There is a media theory called The Spiral of Silence. I was introduced to this theory in an undergraduate journalism course. I remember reading the definition, and having to stop and really think the about the topic. It resonated with me. Simply put, The Spiral of Silence is a social phenomenon that occurs when there is a polarizing topic and one side of the group feels like their opinion is less popular and they don’t voice their opinion at all. They are afraid of backlash, isolation or retaliation from the other group. This is not okay.

Immigration, gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage and the Confederate flag are just a few of the polarizing issues we see daily. I’m sure if you logged onto your Facebook you could find at least 10 more. You may have a strong opinion on these, and you may not. That’s fine – although I encourage everyone to have strong, educated opinions on as many things as they can. What’s not fine is that you might not feel entitled to express your opinion because of who you are, or where you live and do business.

Recently, I’ve encountered The Spiral of Silence in the Mid-Ohio Valley and it saddens me. I’ve even been guilty of it. Lately, the comments on social media and overheard conversations are enough to sicken me. Specifically, I am speaking about the racist comments surrounding immigrants and Muslims in the wake of the world events and upcoming elections.

My second cousin (who is a born and raised West Virginian) lives in Florida with her wonderful husband and sweet and talented young sons. Her husband is Moroccan and identifies as Muslim. He is also one of the most honest, caring, funny, and intelligent men that I have ever met. I love visiting them – their house is always welcoming, and after I leave my stomach is aching from laughing and gorging on Moroccan food. Unfortunately, they are concerned about returning to visit the Mid-Ohio Valley because they don’t want to expose their sons to potential racism – the same racism that they see posted on Facebook from people who still live here.

Additionally, a local business has experienced an act of racism that should shake our community to know that it happened here. The comments about immigration were unfounded and ridiculous. The situation was widely shared on Facebook, and the business stood up for itself, but the thought that it happened locally is upsetting. We pride ourselves on being an accepting community, yet we are slapped squarely in the face with this incident. Many comments on the Facebook page were supportive, but I am sure that many people chose to remain silent. I did.

Today, I am breaking my silence and saying that this is not my Mid-Ohio Valley. We are not a group of people that exclude and hate based on color, creed or any other characteristic that sets us apart from our neighbor. I am against this way of thinking, and I will stand for anyone who wishes to make their home here and become part of such a stunningly vibrant community.

As cliché as it sounds, our differences are what gives us our rich culture and background. I identify as an Appalachian which means my roots are Irish, German and a handful of others who were definitely immigrants at one point. What a disservice it would be to my ancestors who staked claim in this area for a better life to deny that same privilege to another human being.

I encourage you to break your silence as well. Use your privilege to provide social justice for others. I hope, sincerely, that you will seek knowledge on the topics and have enriching conversations with your community members. We live in a country that provides us the freedom to have an opinion – any opinion we would like – yet we often squander that freedom in favor of sharing political memes and unfounded articles via social media. As we head into an election year in a country that is constantly surrounded by fear, I ask you to break your silence and make a positive difference in your community.