West Virginia May Be Small, But My Worldviews Aren't
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Politics and Activism

West Virginia May Be Small, But My Worldviews Aren't

Hate isn't genetic, it is learned behavior.

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West Virginia May Be Small, But My Worldviews Aren't
Savannah Thomas

If you haven't noticed, people aren't born with hate. Babies don't come out of the womb racist or homophobic. Babies are just happy to be here. As they grow up, their society is what impacts how they treat other people. Think about the place you grew up in -- was it completely free of hate? No place is nowadays. Some hometowns are more tolerant than others, but there are still a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. Your treatment of others is a product of what kind of environment you were raised in, if you let it be. But what if I told you that you don't have to be a product of how you were raised? Maybe, you can change your unwanted prejudiced way of thinking by doing one simple thing: opening your mind to new possibilities.

I was raised in Southern West Virginia by two very loving parents. Both of them taught me that I am not better than anyone else, but also to know my self-worth. I am so lucky to have grown up with the parents I have. However, the society I was surrounded with was a mostly white society -- my elementary school only had two or three black kids that attended. Needless to say, I grew up in a biased society. Some of the people in my hometown were very racist. This doesn't mean by any means that they were harmful or hurtful to minorities and other underrepresented groups in any physical manner, from what I had heard or seen anyway. Thank goodness I didn't have to witness that in my hometown. But some of the things I grew up hearing were unspeakable. The name calling, the stereotypes, the straight up brutal lies that were spread about black people, about people of Hispanic origins, and about people of Asian and Middle Eastern decent.

I had also heard some nasty things said about gay and transgender people. Not to mention, since I live in the "Bible Belt," there were some questionable "Christians" that I lived around who liked to spread these profanities about people. Now, I'm not saying I had the same experience with every Christian I encountered because I went to a great little baptist church for years with the most loving people around to guide and support me. I followed teachings of the Bible, and I grew up learning that marriage was between a man and a woman. However, as I grew older, my perspective on the matter changed. I began to hold the belief that marriage should be for everyone, no matter what gender you are. As much as I loved these people and as much as I wanted to be a part of the church, I couldn't bring myself to deny a matter I so strongly believed in. In the end, I just ended up not having a lot of the same moral or religious views that they hold. And that's okay. That doesn't mean that they're bad people, in fact they're some of the best people I have ever met in my life. It just means we believe differently. They didn't discriminate, and I appreciate them for that. What makes you hateful is when you deliberately target someone and make fun of them or hurt them because of who they love. That's not right. That's not "The Lord's Work." That is HATE and that is SHAMEFUL.

However, growing up in a town where all of this was the norm, it planted a bias in my head that I didn't ask for. I would stereotype people solely on the color of their skin or their sexual orientation in my head before I even got to know them, because of the prejudice that surrounded me. I will admit that. But as I grew up and started attending high school in a different, more diverse section of my town, I started to gain a broader worldview. I became friends with people who were different than me and I realized right then that bias is skin deep, but humanity goes way deeper. That's when I decided that I didn't want to have those thoughts anymore, that I wanted to judge the book by its story, not by its cover.

I have since moved 3.5 hours north to West Virginia University, a college of over 30,000 students from so many different backgrounds. I worked at a dining hall all of the spring semester of my freshman year, where basically 2/3 of the students working there were international students. I met a lady from Columbia, South America, who is pursuing her undergrad. I met a boy my age who is from Zimbabwe, and another who is from Nigeria. I got to witness the opening of the new LGBTQ+ center on campus, which accepts people of all backgrounds who want to help make WVU a more LGBTQ+ friendly campus. I have joined a community that has its faults, but overall strives to include everyone of every race, every sexual orientation, and every background with open arms.

I finally feel as if I've gained the worldview that I have always wanted to have, but there is still so much that I want to learn about inclusion on campus and in the community. Although the unwanted, hateful thoughts still rattle around in my head from time to time, I bat them away with force because I know in my heart that under that other person's skin is a series of muscles, nerves, veins, and bones just like mine. I know that, at our core, we are all human beings, and we are all part of the human race. I realize and will not refute that I have been given privileges in my life that some people of color, or of differing sexual orientations, have not been given. I don't have to worry about being discriminated against for my skin color or my sexual orientation. I recognize that I have it way better off than other folks do in that department. I will always recognize that. And I will always fight to change that standard, to stand up for people who are discriminated against.

Hate isn't genetic—it is learned behavior. Someone has to teach a child to hate before they decide that they do. Why do we continue to feed a rhetoric of prejudice to new minds and set them up to fail themselves and others in the long run? From personal experience, once you grow up and decide that you, at your core, don't truly believe the crap that people tried to feed you as a kid, it's so hard to get those preconceived notions out of your head. That is why, from the very beginning of a child's life, we need to teach them compassion, sincerity, kindness, and above all, love for every person that is walking this earth. But getting rid of hateful speech that has been burned into your brain by society isn't impossible. I have learned that no matter what environment you grew up in, you can train your mind directly towards the path of love instead of the many varying paths that make up hate, and it's so much easier. If more people decided that kindness is more powerful than discrimination, the world would be a much better place. There is, quite literally, no room for all of that negativity in the world.

You don't always have to believe the same things. You don't always have to agree. But when it comes to human beings, we all walk this earth as equals. No one is more superior than anyone else. We all came to this earth to change it in some way, to make an impact. Some people don't have this mindset, and it's disheartening to say the least. So in spite of those antagonistic voices, we can teach our future generations understanding, listening, and caring for one another. Do your kids a favor, and teach them that. Teach them love. The future of our world needs it desperately.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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