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On Mississippi

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In the wake of the racist Cindy Hyde-Smith winning in last night’s Mississippi runoff, I keep seeing variations on this theme: “Of course Mississippi elected a racist to the U.S. Senate. It’s Mississippi.” A few thoughts on that.

I’m a Midwesterner. Always have been, probably always will be. My experience with the South in general and Mississippi in particular is as interloper into rather that citizen of it.

Nevertheless: while it’s important to call voters who abide racism to the mat, even I know that trying to make them Mississippi’s full story doesn’t work.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Mississippi last year. I was actually very close to moving there in 2017 for reasons I won’t get into here, and spent my time there imagining what it would be like to live there. Ultimately I didn’t because it wasn’t what was best for my partner and I, but the draw of it was real. I found it to be a beautifully complex place, full of brilliant and kind people. Confederate monuments, yes, but also recent statues commemorating civil rights struggles there. Rebel flags and p-flags. Overt displays of racism and more expansive racial diversity than you’ll find most places outside the South. A terribly reactionary conservatism and a fierce radical progressivism. And my god, the food and music.

This is who Mississippi and the South and America as a whole are and have always been.

Mississippi is Jeff Davis but it’s also Hiram Revels.
Mississippi is James Eastland but it’s also Medgar Evers.
Mississippi is Theodore Bilbo but it’s also Fannie Lou Hamer.
Mississippi is Cindy Hyde-Smith but it’s also Chokwe Lumumba.
It’s Richard Wright and Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward and so many others who have challenged their homeland while embracing the beautiful things it offers to them.

And on and on.

What happened in Mississippi yesterday — and make no mistake, what happened was that a majority of Mississippi voters aided by voter suppression and the felon disenfranchisement of at least 16% of the state’s black voters elected a racist woman who delights in the state’s worst aspects — is important. But it’s not Mississippi’s only story and we shouldn’t let them define it as such.

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