Visit Almost Heaven, Ms. Harrop
At least Froma Harrop knows there is a West Virginia. A fair percentage of people think we’re the western half of a state governed from Richmond.
So give Harrop, a syndicated columnist whose work appears in about 200 newspapers, credit for checking her geography book before she wrote about us this week.
Stop giving her credit at that point, however. Her column, with the suggested headline of “Is West Virginia a Cult?” is full of the kinds of stereotypes bigoted pseudo-intellectuals use to make themselves feel superior to others.
It is demonstrably untrue in some places.
Harrop’s column, which you can read in full at the bottom of this page, begins with a mention of the chemical spill that affected about 300,000 West Virginians earlier this month. “Though some state legislators have called for reforming the state’s famously lax regulations, the general response has been to yell at the media and outsiders,” she claims.
No, Ms. Harrop, that has not been the general response. I have not heard a single West Virginian criticize proposals for much more stringent regulation of chemical storage facilities.
As far as blaming outsiders, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been criticized. Could that be, as I noted in last week’s column, because the agency claims two of its top five priorities are safeguarding the nation’s water and protecting us against dangerous chemicals?
Harrop’s theme is that Mountain State residents allow absentee landowners and big corporations to exploit us and ruin our environment. She says we “suffer more from servility than bad luck.”
She adds that “creating an aura of specialness that must be protected from outside influences is how cult leaers keep their members in check. It takes a good deal of mind control to turn mass sucker-dom into a bragging point.”
You get the picture.
At one time, Harrop would have had a point. Some West Virginians still remember when mining and timbering left huge, ugly scars on our state, when coal operators ran their operations ruthlessly – something like absentee mill owners once did in Rhode Island. Harrop, who lives in that state, probably would take offense at an out-of-state columnist who suggested that still is the way things are.
Things have changed, as Harrop might have learned had she visited us before penning her vicious screed.
Do we still cope with challenges on issues such as mine safety and the environment? Yes. But our attitude is to tackle them, not sweep them under the rug.
In some respects, we’re more progressive than many other states. For example, according to the federal government, about 2.9 percent of the electricity generated in West Virginia during 2010 came from hydroelectric or other renewable sources. That’s about twice the rate of Rhode Island (which, incidentally, generates almost all its power with natural gas. Wonder how much of it comes from West Virginia?)
Near the end of her column, Harrop claims West Virginians are “bursting with prideful self-pity …”
Some Mountain State residents are filled with self-pity. A Gallup Poll last year found ours was the state with the highest percentage of respondents “feeling stressed.”
No. 2 was Rhode Island.
Many West Virginians think there are good reasons for us to be “prideful.” We love our state, one of the most beautiful in the nation. We know our fellow West Virginians to be among the most compassionate folks to be found.
And we don’t hate outsiders, even those who make things up about us and seem to despise us. Hey, everyone’s entitled to make a mistake or two.
So we’re angry about the misleading message, Ms. Harrop, but not angry at the uninformed messenger. We’d love to set you straight by showing you a place we think is almost heaven and by introducing you to some really good people.
Rhode Island isn’t that far away. Why not visit us for a few days? We’d love to have you – and what you find here may surprise you.
Myer can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.