There are states of mind we will not win over anytime soon. I’ve been in one of those states for a month and have a story to tell. I’ve lived for a long time (30 years) in other red states, Virginia and Colorado. I now live in Maine (my home state) for the past two years. (PS.I haven’t been able to blog in a while and may not be able to respond promptly.)

We arrived in Mississippi a week after Katrina to do post Katrina construction relief work. Get people back into their houses, roof over their head and so forth. We started in Laurel, MS, a town of some 30,000 90 miles from the coast. Every fourth house had a tarp on it, trees into houses, across driveways, debris in the roads, well, it looked like a week after a mighty big storm. Now, before anyone gets started, there are great people in MS, there are great people everywhere (regardless of political affiliation), and there is always the possibility of changing peoples minds. I’m sure Kerry got over 30% of the vote in MS, I even saw a Southerners for Kerry sticker. I got help and advice from Dems and progressives in MS. I live in a rural state, I lived in rural Colorado but I am here to say, there is a different world down here.
First, it’s physically different. Young (white) men’s haircuts are pretty much a variation of the old Ringo Starr look, long bangs hanging over the eyes, a throw back to the `rebel’ days of American Graffiti. Andy and Opie, sex, football, and Jesus (although Jesus is another code name for white and pure). Blacks know they are not equal, but most are also a throw back to the `50’s.Just give me my crappy job, leave me alone and come on Friday night is at least one motto. The invisible lines are everywhere. Go into a small convenience store and the sign says 79 cents, get to the register and if you’re white you pay 59 cents. It’s called double pricing and it exists. I’m sure I haven’t even picked up on half of it.

A few select scenes: I’m on the phone with a property manager who tells me he has some good places to rent and some worker homes but he can tell from talking to me that I would not want a worker home because, “those are for blacks, mexicans and guatamalans, they’re used to living on dirt floors.” Casually, normal conversation, no change of voice, he says this. I had to meet him. His office is replete with several copies of the Bible and from the news clippings I can see he is a minister who likes to bowl. He shows me a couple of places and along the way assures me there is no racism in MS today.

I’m standing outside a print shop in downtown Laurel. The owner brought me outside to show me downtown Laurel. Like many downtowns of mid size towns, it has been relatively deserted for the malls so there are few stores, not much to recommend it but he says, “Did you expect to see this in MS? In Laurel, it’s still 1978, and let me tell you, there is no color in MS, contrary to popular opinion.” Allow me to explain that statement. Since I’ve been in MS, I have been reassured many, many times there is no racism in MS today. I’m sure I’ve been told this since anyone can tell I’m not `from here’ in less than two seconds. I don’t even need to open my mouth. But they want me to know there is no racism in MS. Then they often proceed to tell me something racist. I quickly learned racists introduce themselves by saying, `there is no racism in MS today.’

I’m on the roof of a rental home (next door to the owner, there are a lot of landlords) with the owner who just had a huge tree (huge) removed from his own living room. He seems to be a nice person, quiet, a gentleman, and we’ve had a couple of conversations before. I mention to him he is lucky not to be in New Orleans or the coast where people lost everything. He said, “God was sending a message to New Orleans. They have evil ways and he has sent a message.” The man had a tree in his living room, and yet he said that.

Starting to get the idea? There’s more. The word conservative doesn’t even begin to describe it. This is beyond that. They have been drinking the Kool Aid so long, they don’t even know it’s Kool Aid. It’s like water, it is in the water, maybe even the genes. It’s deep. It’s everywhere. George Bush is a good man. Remember how blacks in the South used to have pictures of MLK and Kennedy around. Well, George is on the refrigerator and W stickers are on the cars.  

Except one car. I’m on another roof and I see the owner’s car in the driveway. In large letters it reads, `Vote Republican’. I drive a blue Prius with blue bumper stickers (just 3) and a license plate that reads DEAN4US. I’m careful to park it where only my Red Cross donor magnet faces the house and I wear neutral t-shirts. Two of my sons are on this expedition and they call it the Deanmobile. So, I climb down the roof and then see what is under the Vote Republican. In smaller letters it says, `It’s easier than thinking’. That’s it, MS in a nutshell. I crack up. I ask the owner if I can show her something and take her halfway down the block to my car. She cracks up. She tells me about MS, double pricing and more.

It’s just a taste of the everyday world. We’ve been here a month, and we left Laurel after a week. Even for my sons who tend to dismiss all politics (at least they vote and vote Dem) it was too much. It’s a feudal world in MS. The plantations are alive and well. We moved to the college town of Hattiesburg. It’s larger, there’s a college but the mentality is really just a little more veneered. There are little islands of stuff like coffee and CD houses but it sure seems like 90% of the people are let’s say mis-informed. Again, I’ve only been here a month, these are my observations and anyone who wants to defend their blue life in MS, no problem. I grew up in the country, I make fun of big city liberal tenderfoots all the time so corrections to my perceptions are fine.

It’s going to take more than a bunch of people sitting in blue states thinking we can win a red state like MS just by `working hard’. This is a different world. You can work as hard as you want, reality and facts are not even part of the framework. I have some ideas though. They probably don’t involve Bush tho. FEMA and the hurricane? Some guy who fooled George with a bad resume. President Bush was here like 5 times after the hurricane, he cares. These people (well not the rich) send their sons and daughters to die for him. Attacking the feudal system won’t work either I’m afraid. They just want to be rich. Consumerism is alive and well, be you black or white. For instance, Wal Mart so dominates it’s driven other chains away. K Mart is gone and I’ve heard there’s a Target but haven’t found it. On Sunday (after church) people go to the real church (Wal Mart) and it’s a daze of addicts spending what little they have. There’s a `gotta have stuff to justify existence’ thing going on. Walking across the parking lot, I saw a normal looking college aged person getting on a motorcycle. I can’t explain it, she just looked `normal’. I felt like going over to her and saying, `Excuse me, are they all crazy or is it just me.’

So, what do we do? The word that might work here is   Fair. This word might resonate. Is it fair that some people get health insurance but the rest of us don’t? Is it fair that college is priced out of sight? Is it fair that military service is about the only option for many? Is it fair? What happened to truth, justice and the American way?  I’ll close on a note of hope. In the aftermath of Katrina, a reporter was interviewing a young, white redneck standing in the midst of what used to be his home. The reporter said, “What are your thoughts on the situation.” The young man shook his head slowly and said, “I don’t think Bush should be President no more.”

0 0 votes
Article Rating