Thank God for Mississippi
Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 17, 2006
God has blessed me in a number of ways — health, family, work that I enjoy, etc.
I, like many of you, was born in Mississippi, a diverse state filled with great people, history and nature.
On a recent business trip a colleague began talking about how many states he’d visited during his life. I think he was at 35 of the 50 in the country. Many of his were marked during a huge driving trip he took in college that went from Minnesota south to Texas, west to California and back northeast to Minnesota.
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Just the thought of that has my back hurting at the hint of spending double-digit hours sitting in a car.
But the conversation got me thinking about how many places I’ve been blessed enough to visit.
My official state count sits at 31. I’ve been fortunate enough to go from coast to coast and from extreme north parts of the country to the extreme south parts, too.
And, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy could attest, rednecks are everywhere. Now I don’t mean that as an insult to the southern stereotypers out there. I just mean that, despite a few funny accents and maybe some differences in food preferences, we’re all much more alike than we are different.
But it can be difficult to get everyone to see those similarities.
Wherever I go — almost without exception — announcing Mississippi roots conjures up at least a fleeting strange look.
And it’s downright silly, I know.
A few weeks back when New York Rep. Charles Rangel publicly quipped, “Who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?” my blood boiled. Rangel’s comments offended Mississippians — black, white, Asian, you name it.
As my great-grandmother once said, “He needs to sweep off his own back porch before he starts worrying about someone else’s.”
If New York is perfect, I must have missed that part of my visit there.
At this point in my life, I try to just confront the Mississippi uneasiness head on.
I remember several years ago, I had to pick up a job candidate at the Jackson airport. As the passengers filed off the Jetway and into the terminal, I spotted someone who looked like he might be the candidate.
He was easy to spot; he was the one who looked a bit terrified of what might pop out from behind the reservation desk.
I’m sure his mind was reeling as he conjured up images of all he knew about Mississippi. Hollywood film stereotypes filled with some historical accounts, no doubt from the Civil Rights era days.
“Nick?” I asked.
“Kevin?” he responded, tentatively.
A quick greeting ensued, followed by a quick, “let’s get all this out of the way conversation.”
“As you can tell I have on shoes. Most everyone else around here does, too,” I said.
“We don’t all hate black people and we’re not all living in shacks in the woods,” I continued.
“Despite our racism-tainted past, I’d say that Mississippi is less racist than many other states.”
Needless to say my bluntness shocked the young man, who admitted he’d never stepped foot out of St. Louis, Mo.
Eventually Nick learned, I think, that Mississippi isn’t so different than other places. However, like a bullied child, the kind a teacher might make a public example of, Mississippi struggles to escape its racist past.
But lately, some Mississippians — of all colors — have begun standing up in unison and putting a stop to the bashing.
That’s why I enjoyed so much reading about the “Mississippi, Believe It!” campaign. The owner of a Jackson-based advertising and marketing agency formed the campaign that takes a blunt, in-your-face look at the reality of what Mississippi is really about — talented people, places and things.
To read a few “truisms” about Mississippi visit their Web site at mississippibelieveit.com.
I believe in Mississippi, and hope you do, too.
Kevin Cooper is associate publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.