By Christopher Young,
Even when we know the truth about something, why are we so shocked to see it in print right in front of our eyes? You don’t have to look too deeply across the landscape of Mississippi to see that the contracting awards are fixed to favor established white companies. The state even awards contracts to white companies outside of Mississippi, rather than allow black contractors to do the work. The inherent sin in the state’s behavior is that it was black hands that built this state, black back’s stinging under the white man’s whip, that developed what we now know as Mississippi.
Is the indescribable cruelty any different today? Smother or at least stifle any form of black advancement, well that is a fundamental plank of Mississippi’s white power structure. There are few contracts awarded by Mississippi that could not be fulfilled by black contractors if it were the state’s will. Instead, we hear about performance, bonding and capacity, being the impediments to a more equitable share of contracts being awarded to minorities in a state rife with minorities.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of July 1, 2022, Mississippi’s population is 2,940,057, and has declined 0.7% in the past two years. The white population is 58.8%, therefore the total minority population is 41.2%. The black or African-American population is 37.8%.
The State of Mississippi is required by statute to report annually on minority business participation, and State Senator John Horhn (D-26) provided The Mississippi Link newspaper a copy of the 300-page FY22 Minority Participation Report(s). The report provides great detail on the performance of Mississippi’s State Agencies and Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) regarding minority procurement in fiscal year 2022.
The colorful cover page at the beginning of the report indicates a combined (Agencies + IHL) minority spending rate of 5.5%. The other 94.5% of the expenditures go to white businesses (non-minority). Said differently, $206 million versus $3.5 billion, in a state with a 41.2 % minority population, just 5.5% of state contracts go to minorities!
But that is far from the whole story. There’s more inequity to come. You see, in Mississippi, as far as contracting is concerned, white women are included under the minority classifications. Yes, you just read that correctly. There is a minority classification entitled, “Other Non-Ethnic Women.” That means white women. And in FY2022, there was a total of $188,264,676.98 in expenditures awarded to minorities, yet $126,994,761.56 went to white women – 67.46% of all minority contacting funds went to white women. Black men received just 4.04% of the remainder.
Gennie Lacy Jones, the former director of Minority Business Enterprise Division at Mississippi Development Authority, and currently the president of the Minority Contractors Association of Mississippi, Inc. (MCAMI), indicates that non-ethnic women have been considered a minority in Mississippi for a long time. She says that she is personally aware of attempts between 2002-2005 to remove white women from minority classification but it never made it to a vote. She indicates that “not taking action on this important issue is intentional.” She believes there are procurement folks in Mississippi that are intentionally calling majority companies, inherently being non-inclusive.
How can legislators defend this behavior? Women Business Enterprise certifications exist across the country and are a healthy component of our nation’s economy. But Minority Owned Business certifications are purposely different for obvious reasons, tracing back to Jim Crow. They are two different things. But here in Mississippi, unlike the majority of states, we corrupt the process. We don’t embrace minority business owners and contractors who contribute to our economy and help Mississippi thrive. It’s painfully clear that Mississippi’s white majority legislators and most agency heads would rather keep us at the bottom than to see minority advancement.
Is there a clear-headed white legislator at the capitol willing and eager to write the legislation to correct this oppressive behavior? Is there no one that grasps the importance of fairness and equity in our state populated by 41.2% minorities? Those who fortify the status quo are aiding and abetting the suffering of true minorities in our state, depriving them of the opportunity to grow and thrive, which in turn contributes mightily to depriving Mississippi itself of the opportunity to grow and thrive.
How can human beings hurt their fellow man like this? Why don’t we see a report on this discrimination from our state auditor? Study and analysis of the policies that create this discrimination and the procurement practices that carry it out are well within the auditor’s scope of responsibility.
The Mississippi Link has submitted requests to the president of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and the City of Jackson for their own Minority Participation Reports, and we look forward to sharing those results with our readers.