Everybody is singing “Mississippi, Goddamn” today, rolling out their progressive bona fides and dunking on this state in the aftermath of yesterday’s US Senate run-off election. Mike Espy, a black man who had the audacity to run against the appointed representative of Mississippi caucasity, Cindy Hyde-Smith, lost. A nation’s two-week-old hopes for change in the state Most Likely to Show Up in a Hoop Skirt to Obama’s Inauguration were dashed by the (predictable) voters in this most racist swamp backwater. The narrative wheel rolls on.
I’m tired of this sheepfold bleating. I’ve lived in Mississippi for over ten years now, in the Deep South for my whole life. One thing that I know about white folks in the South is that as long as they have someone considered lesser than themselves, they can hold their heads high in a shack with cardboard covered windows or peer down judgmentally from their four-door pickup trucks or sneer from their compact and energy efficient hatchbacks. They can hold their heads high and vote over and over and over again for the white man (or woman, in this case) who will let them keep feeling like they are better than something.
It’s never stated that overtly in our modern discourse, although lately the veneer of egalitarianism is wearing dangerously thin. This nation elected–not once, mind you, but twice–an educated, smooth, beautifully made black man and his beautiful black family to be the nearest thing we have to royalty in this country, and the response to that was both a national sigh of relief that we had “slipped loose the surly bonds” of our racist past and a rude awakening to the knowledge that the racists were still inside–had always been inside–the house.
And so we got the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the ratcheting up of the Fox News/right wing propaganda machine and the poison spread from one node on the system to another until we got the current resident of the White House, who has clearly made it his mission to erase any vestiges of the black folks that sullied that space (the government it represents) by daring to sleep in the beds instead of making them.
You feeling good about yourself yet? Self-righteous because you aren’t one of them? Shaking your head about those cretins in Mississippi/Georgia/Florida/Texas/Cloudcukooland who keep on showing how awful they are by electing people like Trump and Hyde-Smith and Cruz and on and on and on?
That–that right there–is a HUGE part of the problem.
No, I’m not going to argue that we have to reach across the aisle and play nice with Nazis. I’m not a fatalist. I am going to hold a mirror up to you, though, and remind you that you are not that far away from your own Mississippi, that Mississippi has been a fundamental part of this nation from its inception, that when you woke up on the morning of November 9, 2016 you realized that you’d been living in Mississippi all along.
Mississippi does not need your scorn and your mockery and your derision. Mississippi does not exist to be your political punching bag to help salve your wounded progressive soul. Your violent behavior toward Mississippi is just your misplaced anger and ire in the face of what you’ve known all along: that this nation is deeply racist, fundamentally so.
There are no magic bullets. Y’all got all excited about Espy’s chances after what you perceived as a less-than-satisfying narrative conclusion to the mid-term elections. You wanted a big symbolic win because you believe in Hallmark card fairy tales where people make enormous changes to their beliefs and behaviors when presented with a bit of holiday magic.
You can’t have that. Black folks, in particular, have known the truth of that in this country all along, but y’all are just waking up to that reality. Change takes time and work and hope. Obama tried to tell y’all (and Obama wasn’t a saint, but that’s a story for another day), but y’all were too enthralled with his basketball playing and Biden Bromance to listen.
So lay off Mississippi, OK? While you’re humming along with Nina, start replacing the names of those southern landmarks with ones more local to you and get used to feeling how well that shoe fits so many places in this nation. Mississippi is everywhere.