I have a hangover of sorts.
I could almost call the last 10 days of my life over-stimulated with important, hairy, life-changing ideas, or ones that promise to be. Within the course of a week, I attended the inaugural TEDx Jackson in Fondren (the state's first) and then headed out to Dallas for a series of sessions about structural racism first by the Kellogg Foundation and then at the national Facing Race gathering of more than 1,500 people.
At points, my head felt like it might explode with all the forward-thinking chatter—from UMMC's telehealth to Melody Moody's sermon on the need for a bicycling culture here in Jackson. From there it was deep conversation about the dangers of pretending that our society is post-racial and our playing field suddenly level when it's so clearly not.
Then, of course, there were Pam Shaw's passionate remarks about both the discriminatory history of public education and the need to strengthen it at TEDx Jackson—arguably the most important talk we heard that day.
Everything I heard at these gatherings, though, was underscored by remarks that Ward 1 Jackson City Council candidate Charles Barbour made to this paper, though—words that I couldn't get out of my head and still can't. He both attacked public education and outright blamed the black family--and a (supposed) complete lack of role models that work for a living--for the problems that many African American youth face. Because, you know, every black person is completely the same and, to his logic, pretty worthless.
Barbour said that public education can't be expected to fix this general malaise he blames black folks for: "When you have black boys being raised up never to see how a black man is supposed to work. They're never around a positive black male role model. It's very sad, but Jackson Public Schools system cannot fix that."
Now, this kind of race coding to get a certain kind of vote is nothing new; in fact, his Uncle Haley and his mentor Lee Atwater helped design the "southern strategy" of using black single welfare mothers and black super-predator criminals to scare up white votes for Republicans, including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
And a part of that whole backward game is convincing white people not to support public education that is going to help all those good-for-nothings who don't do for themselves.
All of us have heard this garbage over and over again, especially if we're white, because we're the target audience for it. In some ways, we become immune to such political nastiness. But, in the spirit of big ideas and the problems that block them from happening, it's time to say "enough!" and call this out for it is. If we don't, we're no better than all the white folks in Mississippi in the 1960s and before who justified underfunding public schools and maintaining segregation by talking about how dangerous and lazy black people were. (Anyone else seeing the similarities in the rhetoric here?)
So I'll say it: Barbour's comments were complete and explicit racism. It's the kind of race-baiting B.S. I don't want to see in my city, and I sure don't want it to win votes from white folks for these so-called great role models think are bigoted enough to buy it. We're better than that, Jackson—yes, even those who live in northeast Jackson.
Don't take the bait. Be better. Prove we're different these days.
Some will continue resorting to logical gymnastics to say "he's right, though." Because, of course, it must be true because just look at crime and poverty, etc., etc.—if it's not the black family's fault, whose is it?
Umm, maybe it's the fault of many decades of discriminatory policies specifically designed not to allow families of color to build wealth or political power, much less vote. Maybe it's the fault of a criminal-justice system that gives longer sentences to (or kills) black men for lesser crimes than those committed by whites. (And if you're white and from Jackson, I dare you to say honestly you don't know a white family whose child hasn't gotten out of a drug arrest either because of who they knew or due to a little donation.)
Maybe it's the fault of a completely unequal public-education system with funding largely based on the economic health of communities, meaning that students of color get the shaft when white families flee elsewhere and take their tax dollars with them.
Maybe it's the fault of politicians, like Barbour favorite Ronald Reagan, who helped manufacture a public-education "crisis" to feed the fears of white people still reeling from their then-beloved public schools being forcefully integrated a decade before.
Maybe it's the fault of banks and lenders and landlords and realtors who "redlined" people of color out of "good" neighborhoods and business opportunities due solely to their race as recently as the early 1980s—and often by the very role models that people like Charles Barbour believe are missing from the lives of young people of color.
These simple facts about what built today's inequality are not discussed by people like Mr. Barbour, though. They still use the same old-school scare tactics that should offend white voters because they assume we're too dumb to see through the lies and reject them. They proudly tell the world we white folks haven't changed.
It's up to all of us to stand up against this kind of backward demagoguery that is designed to divide and conquer us—whether over decent health care or simply bringing our schools up to even "adequate" levels.
Why is this even an argument in the 21st century? These folks slam and defund our public schools and then tell us we can't have the resources to fix the problems. They damn well know, if they're not complete dumbasses, that underfunded education leads to crime, continued poverty and an untrained workforce, all of which stifle the state's economic status. Is it really more important to continue these problems so people like Mr. Barbour have something to blame on "the other"?
Yes, I thought about Charles Barbour and these remarks a lot over the last week or so. I even tweeted about them as I sat in the Capri and listened to TEDx Jackson speakers inspire us with creative ideas for our state and challenge us to believe in our potential.
I am certainly "ridiculously optimistic," as Kermit the Frog urged there, about this state's ability to overcome our past, build new and stronger institutions, decide to educate our people and step up to the plate with the big boys. I'm all in and have dedicated my life and work to it. But we won't, and can't, do it if we refuse to plug our foundation's historic holes, especially in education.
Our state's future starts and ends with good, funded public education. It's time to tell the Barbours and their buddies to stop playing games with our state's children and our shared economic future. You can't run a damn thing "like a business" if you refuse to invest in it with your resources.
Any decent role model knows that.