Two Steps Forward | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Two Steps Forward

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JFP Editor Donna Ladd

"Leave." That one-word tweet came from a conservative dude in Louisiana, not Mississippi. But he wasn't pleased that I was talking about crazy legislation that the right wing has wrought upon Mississippi once again. I have a way of raising the hair on the necks of folks who prefer empty rhetoric over research-based criticism, especially when I'm talking about issues like women's health and reproductive services; sex ed; voter ID; or, yes, race.

That wasn't the first time someone on the right has proclaimed some version of "If you don't like it here, why don't you just leave?" Back in 1983, I did just that. I grew up amid blatant racism and way too much belittlement of people who had "liberal" ideas (like not letting children starve and ensuring quality public education was accessible to everyone).

Like so many young Mississippians, I high-tailed it out of here to go live in places that I didn't feel would try to force me to conform and be mean to people with less than I had (which, admittedly, wasn't much).

Unwittingly, I became part of one of Mississippi's core challenges: our brain drain. You know the drill: Either you go along with the program here (or lack of one), or you get the hell out. You don't speak up about problems that really matter to "belong." For many of us, that meant being belittled by adults, such as those who called me an n-lover for challenging nasty comments about blacks, or my teacher who told me the Bible said women shouldn't have equal rights. (Yes, in public school.)

Way too many young people can't take the nastiness of the truly idiotic bigoted anti-immigration legislation or the repeated attempts to ban abortion (even if they don't really mean it, and know that Tate will kill it anyway. Wink, wink).

Meantime, those legislators get a line for their next campaign mailer ("I fought the immigrants trying to take your JOBS!"), and bright young people start looking for an apartment many states away. While they're in exile, they create and innovate and become parts of other folks' exciting economies, just coming home for the holidays. Meantime, their mamas and daddies back here keep voting against their own interests because some fool scares them into thinking that some dark-skinned person wants their money or their jobs, and our state stays on the bottom. Rinse. Repeat.

And don't dare bring up race in front of those folks because they couldn't possibly be racist, no way, even if they are supporting policies that clearly hurt one group of people more than others. They might even do as Rep. Gipson did when explaining his anti-immigration stance and say he couldn't possibly be racist because he helped start a Hispanic ministry at church. (Yes, he really reworked the old "some of my best friends are black" excuse that shows a complete ignorance of what racism is.)

I've been in a number of disturbing conversations recently at jacksonfreepress.com where more than one white person has let loose (not using their real name, of course) on black communities because of their conditions and crime. But when I asked them why they think those conditions exist (because if they thought it was because of race, that would make them racist), you could hear crickets. It's as if they've never considered the need to look at why things are the way they are in Mississippi. They don't seem concerned that we have some of the easiest access to guns in the nation and some of the highest gun-related crime rates. They want to rail against "single (black) mothers," but are against sex education and access to birth control.

The reasons clearly don't matter to them.

And, yes, a lot of it is about our race history and problems caused by it that too many have never wanted to acknowledge, much less fix. So we all live with the results of under-funded schools, a bigoted drug war, lack of good jobs, tragic poverty and resulting crime.

I especially love it when someone proclaims that I believe that I am trying to be the hero of black people, as one of them did recently on our site. (That meme is the current rendition of "n-lover.") The joke is on them, though. Why? Because I'm not obsessed with being anything for African Americans other than being fair and kind and compassionate about what people who look like me have done to their communities. If I have an obsession at all, it's with white people.

I grew up completely befuddled and horrified at what people with my skin color were capable of--and not just in individual ways, but in systematic kill-you-if-you-try-to-vote ways. Lynching parties complete with laughing children. Burning the symbol of the faith they supposedly followed in the yards of people who actually followed it. Killing children because they whistled (or wore a hoodie).

African Americans are not the only ones scarred by our history; many white people struggle every day with what our ethnicity has been capable of doing and defending.

It makes no sense.

I've read a series of books recently (including the amazing "There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975)" that have helped me realize that it is "whiteness" that piques my interest.

I am not willing to lock away a significant part of my own history because it makes some white people uncomfortable, and especially if it contains the key to fixing our future (and it does). We can study our past to ensure it doesn't happen again (ahem on anti-"illegals" efforts). I've watched people writhe with shame even as they ask, "Why do we have to keep talking about the past?" Meantime, they are content to allow our communities to be divided by a street or railroad tracks, black and crumbling on one side, white and "nice" on the other.

I'm not. I choose to live and think differently and give voices to others who do as well. The Trayvon Martin case gives us whites a reason to examine the rock we live under if we choose to. We should speak up for Martin, for instance, not because he was perfect, but because he was a child of God and because we want to live in a different type of world than the one that blames him for his death.

We can no longer allow children to be killed without the need to seek justice--no matter what race they or their killers are. And to stop these cycles, we must take a look at our own history to find the answers we need. We must look backward to move forward.

That, my friends, is the answer to the Mississippi riddle.

Previous Comments

ID
167543
Comment

excellent article, Donna, and oh so true ... white folks need to climb out from under that rock covered with the mold of oppression & the moss of hatred and use the pressure washer on it ... ty for expressing what so many won't ... btw, I'm white too ...

Author
Karen Wil
Date
2012-03-28T19:36:58-06:00
ID
167546
Comment

Thank you for writing such an excellent piece. I hope we all can learn from our past and move forward. I pray for a united Mississippi that is filled with peaceful citizens. I hope that one day our history of hate will be a relic of the past. Again, Thank you, Donna, for writing this article.

Author
Margie Hearron
Date
2012-03-29T11:44:46-06:00
ID
167631
Comment

You know Donna, I realize that your opinion is the only one that matters and everyone except you is a racist, no one's denying that. I know that you left Mississippi for two or three weeks and while you were gone you ate from the tree of knowledge that we in the redneck nation are not worthy of even standing under much less eating from which, again, no one's denying that. But let me tell you something I heard said once. Just so you'll at least pay attention for just a sentence or two I think it's important that you know that it was said by someone who has never lived in Mississippi and these words were smuggled in. This isn't a direct quote but it's close... this person said, you ready? Ok.. this person said that people are individuals capable of their own free thoughts and opinions. People are not color coded as a collective group of thinkers. As difficult as this may be for you to swallow do you know that not only have I never run over a black person in a 4wheel drive redneckobile, I've never even thought about it? While I'm on a roll I'll also tell you that I personally believe it is very possible to dislike a person and it has nothing whatsoever to do with their race. If that weren't true I'd like you but I'm pretty sure I don't. I find you to be self righteous and condecending to both blacks and whites both of which you treat as a collective group instead of individuals. Your insistance of speaking for blacks in this state comes across as lending your superior intellect to their cause because they aren't intelligent enough to do it on their own. And then there's your insistance on implying that anyone with a different view than yours who is cursed with white skin is a racist by default. And why? Because that's your life's experience. We all have our opinions and views and each one of us arrived at them through our own life's experience which may or may not be the same as yours. In that sense we're all right and we're all wrong but I find it extremely arrogant of you to insist on the world we live in adjusting their perception of life to fall in line with yours. I don't have the first clue what your life was like but I'm willing to bet it involved recess being a less than pleasant experience every day. For the life of me I cannot understand why you insist on keeping atrocities committed by people who are dead to other people who are dead alive and in front of us. We all need to learn from history and move on. If some guy stood you up for the prom and humiliated you then by your reasoning it should be brought up every single day and never forgotten. By your reasoning any negative thing that happened to you from then to now is a direct result and the responsibility of the guy who did that to you. Does being retold that story everyday at lunch with your friends make you want to like that guy or does it just keep your resentment alive? Of course you are the exception and you no doubt would have forgiven him and enjoy the daily stories being passed around at lunch about how you cried and how stupid you looked with your dress on and no place to go. But people who weren't blessed with that week you spent out of state learning to be better than us may not feel that way Donna. They may go to their grave hating that guy and letting him know it. He apologized to you several times and he's just damned tired of hearing about it now so he no longer gives a s**t how you feel about it. Maybe that's what you're hearing from your readers Donna. Maybe they're telling you they're not going to apologize because their father stood you up for the prom and that you need to take some personal responsibility for your life and quit blaming it on that night. Maybe there was a time when they were willing to make amends because they felt bad for you but it was never enough. And maybe they know that from all they've seen and heard you just really hate them for what their father did and they've lost sympathy for people who hate them. And last, they wonder why you just want let it go because no one else believes that the negative things that have happened to you since then are solely the fault of that night. Now here's the part where you insult me and really "show me" after you've grossly edited my comment to make it fit your response. After you do that why don't take a poll at your no doubt racially diverse office and see if every single person of the same color has the exact same opinions about every single thing. And just for fun see how many of the really negative ones have moved up the food chain and how many of those with a positive outlook you've had to demote. I'll let you figure out where I'm going with that on your own. I'm sorry, one last thought. For those people living in, let's say Madison since you love them so much, we'll say they're on the "right" side of the tracks. Those living in Jackson where the crime statistics are disguised as community blessings can be on the "wrong" side of the tracks. What do you suggest those living on the right side who have worked hard to earn that right do about getting those on the wrong side in the house for sale next door to them? Pay for it? Give them part of their paycheck? Or just tell them about the prom date which will miracle them up to Madison because they've learned from the past?

Author
Alex0393
Date
2012-04-18T00:56:21-06:00
ID
167636
Comment

Alex, thank you for providing "Exhibit A" for my column above. (For a related earlier exchange between Alex0393, see my previous column, "Living In Hell." I really took him to the woodshed for his offensive remarks about race in this column.) P.S. I had a date for my prom. Actually, it was a banquet. After Mississippi public schools were forced to integrate in 1970, the school board didn't want whites and blacks dancing together at Neshoba Central. So they canceled the prom and had a banquet in the gym instead with no dancing. Afterward, whites went to the country club; blacks went to their own event.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2012-04-19T15:36:08-06:00
ID
167637
Comment

Alex- That has to be the best and most spot on accurate post I have ever read on here.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2012-04-19T17:06:49-06:00
ID
167639
Comment

"I have a way of raising the hair on the necks of folks who prefer empty rhetoric over research-based criticism, especially when I'm talking about issues like women's health and reproductive services; sex ed; voter ID; or, yes, race" Let me add something to the tail-end of your point Ladd, its just not white people - but quite a few blacks in the 50-60 year old range as well, that seem to get quite upset when you challenge the status qou of the legislation in this state? It just seems to be this qoute on qoute "ignorant bliss" on both sides of the track and any time you try to think outside the box - you have hellfire to pay?

Author
Duan C.
Date
2012-04-20T07:23:32-06:00
ID
167641
Comment

Maybe that's what you're hearing from your readers Donna. Maybe they're telling you they're not going to apologize because their father stood you up for the prom and that you need to take some personal responsibility for your life and quit blaming it on that night. I would hazard to say that the mere idea that this metaphor works in your mind -- that there's somehow a relationship between: (a.) being stood up for the prom and (b.) decades of slavery followed by a century of legal suppression and terrorism, followed by a generation of urban renewal policies, redlining, profiling, criminal justice policies and uneven "drug war" policies... The fact that you think you've made an argument here suggests there is still work to be done when it comes to what you call "learning from history." What do you suggest those living on the right side who have worked hard to earn that right do about getting those on the wrong side in the house for sale next door to them? Pay for it? Give them part of their paycheck? Or just tell them about the prom date which will miracle them up to Madison because they've learned from the past? (Aside from the fact that this seems to assume moving to Madison is the answer to everyone's problems... ahem...) the answer would simply be to understand that for hundreds of years, certain people were denied the freedom to create and build WEALTH within their families and communities because of the legal restraints placed on them because of their ethnicity and heritage. It's also instructive to realize how that differs from your own access to capital, wealth and opportunity, even within your own lifetime. The pursuit of policies that offer education, opportunity, access to capital and that encourage wealth-building for all Americans would begin to right the wrongs of the past. You seem to relish the idea that these issues are ONLY a question of personal responsibility. At the same time, you RECOIL dramatically at the idea that you should personally take any responsibility for the situation being the way it is. Not because it's your FAULT... but because it's your PROBLEM. It is, at least, if you want to see the city, the state and the country succeed. We really won't get ahead in all of this until people come to realize that it's a community effort, and we need all hands on deck. We're either going to pull together as that community, or we're going to fail as a nation.

Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2012-04-20T08:56:08-06:00
ID
167642
Comment

The other funny thing about that statement of Alex' that Todd just quoted is that the vast majority of our readers make it clear that they, too, agree that studying history and learning from is actually a good thing. The support emails, calls and comments we get for our refusal to sugarcoat the past (or deny its connection to the present and future) easily run 100-to-1 over these weird whiny messages from the Alexes and Bubbas of the world who seem to take it so personally that we dare talk out loud about the race challenges Mississippi has faced and still faces in many ways. I always say that it's particularly sad because if these guys got to tell us all how to act and what to talk about (which they don't get to, to their amazement and chagrin), we wouldn't even know how far we've come in our state. They'd just sweep it all under the rug and call our race history stuff "dead people did to dead people," which isn't even accurate. James Ford Seale wasn't dead when we found him in a trailer in Roxie and helped send him to the slammer, and my friend James Meredith is very much alive and kicking after surviving being shot and having M-80s thrown at him on the Ole Miss campus. (I love the journalism report that he didn't flinch when they went off right behind him. That is the James Meredith I know and love today: he doesn't flinch, no matter what, and that inspires me.) And the very, very inaccurate metaphor of dates at the prom really makes me feel sorry for Alex even more. He just doesn't get that our entire society--from the business community to the Legislature to cops--conspired to inflict that white-supremacist crap on all of us (and some still want to, such as by not wanting us all to talk about it.) It has long been devastating to people of color—from violence to the redlining stuff that Todd talks about. But it also poisoned, and still poisons as we can see from Alex's post, the minds of white Mississippians who have bought the racist argument that success and conditions of neighborhoods and schools are just about who's willing to work the hardest. He doesn't know what he doesn't know, and he doesn't want to know. He wants to blame African Americans for many decades of oppression and he refuses to answer my question from one of the earlier columns I linked about WHY he thinks some (he probably thinks ALL) black neighborhoods are in trouble even if isn't because they're black. (That would make him racist, and we know that can't be true.) The "why" matters, Alex. And if you can't answer it, or won't even ask it, it means you are looking no further than skin color. And that's your problem, not mine. And, friend, I am speaking only for myself when I say that. And you might as well stop trying to keep me from doing that. This is not the MIssissippi where a dude like you could get away with that like it used to be. It's a new world and a new state where a variety of voices are welcome, not just one that sounds like your own. Get used to it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2012-04-20T11:54:50-06:00
ID
167644
Comment

First, let me say that I am posting with my real name, and not hiding behind a "screen name". I also live in Leake County, near Carthage. I think Alex pretty well summed up the bigotry of your blog, but probably got a bit carried away and side tracked with his "prom" references. Your blog, in my opinion, is more biased and bigoted, by far, than his. Your verbose is right in there with the original one sided "reportig" by the major networks on the Martin fiasco. You are surely aware that they have, since, been forced to admit that they edited and doctored their videos to show that the killing could not have been self defense. One of our major problems is that our media has become much more interested in sensationalism than in news reporting. This has caused Zimmerman to be presumed guilty without a trial, to the extent that he will have to live in hiding until his trial, as he has bounties on his head by black radical groups. In short, I think you are the pot calling the kettle black - - - or do you consider that a racial slur? Bigotry is bigotry, no matter what color you are!

Author
JoeReeves
Date
2012-04-22T17:12:01-06:00
ID
167645
Comment

Carthage? You're from over in my neck of the woods, Joe? Where did you go to school? I went to Neshoba Central, as I said. Now to the topic: "Bigotry of my blog"? You're going to have to be more specific, Joe? Who am I being bigoted toward in my column above or my remarks?. This is a column about the need to talk about our race history and use it for the future, and the fact that even white southerners have the right (and I would argue, need) to do that. It is responding to people who don't want us to talk about things "dead people did to dead people," to use Alex's words, and telling the fools who try to tell me to "leave" for doing that to kiss my biscuits. My impression is that you and Alex seem to think it is "bigoted" to even have that conversation? Against whom? Which part of talking about race history (and current race challenges) is bigotry? And which part do you disagree with? If you're agreeing with Alex's comments, I presume you believe we should all not talk about history, or at least the bad parts? Do you, for instance, believe we should never bring up the Holocaust? Do you tell the Civil War re-enactors to "leave" rather than studying and acting out what dead people did to dead people? Do you think we should stop studying and commemorating D-Day? Should we never bring up 9/11 again? Or is it just certain history that you wish to be hidden away in the lockbox? Y'all are going to have explain this a bit clearer so we be clear on what history you find acceptable to revisit and which isn't appropriate—not that it's up to you what I and others talk about. But I am curious. No, the pot-black phrase isn't a racial slur; it's a cliche—and one that you haven't proved applies in this case. If I was doing that, I would be telling y'all to "leave!" because you dare disagree with me. I'm not doing that; I'm responding to you and disagreeing with you. That's called conversation. And I agree with your last statement and say it all the time: bigotry is very prevalent among all groups. Only an idiot would say it wasn't. However, racism has a more precise definition; sadly, many folks don't bother to figure out the difference. As for Trayvon Martin, it sounds like you're just repeating talking points on that because you're one of those who are angry that so many people called for Zimmerman to be arrested. Blaming the media on this one, though, is inaccurate. The media didn't even pay attention to this story for weeks. It was his family and many in the black community (not media) who drew attention to this horrendous miscarriage of justice -- that Zimmerman wasn't arrested for killing an unarmed teen. The media finally responded. It does sound like some in the national media (whom I'm a huge critic of as well) did stupid things on the story once they finally were forced to look at it, but that doesn't change the facts that show that it was absurd not to arrest Zimmerman. (That guy at MSNBC who edited the tape sounds like he wanted to be new Andrew Breitbart.) Whatever is revealed in the trial of Zimmerman will ultimately decide his guilt. But the wider point of the Martin case is that it is a chance for white people to examine how young blacks' lives are not valued in the same way. Had Martin been white and Zimmerman been black, and in the same circumstances, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the John Birch Society (folks who are also hawking your talking points, Joe) would have been screaming about it being a miscarriage of justice. Their blatant racism (and selective outrage) aside, they would have been right. The triggerman should have been arrested under these circumstances. The fact that he wasn't in this case is what is so disturbing, along with the fact that so many whites are so stuck in their race frames that they somehow see it as a slight upon them that many people called for the arrest of Zimmerman. Using this one as your example of bigotry does not shine the best light on your case, Joe, but you might be too locked inside your own defensiveness to see it. There's a different path than y'all are choosing, gentlemen. You can choose to walk in someone else's shoes, to look at the world with different eyes than the ones who were probably raised to see through. There is a whole new world waiting on the other side, and it's filled with much more love and compassion than defensiveness and distrust. You should try it. It's really a wonderful place to live, and we welcome y'all to join us there.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2012-04-23T08:11:56-06:00
ID
167649
Comment

Yes, I grew up very near you, where I finished high school at Edinburg in 1950, probably a few decades before you, did. At that time, Neshoba Central did not exist, and there were about 10 schools in Leake County, and about the same in Neshoba County, but that's for another discussion. I also finished college at MSU. I also taught high school, for 4 years, in the late 1960s. I'm sure I have more first hand experience concerning the turbulence of racial discrimination, and forced integration, than you can imagine. You imply that I am a bigoted racist, because I called you bigoted. Well, here are a few of your comments, in quotes, that I would consider bigoted: "truly idiotic bigoted anti-immigration legislation." I could only assume, from this, that you are bigoted against anyone who thinks that our immigration laws should be enforced. I have, while in the US Navy, spent time in Newfoundland, Iceland, was home ported in Naples, Italy, and made several other Mediterranean ports. Where ever I visited, I always got a Berlitz book and learned enough words and phrases, of the host country's language to get by, as I was the visitor to their country. That is why I believe that legal immigrants should learn our (English) language, and that "Press 1 for English" is ridiculous. "and bright young people start looking for an apartment many states away." And I guess, that would make me stupid, since after seeing several foreign countries, and traveling to most of the states in the USA, including Alsaka, and all but one of the Canadian provinces, I chose to spend my retirement in my home state? Whoops, I forgot that you decided to come back, too! But maybe that was just to try to re-educate all of us ignorant bigots in this state? "They don't seem concerned that we have some of the easiest access to guns in the nation." Yes, I am a gun owner, and have a carry permit. Fifty or sixty years ago, I could see no point in carrying a gun. Now with crime rampant, everywhere, especially in our city of Jackson, I do feel the need. I do not feel the need to patrol my neighborhood, since my law abiding neighbors have their own guns and know how to use them. I suspect that this is why we have no crime and the criminals look for softer targets. A bit of study will show that some of the most violent and crime ridden cities in the USA are the ones which have strong prohibition of guns. "If I have an obsession at all, it's with white people." Oh, so you admit being bigoted towards white people? "We should speak up for Martin." When all the evidence is in, and it is determined whether, or not, Zimmerman fired in self defense, THEN I will decide who to stand up for. "Whatever is revealed in the trial of Zimmerman will ultimately decide his guilt." With that I am in total agreement! I hope all the rable rousers, on both sides, can accept the outcome of that trial. "Council of Conservative Citizens and the John Birch Society (folks who are also hawking your talking points, Joe)" I do not support any of the political rable rousers, whether it be the John Birch Society, the KKK, the Citizen's Council, the NAACP, the Black Panthers, the ACLU or the Democrat or Republican Parties. I would like to support any candidate who does not put self first, party second and the good of the country last, if at all. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of the later in years. So there we have it. Is not calling any person, who does not share your beliefs, a "bigot" and stupid, not a rather bigoted position? Joe T. Reeves

Author
JoeReeves
Date
2012-04-23T12:29:12-06:00

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