Listening to NPR this morning, there was an article where residents of Mississippi were indignant about the entire state’s role as the incorporeal villain of many movies. The latest of note would be “Django Unchained”, the spaghetti-style western where ex-slave Django traveled with a bounty hunter to rescue his wife from the Mississippi plantation Candyland, a site that “breeds” mandingo fighters for death matches, to the enjoyment of white onlookers. So it’s a comedy. :-)
It is somewhat true: Mississippi has been the Hollywood site of some very heinously racist things. “Ghosts of Mississippi”, “Mississippi Burning”, “A Time to Kill”, “In the Heat of the Night”, “LaLee’s Kin”, “Django Unchained” all took place in Mississippi. The people interviewed in the NPR article, both black and white Crooked Letter residents, were upset that their state has been so vilified. They pointed out that there are so many other aspects of the state beyond their despicable past.
I could see how upsetting it can be to be labeled something that you’re not. In fact, when I went on a business trip to Mississippi with my attractive, white female co-worker, the patrons of the restaurant we entered didn’t even need to open their mouths for me to tell that they thought she was a n****r-lover, and I was a dirty interloper on their pure race. I knew that look of disdain well. Unfortunately, this was farther from the truth. She was engaged to be married to a nice Yankee up north, yet they looked like they were about to go Emmitt Till on me and lord knows what on her. See? Misperceptions hurt people's feelings.
So if the people of Mississippi really want to stop being vilified so much, then they should STOP DOING VILLAINOUS THINGS. Forget what happened 100 years ago. Let’s go to 2001, when they officially adopted the state flag that had the Confederate flag emblazoned on it, 107 years after they changed it unofficially from a very innocuous one with a tree on it, and 136 AFTER the Civil War, where the Confederates LOST. The University of Mississippi, coloquially called Ole Miss, JUST changed their mascot, the Rebel, from a confederate soldier to a black bear, yet they still call themselves the Rebels, and the bear STILL wears a derivative of Confederate garb! A few months ago, there were riots on Election Night at Ole Miss because a black guy was re-elected President. Effigies hanging from nooses were burned. The MS legislature was the last state to ratify the 13th Amendment...THREE DAYS AGO, 148 years after its initial passage.That's not progress. That is pathetic.
These people whining about being typecast because of Mississippi’s past haven’t said anything about Mississippi’s present. This, in fairness, is an American tradition. We never want to talk about all the horrible things we did in the past to get to where we are. Half of my ancestors were slaves (I guess we’d call them “involuntary immigrants” now), and it’s a guarantee that half of them were raped, or I would not be here to waste your time. We hunted hundreds of species to extinction. We murdered entire indigenous nations, and moved the rest of them from their native lands to ones that were completely alien to them. We used Asian immigrants for railroad building in the same way we used blacks to build our crop and textile industry, just not under the veil of slavery. Once we were done building our railroad networks, we made laws to try to keep Chinese people out. During WWII, we were fighting an enemy who placed “undesirables” in concentration camps, all the while putting Japanese citizens and residents of the US into concentration camps! The best part is that we had a group of black pilots have the best flight record for preserving the safety of our US bombers, yet when they got home, they were still just a bunch of n****rs with no rights. They didn’t get medals for their service until half of them were already dead of age.
However, if anyone tries to bring up any of these dark spots in our past, someone cries, “It’s in the past, get over it!” The problem is that we ARE over it, and we’ll be more over it when everyone owns what being an American means. We did f***ed up s***. I catch flack for being black and including myself in the crimes of the past, but the fact is I was born in this country, for better or worse, this is my native land. My ancestors were victims, but some were perpetrators, and the only way to really understand history is to understand ALL aspects of it.
For this reason, I can’t cry a river for the people of Mississippi until they actually acknowledge their past. Romanticising your slave-laden Confederate past without giving attention to the actual slavery and brutal racism is NOT acknowledging it. Continuing to do that will only make the past repeat itself. If you don’t believe that, look at the immigration and voter laws that are sprouting up today. So the lesson: If you don’t want to be depicted as a bunny-killer, then STOP KILLING BUNNIES.
OK, I changed my mind. THIS is my Black History Month post.