The following editorial appears in The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Times-News.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said, without apology, that his comment this past week about President Barack Obama — the nation’s first black president — not being welcome to the state was just a joke. He laughed it off. Seriously. He chuckled. But what we heard was a white guy of a certain age and privileged life who was tone deaf to a national conversation about rampant, persistent and insidious racial injustice in the aftermath of — yet again — the murder of a black citizen by a white cop. 

The governor embarrassed West Virginia just as he did this past school year when he called the Woodrow Wilson High School girls basketball team “a bunch of thugs.” Many of those girls were black, of course, and the governor never realized in his wildest imagination that “thugs” had become in current culture a derogatory label attached to black youth. In a word, racist.

The governor showed us who he was then — either unknowing or uncaring — and did so this past week to erase any lingering doubt. As onetime national poet laureate Maya Angelou wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” 

Justice, of course, is in campaign mode. He has been using the power of incumbency and daily press briefings to brag on the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, to announce various federal grants to worthwhile projects around the state and to jump on the Trump train in a state in love with the president. All seemed to be going swimmingly. But then he stepped in it.

Justice, after excusing himself from his daily briefing to take what he said was a call from the president, said this: “I wanted him to know just how welcome he is in West Virginia. And any president, you know, we should absolutely welcome all but — maybe not Barack Obama. Nevertheless, we’ll welcome any president.”

Yes, of course, the governor was referencing in his customarily bumbling and stumbling manner the energy policies of the Obama administration, which did in fact hit coal states like West Virginia. Employment in the nation’s coal industry, of course, has been in decline since the 1960s because of technological advances but no one lets that mess with the popular if not overly simplistic narrative. Coal barons like this governor and conservative politicians like too many in this state have to have a straw man to vilify. So, yes, they cooked up the War on Coal campaign, which is nothing more than an assault on common sense. It may fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but it fails to pass any serious and critical examination of the facts. And that’s what the governor was referencing, he said.

Meanwhile, protesters were marching in the streets of America, calling for radical change to criminal justice laws, policing procedures and police violence itself. But, hey, it’s just all a little joke about the nation’s first black president while protesters are marching in the streets of America, right, Gov. Justice? Didn’t mean any harm despite all of the evidence of systemic racism.

What the governor does not understand is that at the core of black anguish and rage right now is a fear among blacks that they can be killed anywhere at any time by anyone — especially by law enforcement.

It is a fear black Americans have carried the past 400 years since the first slave ship unloaded its cargo on this continent.

But, hey, the first black president of the United States is not welcome in our state. He’s an easy mark. It’s just a little joke. Get it?

Our governor is a big man but he comes across as a small, self-aggrieved little boy when measured against the giants of those who have stood for the most vulnerable among us.

Be that leader, governor, and can the racist act. It’s not funny.

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