Stop using Mississippi as a scapegoat for your own discriminationBy Lindsay Macher | 04/13/2016 5:50pm
I have always had mixed feelings about being from Mississippi. I recognized the hate and discrimination that was spread throughout the state, but also saw the suppressed potential in fellow Mississippians. I felt like the only way to deal with my embarrassment and disappointment was to curse the state. This is a warranted reaction for those of us who come from or live in Mississippi and are exposed to its politics and backwards thinking. But for those who do not fall under this category, the beratement is inappropriate and harmful.
Because Mississippi is labelled as a discriminatory place, people find justification in its failures. But what is unfair about this judgement is the privilege and discrimination within. It is easy for a wealthy woman from Los Angeles to talk about the poor diet, growing poverty, and racism in Mississippi, as she eats her organic produce from a Fresh Market in her gentrified, white neighborhood while jamming to T Swift in her Range Rover. It’s easy for the young, middle class white liberal from Vermont to slam Mississippi for being racist as he types a tweet from his MacBook next to his all white classmates. It’s easy for a Harvard fraternity to condemn the universities in Mississippi for lack of diversity and then pat themselves on the back for accepting that one Asian brother. This is by no means a defense of Mississippi’s history and social climate, which needs to be addressed. But what needs to stop is the use of Mississippi as a scapegoat for others’ discrimination. For those who live in a place that allows them to live only around “others” who are exactly like them by fixing housing and schools by race, it is easy to be “accepting.” When given the privilege to only comfortably observe, and never have to actually interact with class and racial struggles, it’s easy to write off an entire state of people as horrible and ignore one’s part in subtle, disguised versions of discrimination and racism. By taking the “Thank God for Mississippi” approach, people dismiss their own discrimination as something that isn’t as bad as another state’s, and therefore not existent.
While I am against outsiders wanting to watch Mississippi “get what it deserves,” this does not imply that the only people who can critique Mississippi are those willing to stay behind and fix it. No single individual is obliged to fixing a place just because they are from there, especially when that place was never welcoming. This does mean, however, that for outsiders who do not understand what it’s like to live in a state that continually votes against its best interests and purposely confuses its constituents, cursing should be halted and assistance should be given.
Because of the Religious Freedom Bill, many famous figures are boycotting appearing in Mississippi. These appearances give those living in the state a moment to gain whatever fuel they might need to keep their fire (for activism, for art, for music, etc.). Regarding Mississippi as a place that deserves to burn neglects and fails those who are negatively impacted and unable to leave. If those in power don’t even care about how their constituents feel, they won’t be fazed by a random famous person’s demands.
Seeing the recent call for a boycott of Mississippi businesses, I cannot help but feel angry. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate and the lowest education ratings in the country, while simultaneously holding the largest black population by percent of any state. If Mississippians had ever been given the same resources as those berating it had, these ratings would be different. Boycotting Mississippi will drive those already living in poverty even further beneath the poverty line, and will not change the minds of those stubborn enough to pass such a discriminatory bill in the first place. Boycotting will hurt the black population that is actually living in the state. White liberals are all so afraid of resembling the very bigots people of color must face daily, that instead of advocating for actual change, they make sure to comment on social media on how much they disagree with them and hope their businesses fail before retiring for the night.
By turning their backs on places like Mississippi, outsiders ignore real people who are making changes on their college campuses, high schools, neighborhoods, churches, and households. They ignore those who are scared, daily, but continue to protest and fight, instead of sitting around observing from the outside and condemning a place they never had to experience.
Lindsay Macher is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. Her column runs biweekly.