When Americans usually think of colonialism, they tend to think of the dark forests of Africa, with white men enslaving the natives or of the oppression of Native American tribes.  What most people don’t realize (and certainly don’t think about,) is that a form of colonialism happens every day, in any state that has a natural resource that can be exploited and a populace that can be made to believe that that resource is their only path to economic salvation.

Take, for example, the state of West Virginia (or Kentucky, or any one of several states.)  Everyone knows that good ol’ WV is one of the most prominent producers of this coal in this country and that a great many people in that state rely upon that resource for their livelihoods (full disclosure:  my Family happens to be one of those.)  What people don’t realize is the terrible toll that coal mining, of all stripes and varieties, has upon the environment (some are worse than others, such as mountain top removal, but that’s a separate entry,) and upon the people living in the coal fields.  Coal mining frequently causes tremendous environmental damage, often dramatically reshaping the topography in ways that can never be reversed, a terrible blow to a state that relies upon tourism as one of its other streams of income.

As if the blatant raping of the environment weren’t enough, the coal companies then go to great lengths to convince everyone in West Virginia that they are a necessary part of the economy and, without them, West Virginia would tumble into a bottomless economic decline.  While this may be true to an extent, it greatly simplifies the issue, and effectively ensures that no West Virgininan in her/his right mind does anything to raise a voice of protest against their actions and policies.  What’s more, they go to great lengths to ensure that any sort of regulation is defeated (usually claiming that it will result in the hacking away of jobs,) while also ensuring that no one does anything to pursue any renewable sources of energy.

Why is this colonialism, you ask?  Well, think about it.  A foreign power comes in to a rural, largely impoverished area, takes over the natural resources, then indoctrinates the oppressed populace with the idea that it is actually doing a good thing for them by taking advantage of their labour.  Sound familiar?  Has anyone seen Avatar?  Ever heard of the Belgian Congo?  I think you’ get the idea.

Alas, not many people are willing to take an active stance on the issue, usually because they are so economically dependent on the coal mining industry and fear that saying anything will result in the economic destitution of either themselves or their loved ones (a fear, I must confess, that I also share.)  Although it is not possible to entirely eradicate the coal mining industry at a sweep, it is time for people in Appalachia to take a stand and to ensure that the coal mining industry faces some accountability for its actions.  Otherwise, if the coal mines continue acting as they have, they’ll turn West Virginia into a toxic waste-dump, pull out, then let the natives figure things out from there.  Talk about colonialism.

Advertisements