I live and teach in West Virginia and have come to understand the prejudices against and stereotypes of the population of this state. We are a largely underserved population: badly educated, poor, with a history of exploitation by corporate outsiders. When Obama said he understood why some folks would cling to guns and religion, I knew exactly who and what he was talking about.
It is my sincere hope that West Virginia (and the rest of Appalachia) will vote for Barack Obama precisely because of this observation about our culture.
Unlike McCain, to whom folks like us are totally invisible, Obama tries to understand how and why people come to their beliefs. Obama does not mock or turn voters against one another; indeed, he understands that some populations feel victimized, helpless and not a little angry. He recognizes that many of us feel overlooked, even abandoned by our leaders.
It is true that some populations are not as sophisticated as others; it is not true, however, that an apparent lack of sophistication and an embrace of guns and religion translates into ignorance, intolerance or stupidity. This long campaign season has proven that only one candidate understands this.
We all cling to markers of security. We all manage our anxieties with faith in things larger than ourselves (intellectuality, art, religion, family values), ideas that allow us to understand forces that not only frighten, but also genuinely victimize, us.
Here in West Virginia we have selected a Democrat for President in 14 of the past 19 elections. We need to make it an even 20.
As a population that has traditionally been either ridiculed or dismissed altogether by our politicians, we owe it to ourselves to elect the guy who sees us.
It’s the best place to start.