Prejudice, Discrimination, Exclusion in Mississippi -- Sound Familiar?
Maybe they don't know it's 2010 in Mississippi. Jim Crow Laws ended in 1965 but maybe you didn't get the memo. You guys are the sickest bunch of Southerners ever... GROW THE ---- UP AND START LIVING IN THE NOW AND NOT BACK IN THE 1300s. Mississippi has the lowest IQ of any state in the nation. …Bigots like you are the reason the rest of the world hates America. Stop ruining our country. It bothers me that parents in that town are passing this bigot retard gene on to their kids. Way to go Mississippi. My gawwwwddddd......it's just that Mississippi isn't even TRYING to appear even the slightest bit evolved. Constance, get the out ---- of Mississippi and away from your nauseating inbred trailer trash class mates. Find yourself a real city, with real people who ...have better things to do with their life. Run on back to your pathetic, dinky little farms and enjoy the rest of your lives in Hicksville, Mississippi. People like the creators of this group are... a warning for mothers everywhere not to drink while pregnant with their brother's baby. If an armpit can have an armpit, it's Mississippi. And if the armpit of an armpit can have an armpit, it's Fulton, Mississippi.As an activist anthropologist who has worked extensively on issues of race, immigration, and worker organizing in Mississippi over the last decade, I find comments such as these dangerously problematic. Apart from the very real offense, frustration, and embarrassment these enduring stereotypes evoke in many southerners, as individuals invested in the ideals of equal rights and social justice, all of us should feel unease when systemic discrimination like that which is unfolding in Fulton, Mississippi is explained away as an aberrance of a culturally backwater South that is genetically inferior and stuck in a time warp. When most Americans think of Mississippi, they conjure up visions of entrenched poverty, stifling oppression, and racial inequality. While obviously not without merit, invoking these stereotypes ad nauseum has enabled us to view Mississippi as exceptional, representing the most repressive social hierarchies in the country, to which the rest of us can point as proof that we have surmounted the social and economic relations of the past; wearen’t racists/homophobes/fill-in-the-blanks. This approach makes it possible for us to relegate racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression to (not so) far off places we deem as “other,” and it blunts our attention to and analysis of the ways in which we perpetuate and benefit from structures of social inequality in places we deem closer to home. What if, instead, we were to invert the national narrative about the Deep South, understanding Mississippi as anything but exceptional? We might then view its social relations and inequalities as a mirror—perhaps magnifying, but reflective nonetheless—to better understand these dynamics, or their parallels, in our own communities. Instead of hurling insults that make us feel better about our own social/moral/geographical positions, we might begin to understand and appreciate Mississippi’s struggles as our own, turning speculation and judgment into action. Indeed, Constance McMillan’s struggle for LGBTQ equal rights is our struggle on a national scale, one that’s playing out in courtrooms and the court of public opinion from California to Massachusetts, Mississippi to Washington, DC. As for action, Candace Gingrich-Jones wrote a poignant blog entry in yesterday’s Huffington Post, in which she offers us several suggestions—from disseminating materials for teaching tolerance in schools and families, to supporting new federal anti-discrimination legislation, to calling out our colleagues and loved ones when they perpetuate stereotypes and hate speech. This morning I gained new hope when I saw a few comments amid the facebook madness that raised concern over the spirit of the page’s “conversation,” and others calling upon readers to write letters to the Itawamba County School Board, sign petitions, and otherwise learn from and act upon McMillan’s story. Indeed, we can all play a role—and should strive to recognize our mutual self-interest—in ensuring that people who are seen as “different,” whether in Mississippi or across the U.S. and the world—don’t suffer the discrimination that McMillan and so many before and among us have courageously fought to end. And end I will, with this quote that I’ve seen framed on the walls of several homes throughout Mississippi and which always makes me smile: “I’m not from the South, but I got here as fast as I could.”
[i] Lipsitz, George. 1998. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. (p. 219) [ii] McMillen v. Itawamba County Sch. Dist., No. 1:10 CV 61-D-D, slip op. at 11 (N.D. Miss., Mar. 23, 2010). [iii] Stuesse, Angela C. 2008. Globalization "Southern Style": Transnational Migration, the Poultry Industry, and Implications for Organizing Workers across Difference, Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin. (p. 88-89) Angela C. Stuesse is an activist anthropologist and holds a Postdoctoral Research fellowship at the Kirwan Institute. She studies issues of race, globalization, immigration, identity, and power in the U.S., Latin America, and Central West Africa. Angela received her PhD in anthropology and her MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and her BA in anthropology from the University of Florida. Her forthcoming book,Globalization “Southern Style”,tells the story of new Latino immigrants working and organizing alongside African Americans in rural Mississippi's chicken processing plants. While conducting this politically engaged research, she was a co-founding collaborator of the worker center MPOWER (Mississippi Poultry Workers for Equality and Respect) and developed its program for cross-racial relationship building.