Race persists as a predominant part of Mississippi life.
There are the disparities revealed by objective facts:
Most Republicans are white. Most African-Americans are Democrats. All statewide elected officials are white. Most prison inmates are black. Most wealthy Mississippians, business owners, bank executives, physicians, and plant managers are white. Most poverty-level Mississippians and non-elderly Medicaid recipients are black. Most churches remain segregated. White flight from urban areas has re-segregated many city schools. And so on.
There are the contemporary racial events that hearken to our hateful past:
The sentencing of three, white Rankin County youth for the racially motivated and callous murder of a black Jackson man reminded us that race-based hate still festers in some areas. The race-tinged comments of state representative Gene Alday of Walls (I come from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.) sound like comments still heard in cafes and golf clubs around the state.
Alday did apologize days after his comments caused uproar, saying, “I am deeply sorry for my recent statements and I was wrong to say what I did.”
There are the attitudes that continue to emphasize race:
There are white people who gripe about having to continually apologize for the past and make sure all their statements are politically correct. There are black people tired of what they see as unending discriminatory practices and their friends and colleagues being treated as second class citizens.
There are the politicians, white and black, who use race to promote themselves. There are the hate-based web sites and blogs that support them.
There are the political code words that convey racial messages without saying so explicitly.
And yet, our Mississippi has changed for the better. Though, some may point to all the above and say all we have done is paste a thin veneer of political correctness over innate racism.
Consider what federal judge Carlton Reeves, himself a successful African-American, said when he sentenced the Rankin County youth. “Mississippi has a tortured past, and it has struggled mightily to reinvent itself and become a New Mississippi.” He continued, “Mississippi has a present and a future. That present and future has promise.”
Mississippi today has more African-American elected officials than any other state. Growth rates for black businesses have been triple those for whites. The growth in college graduation rates for African-Americans has been substantially higher than for whites.
And, then, there are our younger Mississippians, most of whom (the Rankin County youth cited above notwithstanding) appear to care far less about race than their parents and grandparents.
Perhaps, Mississippi only has a thin veneer covering its racial leanings. But, then, they say civilization is just a thin veneer over barbarism. Both need continual thickening.