Contemplating a New Year in Mississippi

Classic image depicting Christ in a bread line, via Pinterest

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,

Well, here we are, closing out another year – reflecting on all the things that this year has brought, and no doubt considering what we would like to see come to pass in the brand-new year. For the fortunate among us, we can see the changes and growth that has accompanied us throughout the year. For those less fortunate – it’s not about change and growth, its simply about survival. 

The United States is the wealthiest country on earth, and Mississippi is the poorest state in the country. Twenty percent of our residents live in poverty – over 51% higher than the U.S. average, per the website. This is the norm here, the poorest state inside the wealthiest country. 

It’s been said over and over that everything about Mississippi is about race. Per capita, over 34% of the poor in Mississippi are black, and 13% of the poor are white. Mississippi has more black residents than any state in the country – over 38%, per capita. Hidden in this number are various subsets. Thankfully, more attention is now being given to a key subset of overall poverty levels – child poverty. Even typing those two words are upsetting but seeing the following numbers are far worse. The Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture indicated that in 2019, 72% of Claiborne County children lived in poverty. In 2021, 27.7% of those under 18 years of age in Mississippi live in poverty. For those children ages 5 to 17 years, 26.5% live in poverty. For those children under age 5 years, 31.4% live in poverty in Mississippi, per

And what response is there in our state? Is there a state-level summit on child poverty, with an all-hands-on-deck approach to immediately address acute situations, and a solution-focused approach to deal with more chronic realities? No, there is not. How many of our elected officials do you hear screaming about the immoral tragedy of child poverty in our state? Do we get a special session of the Mississippi Legislature called to address child poverty? No, special session to address child poverty, just like no special session to address the Jackson water crisis, but we do get a special session called to approve giving $247 million to a company that already sells in the multi-billions, per Therein lies the swamp-like stenchy glue that holds Mississippi down. 

First and foremost, we get the oppression of anybody that is not European American, and in Mississippi that means 42% of the population is treated as less than. Sure, there is a percentage of those that have managed to overcome, and God Bless them for finding the pathways and the persistence to do so. By and large though, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are ignored, viewed as second-class citizens and left behind. How can a Christian state full of Christian leaders allow that? How can a reasonable person make sense of that, or ever accept it?

The second component is equally perilous – acceptance of the status quo – albeit surely able to be understood. How can you blame people for becoming numb and often times giving up when they live year after decade after century being oppressed by the poisonous beliefs and attitudes that they are less than? Every day they see majority white superiority in action. 

Blatant disregard for our fellow man cannot be unseen in Mississippi. Fifty of our Republican state legislators voted against the removal of the oppressive stars and bars from our flag – seven of them were women. One Republican, Speaker Gunn, utterly dismisses an affirmative vote in the Senate, allowing the postpartum expansion of Medicaid benefits to die on the vine in the House once again – sealing hundreds of poor new mothers’ lives in caskets. Huge White farming operations in the Delta hire whites’ from South Africa to displace black farmers while paying the transplanted whites’ more. Black people here are incarcerated at a rate over 3:1 over whites’. State officials approve less than 5% of applications for TANF funding to the poorest citizens in our state. State officials, all of them white, then pilfer upwards of $100 million intended by the federal government for the poorest people in the poorest state, and use it for fitness bootcamps and volleyball stadiums and God only knows what else, right under our noses.

Blatant disregard for non-white’s and for poor people is the day-to-day norm in Mississippi. Few people speak out against it. Fewer people stand up and fight against it. Black legislators fight for scraps because they have decades of knowledge that they will never succeed in getting more than scraps. They are routinely steam-rolled by a white majority.

How do these folks claim to be Christian? The obvious answer is they are not. Where do you see love thy neighbor among our white conservatives? If the Gospels are rooted in social justice, then why are these folks’ oppressors? And what of faith without works? Is Mississippi’s faith dead to our white Christians in positions of power and influence? 

Contemplating a New Year in Mississippi, as it is, becomes a chore. The time of year when hope and aspirations should abound, ends up colliding with our reality of oppression and stuck-ness. If only these oppressors could meditate on the image of Christ in the bread line and be reminded that all people are created in God’s image, p erhaps then behaviors could become righteous, and the shackles could forever be removed from Mississippi and all her people. 

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