By Matthew Thompson
Mississippi frequently ranks around 50th in many sectors, and remains a complex state to understand. To comprehend such a state, one must peel back the layers surrounding this unique region and identify the source of negative perceptions that obstruct progress and impede the Magnolia State’s embrace.
Mississippi is often regarded as insensitive, uneducated, and underprivileged. But, most notably, the state’s character is suffocated by its historically racist, violent, and terrorist eras.
In order to overcome the stains of the past, Mississippi must surmount divisive rhetoric and embrace a more inclusive paradigm. Undoubtedly, the rest of the country has presumed stereotypes of the South, but such perceptions can be overcome by exposing the limitless potential of Mississippi.
The simplistic beauty of gravel roads, country diners, small towns, and farmlands are fully appreciated by myself and many others. But these aspects, in addition to other noteworthy benefits of Southern living, are often overlooked.
This dissertation does not seek to highlight only the negatives accompanying Mississippi living. However, mentioning the adverse characteristics that plague the state will reveal why so many others (including my own family and friends) are often unwilling to pity the plight of Mississippians with regard to health/wellness, educational attainment, employment, poverty, and overall economic security.
Some of my friends and family hold differing attitudes about Mississippi. For example, during holiday get-togethers, I often become the root of many jokes. Family members, even those raised in the state, have often questioned my decision to remain within a state that continues to be regarded negatively by the rest of the nation.
Oftentimes, they accentuate the undesirable stigmas embodied by the University of Mississippi while citing occurrences of intolerance and bigotry as evidence that racism still resides here.
Usually, I’d laugh along and even recite jokes of my own about their alma maters. In a way, humor acted as a strategic way to avoid the challenge of convincing an individual outside the realms of Mississippi to “re-imagine” what the state offers.
How can the state of Mississippi demonstrate its depth, and highlight the positive features? Moreover, how should the state attempt to alter the perceptions of outsiders or convince those Americans, external to Mississippi, past concepts of Mississippi are inaccurate?
Through personal experience, and the expressed opinions of family, friends and colleagues, I understand Confederate reminiscence, as well as widespread sympathy for the secessionist dreams of the past to be hindrances to successful progression.
I was a freshman at the University of Mississippi when news stories claiming “riots” and protests about the re-election of Barack Obama broke nationwide, witnessing what appeared to be less of a riot and more of a conglomeration of puzzled students herded near dormitories.
I nevertheless felt profound disappointment with my institution of choice. Additionally, the noose placed around civil rights activist James Meredith, by a former student, furthered my displeasure as a student (and African American).
As reported by USA Today, “Prosecutors say the Alpharetta, Ga., resident and two other former students placed a noose and a former version of the Georgia state flag containing the Confederate battle emblem on the statue of James Meredith sometime before dawn Feb. 16, 2014.”
Acts, such as the aforementioned, demonstrate how easily negative stereotypes, surrounding life in the South, appear truthful. Combating these damaging viewpoints must begin with a complete rebuttal of intolerant events such as these. If rampant Confederate sympathy present throughout the state of Mississippi persists, external perceptions shall remain unchanged.
Accordingly, I propose a viral video marketing campaign designed to clearly and effectively exhibit tolerance, inclusiveness, and relax the historical divisions present within Mississippi communities.
Such a campaign would require large scale funding, but in order to be convincing, the state must credibly renounce the past atrocities embodied by the Confederacy.
Credibility stands key to successfully converting negative impressions of Mississippi, and more generally, the South. Any perpetuation of discriminatory or prejudiced sentiments will continue to deter non-Southern Americans from empathizing with the state.
As such, Mississippi should demonstrate, with conviction, the ridding of Confederate propaganda, encourage the removal of Confederate flags from statehouses and retailers, and disavow monuments to secessionist dreamlands presented throughout the state and the American South.
Why? Because, monuments memorializing Confederate battle deaths subtly speak to fears and insecurities of previously oppressed minorities. “Establishing monuments to Confederate war heroes, in turn, celebrates men who committed treason and sought to break the nation apart in the name of slavery.”
For what it’s worth, this controversial legacy is not exclusive to Mississippi, because Confederate-related memorials are found in 31 states equaling in excess of 1,500 sites. Virginia, particularly, has the greatest number of memorabilia with over 200. But diminishing the nostalgia attached to such commemorations appears challenging for Mississippi.
To a certain degree, the long-held tradition is understandable. Mississippi “suffered the largest percentage of people who died in the Civil War of any Confederate state.” By the end of the war, close to 60,000 Mississippians were killed or wounded fighting. Any loss of life is worthy of condemnation. Soldiers, indeed, deserve acknowledgement for their grave sacrifice.
All things considered, what’s the most effective way to combat the negative connotations attached to the word: MISSISSIPPI? By leading the country in disavowing the Confederate ties of the past in its entirety.
Further, a nationwide marketing campaign, designed in this respect, would foster positive perceptions elsewhere. By way of example, Mississippi could show the entire country and the world that the egregious beliefs of the past are long gone.