Red istricting is the process by which new political boundaries for elections are created every ten years. The rules for these are decided at a state level, thus in WV with a Republican supermajority the process is decidedly lopsided. While partisan redistricting is problematic in a very large way, this year’s process became even more disturbing on Oct 11 when the proposed House of Delegates map was altered at the request of Delegate Brandon Steele who represents Raleigh County. The reason behind the change? To protect the physical well-being of Delegate Caleb Hanna. Now you might ask how a change in the drawing of districts would accomplish this… Well, you would have to understand that Delegate Hanna is a Black man and the original proposed district would have encompassed the Pocahontas Co. headquarters for the white nationalist group National Alliance. Delegate Steele is quoted as stating, “I did not want to put (Hanna) in a situation where his life might be at risk.” A modified map with Delegate Hanna safely separated from the National Alliance HQ eventually passed the House of Delegates.
The circumstances surrounding this political complication are fascinating, but beyond that, it is a rare but concrete demonstration that at least some Republican legislators are aware of the reality of racism and white supremacy in this state. If you follow politics in WV, you would know that the GOP in WV is the party that recently authored bills that would preserve confederate statues and would prohibit the teaching of “divisive concepts” (aka mentioning racism or white supremacy or sexism) in schools or workplaces. Their standard line is that racism isn’t a problem here, we dont have any white supremacist bones in our bodies, and in fact its actually white people that are being oppressed by liberal snowflakes. Regarding the confederate statues bill, Del. Steele went so far as to publicly state, “This is not a racist bill.”
But now we know the truth. Delegate Steele knows that racism is a problem. I would even venture to guess that he and many of his colleagues likely know that protecting confederate statues is racist. He knows that it can be dangerous for Black people to live in WV, and that a Black candidate could be risking his or her life to campaign in certain communities. This is a message that Delegate Danielle Walker from Monongalia Co has been trying to communicate during her tenure, yet she has been ostracized, rid iculed and most recently called a “bitch” by a public official for trying to highlight safety issues in her community. Why do we only believe in racism when a white man says it?
West Virginians need to move beyond inauthentic denials and work toward solutions if we are to have a future. We have a problem as a state – one that wont be fixed by shifting any number of political boundaries. If we can acknowledge that racism exists and is dangerous for Delegate Caleb Hanna, then we must acknowledge that he is not the only one impacted by white supremacy. We must educate, take action, and elect those who will support anti-racist politices until candidates and people of all skin colors and backgrounds can move freely and safely throughout the Mountain State.