OPINION:Legislature is damaging the state with ‘culture war’ legislation; we deserve better

The Anti-Racism Act of 2023 is anything but anti-racist.

No one, well almost no one, wants to be labeled a racist. That’s why, perhaps, in this Orwellian, up-is-down, down-is-up, lies-are-truth environment we live in, a racist piece of legislation is called The Anti-Racism Act of 2023 (SB130), which unfortunately appears ready to sail through the West Virginia Legislature on the wave of the Republican super-duper-majority.

You see, The Anti-Racism Act of 2023 (a slight revision of The Anti-Racism Act of 2022 which failed because the vote was finished after midnight) is anything but anti-racist.

Why is the bill racist? Because it would create a chilling effect on teachers trying to educate their students on how this nation has been affected by race and bigotry since its founding. If we don’t learn about the reasons behind today’s racial issues, we can’t hope to correct them.

Permit me a small digression: It’s interesting that the same time this bill is marching through the Legislature, so is another one requiring the Holocaust and other genocides be taught. The fact that these two are moving at the same time is another clue as to the intent of the Anti-Racism Act.

Supporters of the Anti-Racism Act argue that the bill explicitly says race, and its role in society and history, are quite properly taught. And they say all the bill does is make it illegal to compel people to hate one race, believe that one race is superior or that one race is privileged.

And they are right on the face of it. But they are wrong, very wrong, in the potential application.

If passed and signed by the governor, this legislation would:

  • Harm educators by causing them to fear losing their job for teaching the truth.
  • Harm our economy by suggesting to businesses looking to locate here that WV is not a place open to diverse workforce.
  • Harm our families by creating an environment that will drive young people from the state.

Don’t believe that? Well, it already happened in Jefferson County last year. A parent was offended by a lesson on redlining – marking certain areas off limits for services, primarily financial, based on race or ethnicity.

Whites were the beneficiaries of redlining. That is the truth.

But the parent claimed the lesson taught that whites benefited because of the color of their skin and blacks didn’t for the same reason. The parent was right, in a sense; the whites did have privilege – but that privilege came not from the color of their skin, per se, but from racist and discriminatory practices that have been ingrained in our systems.

This very incident was cited in the House Education Committee as an example of how critical race theory is being taught. It is not. It is an example, however, of how a lesson on an unpleasant fact can be twisted into something very different. I guess it’s true that some people just can’t handle the truth.

The result of this demagoguery by extremist legislators, who have harangued many of their colleagues into believing this poppycock, is that most of our young people of all political persuasions are looking more and more actively to leave the state.

In a poll commissioned by West Virginia Strong and released by the West Virginia Coalition for Truth in History, 56 percent of all respondents and 60 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 listed concern about the state’s politics as one of the reasons they would hit the road; 63 percent of independents gave that as one reason.

Indeed, the poll shows the legislature’s focus on this and other culture war issues is damaging the ability of our already struggling state to retain or recruit population or a viable work force.

Further, not only do most West Virginians oppose those type of initiatives, but they also want lawmakers to stay out of their private lives and focus instead on lifting up people and improving opportunities.

Other findings:

  • 70 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 34 oppose banning teaching critical race theory in schools.
  • 50 percent of that age group say they could see themselves leaving West Virginia within five years, with only 25 percent saying they definitely would not consider it.
  • 52 percent of voters aged 18-34 said they would be much or somewhat more motivated to leave if high school teachers were prohibited from teaching about past and current racism in the United States.

The sad part is that this initiative, and other similar ones, is not coming from West Virginians, but from national advocacy organizations, such as the Pacific Legal Foundation, funded by extremely conservative, uber-wealthy individuals.

We have only one recourse, really, to this diminishing of our state, and that is the quality of the people we elect to public office. Listen to what candidates say, then watch what they do, then hold them accountable at the ballot box.

It is not a quick or easy solution. But it is the only solution.

John A. Bolt from Morgantown, WV

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