After Gov. Bryant signed House Bill 1523, a reader from North Carolina published this letter in the Clarion-Ledger:
As a resident of North Carolina, I wish to thank Gov. Bryant for legalizing bigotry and discrimination in Mississippi. At least temporarily, North Carolina’s disgraceful passing of a similar boneheaded law…has been overshadowed by Mississippi. A variation on an old joke would be “every morning NC wakes up and thanks God for Mississippi.”
Less than a week later, when Bryant posted a photo of a gun atop a Bible to celebrate the signing of House Bill 786, commenter Jamie Fougerousse remarked, “I was born in Mississippi & left as soon as i could [sic]. I took my education, skills, and tax dollars with me. Mississippi wants to be last in everything, so just let it.”
Scrolling through social media, I’ve seen countless comments like these. Some get nastier and range everywhere from “**** Mississippi” to “all I see is fat and stupid Southerners.”
The word I see most often is “laughingstock,” usually followed by “of the whole country” or world.
But the majority of Mississippians are simply struggling to survive due to factors beyond their control. Urban areas like Jackson indicate “a 1 in 108 chance of being the victim of violence each year.”
The very poorest and least-educated Mississippians, often the targets of insults about obesity and teen pregnancy, live in rural places like Holly Springs with an average household income of $22,808.
So yes, many of these residents are overweight, but it’s not like they live near a Whole Foods. Obesity is statistically typical of poor places and “food deserts” like Holly Springs, where most people have no financial or physical access to healthier choices, even a gym membership.
The often-mentioned teen pregnancy rate is also indicative of high poverty, little sex education and limited access to women’s health services.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Mississippi is 37 percent African-American. Although photos of Mississippi leaders depict rich white people like Gov. Bryant who celebrate Confederate history, the rest of the country often forgets that such people do not comprise the entire state.
The African-American population suffers through “hangovers from racial past that aren't eliminated yet,” according to Rev. Barber, a state lobbyist for the rights of the poor. Historically, many African-Americans were shut out of better public school districts through intentional redistricting. Those who laugh at Mississippians’ poor education are often speaking of those who have been deliberately shut out of it.
In regards to a similar issue of discrimination, a study by the Williams Institute revealed that Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of same-sex couples raising children. Businesses and touring artists have boycotted or threatened to boycott Mississippi over the new anti-gay laws, and this may seem like a show of support for LGBT people, but boycotts don’t hurt the legislature.
Businesses that refuse to associate with Mississippi over the new House Bill are often the very businesses willing to hire LGBT people, so this marginalized group loses employment opportunities in a state that already offers little. In addition, boycotts hurt small businesses that count on out-of-state revenues to survive.
A simple drive down Northside Drive in Jackson will reveal devastating poverty. Once you drive under the overpass from Fondren to Flowood, the scenery switches abruptly to paved roads, booming businesses and gated suburbs.
Mississippi is a place of suffering for those historically marginalized by wealthy oppressors. The state deserves compassion and assistance, not boycotting and ridicule.