"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.