West Virginia: Wild, Wonderful and White

Over the years, I have occasionally mocked the phrase “diversity is our strength.”  It always sounded like something people, especially White people, are supposed to say when they want to sound inclusive.

But, as with many things at this stage in my life, I am re-evaluating.

West Virginia is one of the whitest places in America.  According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 89.8 percent of the state’s population is White. Only two states—Maine and Vermont—have a larger percentage of Whites. The national average is 62 percent.

The next largest ethnic group in West Virginia, at 4.7 percent, is mixed, meaning two or more races. Blacks make up just 3.7 percent and 1.9 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being White, and this is not a self-flagellating column about White guilt. It is just that West Virginia stands out for its… whiteness. In the great melting pot of America, the Mountain State is more of a racially isolated side dish.

The biggest reason for our lack of diversity is isolation. Our population is largely stagnant. Not many people move here. According to World Population Review, 70 percent of immigrants  settle in just seven states—California, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois.

We do have pockets of diversity in the state.

For example, Morgantown is somewhat different because of the University. The WVU student enrollment is still overwhelmingly White—80 percent—but it does attract students and faculty from all over the country and the world.

The Hispanic population is growing in the Eastern Panhandle.  The number of Hispanics in Jefferson County has increased 1.7 percentage points, to 6.3 percent of the total population, in the last decade.  Kanawha County is slowly becoming more diverse.  Its White population is down to 87.5 percent.

Business leaders recognize the benefits of diversity. Indeed.com cites research showing that diversity in the workplace creates better opportunities for problem-solving because people from varying backgrounds bring “different experiences, skills, perspectives and insights together to solve problems.”

West Virginia is an emerging state.  More businesses are discovering the Mountain State is a favorable location.  The blog City Living recently said of West Virginia, “Between the low cost of living and the beautiful landscapes, living in this affordable Mid-Atlantic state really is almost heaven.”

West Virginia needs more individuals from different backgrounds and life experiences to open our minds to new possibilities and add to our cultural richness. Increased diversity may push some of us out of our comfort zone, but it is an important piece of the puzzle for economic growth and a better future.





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