By Christopher Young,
Sometimes in life we are confronted with interesting questions. Many times, these questions become opportunities for growth and ultimately, for change. Why does it seem that whatever growth is made by many white people here in Mississippi, it so often has to come at the expense of black people.
Having good intentions is not a pass for bad behavior. Claiming that’s not what is in my heart, following an insensitive racial slur, is not absolution. In 2022, not being able to have awareness of racial insults and bias is evidence of ignorance. In 2022 you have to work hard to remain ignorant. It’s simplistic to have to say, but we don’t look down on, feel superior to, or offend people that we care about – people that we hold in positive regard.
Not only in the Deep South, but certainly with its sizzling history of racism and oppression, large swaths of white people still don’t view non-white people as human beings – worthy of respect. Do these white people know that it hurts people of other races, and especially black people? What do you think, do they?
This hurtful behavior applies across the spectrum, from micro-aggressions like gawking and artificial compliments, to racial slurs and stereotypes, to off-handed slights, semi-cloaked but that are quite visible.
“I’ve got to tell you; it is a great day to be in Hattiesburg. It’s also, as always, a great day to not be in Jackson,” spoken by the Governor of Mississippi September 16, 2022, per WAPT reporting. Despite claiming to govern for all Mississippians, it’s no mystery how he feels about black people who make up nearly 40% of the state and 84% of the population of Jackson.
Confederate Memorial Day is officially recognized in Mississippi, but not Black History Month. The thinking, the mindset that allows that to go on keeps Mississippi a bottom-dweller – last in most every ranking available. It seems like most of the state doesn’t really care though – so long as African Americans are kept from advancement. It must be acceptable to the vastly white conservative Christian population, otherwise they would see the harm continuing to be caused and would cease it. Ninety percent of U.S. Governors acknowledge Black History Month. Only four others; Idaho, the Dakotas, and Tennessee, share the same attitudes of superiority and indifference that the Governor of Mississippi does. Again, at the expense of black people.
Ask yourself which is worse – stealing $74+ million in funds from the federal government intended to help the poorest Mississippians survive, or the mindset of blatant disregard for people in poverty that hatched the plan in the first place? Ask yourself if former Governor Bryant was the only one at the Capitol who knew about the theft? Mississippi receives tens of millions of dollars per year in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding from the federal government, yet only approves the smallest percentage of cash assistance to poor families which are not all black, but predominantly so in our state. Again, at the expense of black people – children and families included.
Another example is surely the state flag here in Mississippi. There were legislative bills to change it away from the divisive stars and bars for decades, but those in power never let those bills out of committee. When Bobby Harrison wrote for State Legislatures Magazine July 13, 2020, he included a prior quote from Governor Reeves, “I have repeatedly warned my fellow Mississippians that any attempt to change the current Mississippi flag by a few politicians in the Capitol will be met with contempt.” Despite his degree in economics from Millsaps, he still had a lot to learn.
The day finally arrived in late June 2020 where the pressure was so intense – especially following the murder of George Floyd – pressure from the religious and business communities, public university administrators, students, student athletes, and through the voice of the SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey – delivering the message unambiguously to Mississippi – change the state flag or risk losing SEC championship games in Mississippi. Poof, like magic, a majority vote for a new state flag without the stars and bars. A major takeaway – when backed into a corner, Mississippi can at long last go without the stars and bars of the Confederacy more than it can go without championship sporting events. One hundred and twenty-five years of oppression living under that old flag, at the expense of black people.
Recently, a racial slur – granmammy – was spoken live on-air during coverage of College Game Day in Jackson on October 29, 2022. The word was used by long-time employee and anchor Barbie Bassett, a white woman – to her colleague at WLBT, journalist and African American Carmen Poe. Instantly Bassett’s colleagues on the set brought the inappropriateness of the word to her attention, even as Poe who was off-site at The Vet, soldiered on with her broadcast. Five days later, RaMona Clay-Alexander, VP and General Manager of WBDB and Ted Fortenberry, Regional VP and General Manager of WLBT weighed in via on-air editorials about the incident.
Alexander acknowledged “much heated debate and conversation on social media and in general,” about what she felt personally and characterized “appalled, quite insulted and upset by the incident because of the negative connotations that it carries.” She then went on to talk about teachable moments, etc. Fortenberry acknowledged the “exchange last week on our station that was offensive and hurtful.” He stated, “It made us realize, if someone who has lived here all their life was ignorant of the offensive nature of those words used, we have a lot of work to do.” He stated that “with responsibility comes accountability.” He mentioned uniting, educational opportunity, and making a difference.
Neither of the managers mentioned the names of the people involved, nor the hostile work environment that exists, nor discipline for Bassett. Lofty words and trying to make nice is not accountability. This lack of accountability, once again, is at the expense of black people.