The Art Of Being The Best | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Art Of Being The Best

Just mention "the state's inferiority complex" to a Mississippi native, and he or she will likely respond: "God, isn't that the truth?" Let's just say that residents of our dear state haven't been schooled in the fine art of being the "best." Or, to be more precise, no matter how talented we are personally, collectively, we don't believe we're the best.

There are many reasons for this nasty complex, and most of them are absolutely true, and influence each other. We have unfinished business from the past that continues to shame us (and probably the ones who refuse to talk about it the most). Much of the rest of the country believes we're the worst, not anywhere near the best, so despite all of our wonderfulness, we believe the schmucks. (Input, output, so to speak.)

We score low on so many economic and health indicators that we, as a state, tend to believe we're swimming against the tide, and we often are. Politicians and power-mongers play off these sensitive areas to protect their power base and keep the rest of us divided and suspicious of each other.

Then, of course, here in Jackson, we get a double-whammy, as folks across the state want something to feel superior to, so they make up all kinds of crap about us, and sensationalize other stuff, and lift our entire city out of context on a regular basis, and then throw in some racism to boot, and where are we? Scratching around on the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

What is a city to do?

Exactly what we are doing. We ignore the naysayers, put aside defensiveness, face our past, relish our present, plan for our future, speak up, network, build each other up … and suddenly we start thinking that, well, maybe we're the best, not the worst. How can that be?

This is certainly true for me. I slammed out of the state doing 98 the day after I matriculated at State. Never coming back. Sucks. Blah, blah, yada, yada.

It took me 18 years, and thousands of dollars in storage units as I moved from place to place to figure out that the wizard was brilliant: There just ain't no place like home. Especially when home is this state.

I don't mean that to be cliché (I know, it is). It's just true. Jackson is a simply remarkable city to me. It's on the cusp of so much. I'm fortunate to be in the middle of the bubble, to be a person that newcomers and returners get in touch with—to ask advice, for contacts, to just say, "thank goodness there's a real alternative here." But, the truth is, there wouldn't be a real alternative paper here if there wasn't an honest-to-goodness creative and artist movement for us to document and encourage. And we would be nowhere, as a paper or a city, if we didn't have an amazing corps of locally owned businesses run by daring entrepreneurs who refuse to allow the city's heart and soul to be snuffed out by corporate sameness. Or if we didn't have the everyday activists who show up and speak out and support others trying to do the same thing.

And, yes, we have a young (at heart and otherwise) and energetic black-white-other power coalition that is coming into its own. That means that people of all races are ignoring the mean coots who want us all to hate each other. Instead, we're putting our energy together to help Jackson realize her potential. And we don't give a flying tamale what anyone thinks of that. No matter how powerful they think they are. There's power in numbers, baby, and there's strength in diversity. We got both.

There is also power in putting aside defensiveness. We've had our share of serious, serious problems—and we haven't solved them all. Our lingering racism feeds our poverty, which in turn hurts educational attainment and raises crime. That's rather common sense, but too often we're too blinded by defensiveness to do anything about it. Or, we try to pretend we're something we're not. That doesn't help.

Someone pointed me to a Web site recently that seemed to have good intentions—but still missed a whole side of the boat. The site, while singing the state's praises to the world in case they hadn't heard that Faulkner or Eudora or Sela Ward grew up in Mississippi, is designed to tell the world that we are smart and sophisticated, too, really we are. But it is steeped in defensiveness, even dispelling the "myth" that Mississippi has monster trucks. (Uh, I've had a grand time mudding in monster trucks in my day.) Or, that we have the blues, but no more need to talk (or sing?) about race.

I think it's super to remind the world of the great things about Mississippi. The JFP's Web site certainly does that, and will continue to attract our expatriates, as well as potential newcomers to the state who are shocked that the country's hellhole can have such intelligent people living here. (Bahhh.) But, the problem with that Web site—much like that dumb old "Only positive Mississippi spoken here" campaign by Kirk Fordice—is that it seems steeped in denial. That is, we're supposed to smile wide and pretend that all our problems are over and done with, while we fry up some catfish for our visitors.

The "best" among us know that's not the way to be "best." You become "best" by embracing the past. By owning it, and knowing it, and teaching it. The "best" reach out despite past problems and try to solve present ones, using lessons learned in the past. The "best" ignore the naysayers who tell them it isn't "safe" in Jackson to own a business and damn well do it anyway because they know that's where they can really be the "best." The "best" don't pretend that the city, or the state, just doesn't have something that pains them—whether it be lingering race issues or big-ass trucks.

I teach in my writing classes that to reach people, you have to show them, not tell them. This issue of the JFP celebrates the people and the businesses that are showing the state, the country and the world that Jackson, Miss., is a whole lot more than "outsiders" give us credit for. And that's OK. They'll catch on soon enough.

Previous Comments

ID
71361
Comment

You guys worked really hard on this, great issue, at least the web site version. I haven't received the print one. Take a half day or something. Jackson businesses really do appreciate you guys probably more than you realize, issues like this keep them coming back and issues like this keep us going back to them. Some of these places I do not know where they are...and i know everything. Apparently there are some stones still unturned somewhere around here and that is encouraging. Jackson doesn't have bouroughs like mega-cities but that's ok. There you would expect to not know every hole in the wall place with the next best thing. It is kind of nice to know that there are places that one has not traveled within an area and at the same time others vote it as a best of. It is nice to know that others around are doing there part to support all those that they can and still relish in the city that they love. p.s. i think this one should not have a problem the censors my last few have been a little more risque. But this is a warm and cuddly one.

Author
*SuperStar*
Date
2006-01-26T09:52:54-06:00
ID
71362
Comment

I'm speechless.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-01-26T17:20:59-06:00
ID
71363
Comment

I hope that's a good thing?! ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-01-26T17:43:06-06:00
ID
71364
Comment

It certainly is a good thing. I'm trying to be more sensitive in my responses. A good start would be the advice my granddaddy used to give me too regularly. It was "boy, you need to shut your mouth sometime."

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-01-26T17:47:59-06:00
ID
71365
Comment

But, we like it when you talk.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-01-26T17:49:53-06:00
ID
71366
Comment

Thanks, but I do realize he had a point sometimes. My big mouth helps and hurts me (mostly helps, however). I did eventually learn fairly well when to talk and not to. Surely, he would have been proud of how I eventually turned out. Most, if not all, of your articles speak for themselves without any need for me or anyone to add air to the flame. Work is kicking my tail for the next week or two. I'll be back.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-01-26T18:06:55-06:00
ID
71367
Comment

Understood. Good luck. You do good work on our behalf. Keep it up.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-01-26T20:47:15-06:00
ID
71368
Comment

Donna, I have to agree. You give a balanced view of the city we live in and the people who live in it. I can't speak for everyone, but I have to say that in my opinion the city of Jackson is a better place because of you.

Author
c a webb
Date
2006-01-27T15:35:15-06:00
ID
71369
Comment

Politicians and power-mongers play off these sensitive areas to protect their power base and keep the rest of us divided and suspicious of each other. Ah ha! The crux of Mississippi politics. There is also power in putting aside defensiveness. We’ve had our share of serious, serious problems—and we haven’t solved them all. Our lingering racism feeds our poverty, which in turn hurts educational attainment and raises crime. That’s rather common sense, but too often we’re too blinded by defensiveness to do anything about it. . . . You become “best” by embracing the past. By owning it, and knowing it, and teaching it. The “best” reach out despite past problems and try to solve present ones, using lessons learned in the past. Donna, Donna! What to say when you've said it all? I surely am glad you came back to Mississippi. We so sorely need people who will speak to the truth, and you do it so eloquently. Thank you.

Author
C.W.
Date
2006-01-28T09:48:22-06:00

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