rather a statement of the founding principles of equality and justice. They are a call to be heard instead of marginalized.

West Virginians are uniquely qualified to listen.

*(The letter also went to Marshall President Jerome Gilbert, raising concerns about the professor who told students during a virtual lecture that she hopes President Trumps supporters contract coronavirus and die before the election.  Marshall has suspended biology professor Jennifer Mosher.)





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