Editorial: West Virginia is more than what the media portrays

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BBC “CNN is known as the Communist News Network in these parts,” says Curt Kershner, a representative of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, who attended the Roadkill Cook-off festival in Pocahontas County.

Nestled in the midst of the Bible Belt, West Virginia is the embodiment of classic southern charm and Appalachian culture. Some of us reside in hollows and pronounce them “hollers.” We sip on sweet tea and enjoy the beautiful connection with nature. We show kindness when we can, and we fight fiercely for the things we believe in. It’s time we start sticking up for our state in the same way we do our family or friends when they are mistreated.

Media is anything but kind to our home state. Then again, who can blame them? Many people who reside here are guilty of the same kind of ridiculing and stereotyping that we see all the time. The same people who complain about the pitiful way outsiders view them take to Facebook to complain about the “welfare queens” and the “lazy druggies.”

On Oct. 3, BBC News published an article with the headline, “Among the forested hills of West Virginia, residents of a small town have taken to cooking roadkill to revive their flagging economy.”

The story twists the information about a Pocahontas County festival that in itself is intended to poke fun at the stereotypes surrounding the state. BBC wasted an opportunity to showcase the culture that is so often written off by the majority of the world.

Let’s be clear: West Virginians do not really eat roadkill. We do wear shoes. We are not all toothless and uneducated. If the worst parts of an area are all that you search for, you are sure to find these flaws anywhere that you go.

The New York Times released an interactive map in 2014 depicting the “hardest places to live in the U.S.” Almost every county in West Virginia falls at the lowest end of the ranking, with the conditions only expected to become worse.

We can’t ignore the economic struggles in the southern part of the state. In August, WVU economists classified six counties as being in a great depression in August: Boone, Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell and Clay. Despite the issues these areas are facing, West Virginia is full of some of the most resilient people in the world. When faced with obstacles, we come together and find ways to overcome the circumstances facing us.

The citizens of West Virginia may be the only view that those out-of-state get into the true nature of the culture. The diversity of the world is only seen when it is sought out.

For every drug overdose story, there is the story of a recovered addict who is working to better their community. For every story about welfare abuse, there is a story about someone who has pulled themselves up from the bottom to be better than the circumstances they have always known. For every story about the lack of education in West Virginia schools, there is a success story of a young adult who paved their own path and became a first-generation college student.

Never, ever judge a book by a cover. And when it comes to West Virginia, never judge us by the stories written by reporters who clearly do not know our people.