Mississippi On My Mind

My ancestral roots go deep in Mississippi, a state that regards itself as God's chosen part of his chosen nation, yet lags behind the rest of that nation in every measure of welfare. For instance, Mississippi ranks 50th among the fifty states in health care, 49th in infrastructure, 49th in opportunity, 48th in economy, and 46th in education.* The state is such a hellhole that it receives more money from the federal government than it pays into it, which makes it all the more extraordinary that Mississippi consistently elects politicians who oppose helping the poor. I can think of a few reasons for this. 

(1) Although poverty plagues the entire state, the 37% of the population that are black suffers more. Because white Mississippians tend to attribute their black neighbors' problems to laziness, improvidence, and sexual immorality, I think it likely that the state's resistance to receiving federal aid is partially inspired by a desire to harm its black residents. 

(2) Mississippi only elects conservative politicians (preferably Southern Baptists) who get misty-eyed while talking of their love for Jesus and who interpret the Bible literally. No candidate who believes in evolution, global warming, or the antiquity of the earth, can win an election in Mississippi, and I would despair of even calling an ambulance if I were openly pro-choice or favored gay rights. Despite this, white Mississippians are wildly enthusiastic for President Grab-em-by-the-Pussy because he at least claims to love Jesus and to support Biblical morality and "science." If pressed to explain their inconsistency, white Mississippians say that, although Trump might fall short of being exactly perfect, well, who is. It is not a tolerance that extends to fetus-murdering, fag-loving, gun-banning Democrats who have never "invited the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts."

(3) From its antebellum era onward, white Mississippians were infamous for their a reactionary mentality and mistrust of the federal government. Envision a belligerent neighbor who decorates his yard with junked cars and half-starved dogs, and you have an image of Mississippi. I'll give two examples: 

Although the state's antebellum economy made a handful of people spectacularly wealthy, the rest of the population's inability to compete with slave labor kept them impoverished, yet this did not discourage tens of thousands of poor Mississippians from marching off to kill "nigger-loving Yankees" so that rich men might keep their slaves, euphemistically referring to that war as a struggle for state's rights. This same mentality remains evident in Mississippi's support of politicians who pander to the state's religious and racial prejudices while opposing its economic interests, only today's rationale is religious liberty, by which is meant the liberty of conservative Christians to force their values, ceremonies, "science," and monuments, on everyone else. 

Here's my second example: during my adolescent years in the 1960s, the state's economy suffered because out of state businesses were unwilling to locate to an area where people were being bombed, shot, beaten, and jailed, simply for exercising their right to vote. It was true then as it is true now that the more the rest of the nation scorns white Mississippians, the more white Mississippians are convinced that they are "suffering for righteousness' sake."

How, then, does Mississippi explain its many failures or the advancement of such secularized areas as New England and the Pacific Northwest? Mississipians quote the Bible to prove that God tests those he loves; they argue that, despite being the prayingest state in the Union, Mississippi needs still more prayer; and they claim that God punishes the parts of a nation for the sins of the whole. As a result of its refusal to act in its own interest or to take responsibility for its failures, Mississippi blames its every problem on someone else. For example, it blames school shootings on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that compulsory school prayer is un-Constitutional ("When the Supreme Court kicked God out of our schools, it invited Satan in"), and I wince when I remember being struck on the head when I didn't stand for opening prayer while on jury duty. Such is the mentality of people who blame violence on too little prayer but, in my case and others, use violence against those who don't pray. It was this mentality that led me to leave the state because I concluded that I had to either stand up for my convictions and bear the consequences, or I had to move to where sanity prevailed. I made the latter choice, although I am still pained by the knowledge that I acted out of cowardice, and that I abandoned those who shared my values.

Mississippi has been on my mind of late because Peggy recently went there to visit her father, commenting before she left that she was about to fly into hostile territory. I could but agree. Although Mississippi could be far worse (in the absence of Federal protections, it could be a Christian version of theocratic Islamic nations), my memories of having lived there for 36 years are nonetheless demoralizing. No one should be made to suffer simply because he or she is a non-conformist or a member of a minority, and I'll never get over the fact that Mississippi's oppressing majority claims moral superiority by virtue of its love for Jesus Christ.



kylie said...

This is what happens when Christian people are prideful and closed to the actions of God in their lives.....which would lead one to wonder if they are in fact Christian, at all.

Elephant's Child said...

Truly frightening.
And while it doesn't relate specifically to Mississippi the following Asimov quote a friend sent me seemed close to the mark.

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" -- Isaac Asimov, Newsweek, Jan. 21, 1980

angela said...

Your not a coward. You cannot change the minds of those that think they know it all and it’s all as they know it
To would be lunacy to even try
Better to start with those that at least can condsider there might be another view point, another way, and work your way from there
You can only do that if you remain sane and safe

Strayer said...

I have never been to Mississippi and have no inclination to visit. I consider many of the willfully ignorant states dangerous, akin to Afghanistan and its dangers, for free thinking women. And men, for that matter. You were no coward to leave, just smart to get out alive.

Tom said...

I've never been to Mississippi. But I've spent lots of time in South Carolina, the cradle of the Confederacy. The state is still backward in some ways, but it's also making progress in human rights, health care, business, education. There's a new African American museum opening up in Charleston. And, I daresay, the metro area of Charleston is no more segregated than the metro area of my hometown of Philadelphia. So we all still have a ways to go.

Snowbrush said...

"This is what happens when Christian people are prideful and closed to the actions of God in their lives....."

Kylie, I grew up hearing the same words (not just the same sentiments but the same words) about people like you, by which I mean people who try to behave openly and lovingly toward humanity as a whole as opposed to limiting their good behavior to the ones who attend their church. It really does seem to me (based upon my experiences and my awareness of history and current events) that religion is primarily characterized by bad behavior, my point being that people like you (and MLK, Jr and Albert Schweitzer, among others) aren't the norm but the aberration. Of course, you can quote verses to prove that all those hateful people are in the wrong, but the problem is, that they can quote contradictory verses right back at you. Whatever of good or bad a person wants to believe, the Bible can be used to justify believing it. It seems to me that the only problem that the God of the Old Testament would have with the Islamic State is that the Islamic State is raping and murdering the wrong people.

"Your not a coward."

I'm braver (or at least more willful) now, but inasmuch as I traded conviction for safety in Mississippi, I was a coward then, Please see what I wrote to Strayer about this.

"You cannot change the minds of those that think they know it all and it’s all as they know it"

I couldn't sell a coat to an Eskimo, yet I feel that I owed my support to those who were fighting the brave fight. I also think that, since the beliefs of the majority obviously do change once critical mass is reached (the more people who think a certain way, the more respectable it seems to others to think that way), my own tenacity might have made some difference. Of course, there are people who, not only stand bravely in the face of intimidation, but who find conflict invigorating, and at the other extreme from such people. Conflict keeps me awake at night, and it possesses my thoughts in a way that is hurtful to me, so perhaps I did well to leave. Besides, I'm impressed by the fact that even in a major war, more soldiers are needed behind the front than at the front.

Snowbrush said...

"I consider many of the willfully ignorant states dangerous"

It's a matter of degree, of course. Although this post is filled with negative generalizations, individual differences exist, and one problem with negative generalizations is that they're unfair to those for whom they're untrue (in this case, white liberal secular Mississippians). Another problem with generalizations is that they allow the generalizer to feel superior, which is something I run into frequently in Oregon when people hear my Southern accent and realize that I'm from Mississippi. I'll be seventy in a few weeks, which means that I've spent almost as much of my life in Oregon as in Mississippi, yet I still identify primarily as a Mississippian. Such is the state's power over me. There have even been times that I wondered if, if I lived alone, I would move back (Peggy has made it clear that I would have to move back without her), if not to Mississippi, then at least to the urban South. I really don't think I would move back because I wouldn't have anything to move back to, my family being dead, but I find it interesting that I would even fantasize about doing so. The difference between Oregon and Mississippi is that, although one might love Oregon, I don't think that most Oregonians identify with Oregon as strongly as Mississippians identify with their state. My point might be better illustrated with Texas because it is well known that Texans tend to identify so strongly with Texas that they often come across as obnoxious.

"You were no coward to leave, just smart to get out alive."

I think I was a coward. For example, when that juror struck me on the head (when I didn't stand for prayer), I stood, something that I wouldn't do today (since that day, I've twice refused to take the juror's oath because it contained the word God), but which I did then because I was consumed by my belief that I was completely surrounded by enemies and had no support from anyone. I want to be clear that while Mississippi is much more in the direction of Afghanistan than is a liberal state like Oregon, Mississippi is nothing like Afghanistan. For example, Mississippi parents don't murder their daughters in "honor killings," and I even knew two Mississippi atheists who rode around with anti-religion bumper stickers on their cars, and while their cars were vandalized, neither was assaulted (much less killed as they would have been in Afghanistan). However, I fear that the atmosphere is more rabid now than it was in '86 when I left. Because of Trump, hostility toward conservatives in places like the Willamette Valley is worse (after the presidential election, a local man was dragged from his car and beaten by a mob because he had a pro-Trump bumper sticker), and by the same token, hostility toward liberals is greater in places like Mississippi. Still, I think that Trump is more the symptom than the cause, the fact being that white religious conservatives believe that their country is being taken out from under them (which it is), and they're acting accordingly. Scared people are dangerous people because they feel that they have nothing to lose.

"But I've spent lots of time in South Carolina, the cradle of the Confederacy."

If you haven't already, and you're ever there again, be sure and visit Brookgreen Gardens at Myrtle Beach.

Snowbrush said...

"'There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

I don't know how I missed your comment. There has been much said about the similarities between the behavior of Trump and that of dictators, one of those similarities being anti-intellectualism. For example, this is a cold winter in America, and this led Trump to ask facetiously, "Where is global warming when we need it?" He is a man who boasts of never reading, yet who considers his beliefs about anything whatsoever superior to the beliefs of people who have devoted their careers to studying that very thing. It is a view that feeds into the common sentiment among ignorant people that, "Scientists don't know everything." In their view, global warming is unimaginable, therefore it's untrue; global warming doesn't appeal to common sense, therefore it's untrue; the Bible doesn't mention global warming, therefore it's untrue. To Trump and his followers, all that is needed to refute a thing is to make fun of it. Evidence is meaningless, logical is meaningless, the overwhelming consensus of scientists is meaningless. As a long ago commentor said to me, "I have a right to my opinion." Yes, stupid people have a legal right to their opinion, but this doesn't suggest that they don't have a rational right. Unfortunately, when the president is one of those stupid people, and the masses elected him partly because he confirmed their belief that their opinions are as good or better as the consensus of scientists, it doesn't bode well. Yet, even though they discount science if these people can but find one scientist anywhere who agrees with them about a given thing, they say, "See there, global warming [or evolution, or the antiquity of the earth] is but one theory among many." No matter that said "scientist" works in a field that is unrelated to the one about which he (he could be a pediatrician for all they care) is making pronouncements, or that he accepts Biblical teachings about nature as superior in every regard to scientific teachings, in their minds, they've found conformation that they were right all along.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi has a higher rate of people graduating from high school compared to Oregon.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

Mississippi and its surrounding states are not places that I would like to visit and especially not live in. Scary, scary people.

PhilipH said...

I'm sorry that your hometown/state is such backwards-sounding place I fully understand your seeming desire to return there. Something akin to "home is where your heart is", engrained in one's psyche mayhap.

I've lived in quite a few towns and cities in the UK, including Wales and Scotland, but my south-London town of Croydon is never out of my thoughts. I would like to be able to live there, but cannot afford it now. Of course, it's so different from my 1950s Croydon. The people have changed, it's been vandalised by so-called 'developers' into a concrete jungle of high-rise office-blocks, and crime is escalating. But it's where I 'survived' my childhood, my youth, my first love. It's where my heart is, even though I'd be so disappointed were I to live there today. An average house there would cost around £300.000 for a small terraced place, even in a dodgy part of town, just not possible for me. Too old for a mortgage and I ain't got a third-of-a-million to splash out with.

Thanks for checking in on my Larkin blog. I've left a reply comment. Cheers Snowy. Hope Peggy got home unscathed.

kylie said...

I know that the bible can be twisted to say anything we want it to say but the bottom line is "does this behaviour show love?"
The fundamentalists seem to be bad at that

Marion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Snowbrush said...

"Mississippi and its surrounding states are not places that I would like to visit and especially not live in"

I would feel that way too if I didn't know what they have to offer in terms of natural beauty and historic interest.

"But it's where I 'survived' my childhood, my youth, my first love. It's where my heart is, even though I'd be so disappointed were I to live there today."

For me, the appeal of my home state has to do with memories of my parents who are, as you know, dead, so I would anticipate going back as an exercise in futility.

"I know that the bible can be twisted to say anything we want it to say but the bottom line is "does this behaviour show love?'"

I think you're taking the position that Judaeo Christianity (at least) is good in its original form, and therefore only bad where perverted, but I would point out that the original form of the Biblical deity supported racism, sexism, and genocide, and that the people who followed his will then behaved like the Islamic State behaves today. Yes, the Bible has admirable verses, but I'm more struck by the fact that those ancient peoples took projected their own worst qualities onto their deity.

"Mississippi has a higher rate of people graduating from high school compared to Oregon"

Kris, when it comes to college graduates, the numbers are reversed, and western Oregon has the reputation of being a place that educated people take pay cuts to live in because of the natural beauty and social climate. Even so, the low high school rates are still of concern. I attended three colleges in Mississippi, and did graduate work at the University of Southern Mississippi. Here in Eugene, I studied computers for two years at the local community college, and was surprised by how much challenging my two year Oregon college was compared to the four year (and beyond) colleges I attended in Mississippi. I don't know what this means about education in general, but the difference was striking, it being the first time that I had ever felt challenged in any school.

"I love you, Snow. The past is dead. Let it go... xo"

If the state's mentality didn't agree with your own, perhaps you would realize that Mississippi's past is not dead. While the state has made great advances in race relations, in terms of religious oppression and hate-filled politics, it stated sinking during the time of Newt Gingrich and the Moral Majority, and is still digging its way to the bottom. I would like nothing better than to praise my home state, but what's there to praise? Its magnolia blossoms maybe? Okay, Mississippi still has lovely magnolia blossoms despite the fact that trees aren't allowed to grow for more than 20-30 years before being cut for pulpwood by people who would trade all of their state's tomorrows for a dollar today. Because of people like you, Marion, there is no longer a political middle ground in the region where you live, it being either get behind Trump or get out of line. For you to quote I Corinthians 13 out of one side of your mouth while praising a politician like Donald Trump from the other, doesn't make me feel loved. It simply makes me wonder how you can be unaware of the disconnect between combining poetic love with a politics that sucks-up to homicidal dictators, separates children from their parents for political ends, gives our traditional allies reasons piled upon reason to mistrust us, seriously preaches more guns for more people as the solution to gun violence, and so on forever. I don't know that I could take any Trump supporter's loving words seriously. Every time you say something loving to me, I remember that you support Trump, and it's like a high wall--a border wall, if you will--between us.