The YWCA’s National mission is to empower women and eliminate racism. With that mission in mind, Wheeling’s YWCA held a panel discussion on race which focused on educating the community on the experience of being a minority in the historically white state of West Virginia.
“When I first moved here I didn’t really know what to expect and like I even bring it up sometimes I go to Walmart and I’m the only non-white person there and that’s kind of hard for me because I’ve never been the only non white person anywhere.”
Elizabeth Ramos, a 21 year old Mexican-American Ohio Valley Native, was one of seven panelists leading a discussion with 50 members of the community about the state of race relations in the valley. Panel moderator, and Community Outreach and Cultural diversity director at the YWCA, Ron Scott is a lifelong West Virginian who has been dealing with experiences like Ramos’ his entire life.
“I’ve had two bosses that have been black. Other than my mother and father, anyone that can make a decision that can affect my life has been white. The first people to touch me when I was born were white. It’s a society I have had to acclimate myself to initially. As soon as I was born I had to operate in a predominately white world. Any other culture doesn’t have to necessarily learn that skill to survive, but we do.”
According to the 2010 census, 93 percent of people in West Virginia are white. Panel member Chad Stradwick thinks panel discussions, like the one held on Thursday, can be the first step toward cultivating more inclusive communities.
“It’s never been up to the oppressed to stop oppression,” Stradwick said. “It’s always been up to the oppressor.”
While the panel is really a first step to opening doors to the often times uncomfortable conversation about race relations, Scott hopes conversations like this can change the view of the “Appalachian man”.
“I’d like the definition of the Appalachian man, hillbilly, West Virginian to be replaced by an idea that’s more similar to like a renaissance, like a jack of all trades. If you’re a black man especially in this area you know how to survive in almost any element. You should be able to hunt, fish, start a small business, rap.”
Scott hopes to facilitate more community discussions in the Ohio Valley about race in the future, including a discussion geared toward teaching children tolerance.