Yesterday I shared some reactions to the predictable reactions to the results in Mississippi’s recent US Senate runoff. I was frustrated–am frustrated–by the holier-than-thou attitudes demonstrated by some outside of the South (and, if I’m honest, within as well) about Mississippi. Some of the commentary, I dare say, would put one in the mind of Donald Trump’s question about whether or not Mike Espy even “fit” the state of Mississippi. Does Mississippi “fit” the United States?
I would argue–have argued–that it not only does fit the US but that it is the US. Mississippi is the United States of America in the most sublime and ridiculous of ways. Out of our pain has come some of the most American artistic creations and we have taken pleasure in our role in some of America’s cruelest moments. I may be unpacking that last statement for a while on these here interwebs, but I’m going to let it sit there for now. I, like Mississippi, take my time.
Friends and colleagues shared my little commentary yesterday. Several folks thanked me for putting into words what they’d been thinking about but couldn’t quite articulate. Others thanked me for just putting down words that had meaning and gave them some sustenance or comfort. And some, inevitably, pushed back, although they didn’t do so in this space, but chose to express their suspicion of my emotional motivations.
I have a chip on my shoulder. I’m defensive. I’m not being fair to other less awful parts of the US.
I will be the first to point to Mississippi’s peculiarity with regard to the legacy of racism in this country. I distinctly recall that, in the Spring of 2010, I told a class of students that I’d never felt my blackness the way that I feel it in Mississippi. I stand by that statement all these years later. Being in Mississippi, however, was just what my bull-headed self needed to experience to finally recognize what I’d been seeing and resisting for so long in all of my dealings with the world outside of Mississippi. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee.
I stand by what I said yesterday, too: Mississippi doesn’t exist to be a dumping ground for the nation’s dismay and anger that racism still exists. Mississippi can’t be the scapegoat for our national sin. To make Mississippi the scapegoat means that we abandon those in Mississippi–who are like others all over this world–fighting for a more perfect union, and it makes it easier to do a little bit less than we can do because there’s nothing to be done about Mississippi.
If Mississippi can do what it did yesterday, Mississippi can–with time and support and encouragement–do all of the things so many of us want it to do.