Zoo Cage #100

A Colored Gal in West By God Virginia
By Amina Renee Shepherd

The people who make up the mountain region of West-by-God-Virginia would say they are friendly, nice, and welcoming. They would say their arms are open to all, especially those in need. To a certain degree, that is true. They are everything they say; but for some of us, we see things a bit differently.

I have lived here since 2007. I came to this pretty state of mountains and hills and pepperoni rolls the way so many of us transplants have: I fell in love. My bisexual Black self followed him here because he wanted to come home.

On paper, WV is generally a friendly place. After a while, though, you realize too many here live in a world where everyone looks, talks, acts, and thinks like everyone else. As a transplant, it’s nearly impossible to break down the barriers to make it inside those cozy worlds, even with those who call you a friend or co-worker.

To too many, I am regarded as that one exotic animal in the zoo. The one with natural hair (it’s mine, not yours, so please do not touch). The one who has no problem pointing out the falsehoods and issues of this state. The one who has absolutely no desire to go mudding, fishing, shooting guns, or doing whatever drugs help you pass the time around your neck of the woods. It is lonely being that exotic animal. It very much feels like being the kid outside the candy store with empty pockets and big eyes watching all the other kids enjoy themselves.

Working in WV is also difficult. It’s hard for all of us, of course, because of the lack of good jobs here… but for someone such as myself, a Black bisexual outsider, it’s like constantly jumping hoops in a circus. Needless to say, being the only Black person in the store, or restaurant or office is different. Add in being bisexual and you realize it’s very different.

It’s those differences that force you to try three times harder than your paler-skinned coworkers. If you stop working for a second to take a breath after a busy moment, you pick up reputation for being lazy. If you call off for being sick once, it gets worse. And God/Buddha/Jesus, do not ever attempt to stand up for yourself here. You are just the exotic animal in Zoo Cage #100, darling.

Zoo exotics don’t have feelings. We are there to have you all patting yourselves on the back over how tolerant you are. As you go out to dinner with your family, sometimes surrounded by the White coworkers you invited in front of the exotics, you can brag on being so kind to that Black girl Amina and how fond you are of her. And yes, I believe you are fond, because deep down, the people here are good at heart. Your eyes are blinded, though, because you choose to keep the exotics firmly in their place.

We work with those people. We go to school with those people. We even friend those people on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. (But have you ever invited them home to meet the family?) “Of course not,” you all say. That’s not done. Not around here. Welcome to West Virginia, as seen through a Colored Gal’s eyes.