I bleed blue, but I bleed ‘Sippi, too.
And somewhere along my three-year hiatus from home, I have lost sight of this.
Freshman year, I wasn’t surprised that there were only two of us. Although we’re a mere three-hour flight away, countries oceans away were represented better than us. Despite the lack of state representation on campus, I showcased with confidence my Mississippi pride, wearing my year-round Yellow Box flip-flops: bright, loud and proud.
And then came the stings.
“No offense, but Mississippi is the only state that makes us look better.” Sting.
“No offense, but all I know is that you all are fat and stupid.” Sting.
“No offense, but I don’t know anyone from there—you must be the only one?” Sting.
Those comments sting, but what scares me the most is I’m actually not offended. My body has become desensitized, my ears numb from the songs-on-repeat. To avoid a long conversation revolving around nuanced Mississippi, I just uncomfortably laugh to brush off a discussion my Duke course load won’t allow me time to have.
After three years of listening to essentialist egos, I have acclimatized to these conversations. Or maybe it’s that I internalized them, and, after three years, I’ve had enough.
So let me fill in where education has fallen out.
If you identify with America in any shape or form, Mississippi is the source of much of your history. The problem is that this is a history some people conveniently don’t have to know. Call it privilege, if you must. Not too long ago, Mississippi was considered the New York of the South, the nexus of fortune and fame. An early leader in cotton, agriculture and sugar, Mississippi led the country in economic growth. And it’s no secret how these profits accumulated. White plantation owners extracted free labor off the backs of black slaves. But let us be honest about history: Blacks in America remain disenfranchised, and much more progress is needed. We situate ourselves so far from the past without realizing our present is a result of our history. The 2013 Sentencing Project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee reports that one in three black men will go to prison, compared to one in 17 white men. Inequality isn’t selective or unique to Mississippi. It’s pervasive all across this country.
Aware of the disenfranchisement of blacks, Mississippi is actively recovering from its wounds, actively learning from its history and experiences. And if we’re able to have these conversations in the classrooms in Mississippi, we’re strides ahead of most states.
Mississippi has produced a remarkable number of musicians and writers. Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters are credited for laying the foundation for the Blues, but they did so much more. Blues influenced rock and roll (think Elvis Presley’s sample of Willie Mae Big Mama’s “Hound Dog”), funk, country, hip-hop and R&B music. Mississippi is also a hub for extraordinary writers that have shaped much of our education. William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty and John Grisham are just a few of the writers that have contributed to Mississippi’s literature—world literature. Much of American culture is seeped from Mississippi’s talented, and to ignore our country’s historical origins is ignoring one of the main actor’s stories.
Contrary to what epidemiology tells us, Mississippi also produces athletes. And a lot of them. Mississippi has the highest number of NBA athletes per capita (well, save Washington, D.C.). Yet, our talented athletes are always seen as something else—as something unconventional. In an ESPN article, Duke basketball player Rodney Hood—a native of Meridian, Miss.—was described as a patient leader with southern roots. The article is saturated with stereotypical foods that many Mississippians eat, such as pig’s feet and chitterlings (although many, like myself, don’t even eat pork). The article began and ended by mentioning Hood’s affiliation with, as ESPN recalled, “some of the good stuff that may or may not be cringe-inducing to those who have never tried or never heard of it before.” Sure, Mississippi loves its food—there’s no denying our food culture. But when you describe a phenomenal player as a “patient leader with southern roots,” your description of his leadership better involve more than what foods he puts into his body.
Despite Mississippi’s history, culture, athletes and transparent influence it has had on the country (and, in a orbital view, the world), the bashing continues. Recently, Politico magazine published an article ranking the 50 states of our country. Mississippi was number 51, following the District of Columbia. The authors used a systemic study approach, reviewing data and research from prior studies.
Let me tell you something about convenient research—it’s fake. The author of this article admitted that the methodology was not airtight, the writers were swayed by prejudices, and their rankings had only partial data. Researchers publish what they know, and they know what has been disseminated (although falsely) via media and social outlets.
So let’s step back from the Mississippi bashing, and let’s talk. It’s OK. I’m the only Mississippian you’ve ever met, but the real conversation I want to have with you is how we can get the rest of this country introduced to more of us:
Because our mouths sing Mississippi. Because our food tastes Mississippi. Because our books read Mississippi. Because our talents scream Mississippi.
Because ‘Sippi blood runs in all our bodies.
Leena El-Sadek is a Trinity junior. Her column normally runs every other Monday.