Social Question

ArtiqueFox's avatar

Why is Mississippi the poorest state?

Asked by ArtiqueFox (974points) February 22nd, 2010

Mississppi ranks one in any list of poor American states. Why is that? Bad land? Natural diaster? Historical causes? A mysterious plague? What’s goin’ on that makes ‘em the poorest out of all fifty?

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80 Answers

njnyjobs's avatar

Some of the factors you have enumerated have played a role in the economic demise of MS…

Read on:

Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the country, and communities along the Mississippi River have the highest poverty rates in the state.

According to economists:

With all of the critical rates of poverty in Mississippi isolated in one area along the Mississippi River on the western border, this creates a problem by itself.

When critical rates of poverty become isolated in one particular area, a negative stigma can become associated with the area.

This negative stigma makes the area an unattractive place for expanding businesses, teachers, and health care professionals. This leads to the area having a low amount of available jobs, low-quality education, and low-quality health care.

All of this makes the problem of poverty in the area even worse, which reinforces the negative stigma, creating a cycle of continuously worsening conditions in the area without private or public investment.

Many of these poverty problems could be solved through urban planning techniques and policies.

All of this aside, it is important to keep in mind that the reasons for poverty are as unique as the individuals who live through it. Though finding trends in a specific area is important, no generalization can account for everyone.

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noyesa's avatar

Well, there has to be a poorest state.

There’s little economic growth or high tech industrial activity in Mississippi.

Blackberry's avatar

That’s a good question, I will be watching it. I have always been perplexed at the varying degrees of humanity: How can you have an affluent suburb, then walk literally 50ft and come into a ghetto where 35% are under the povery line? It’s very interesting and disheartening.

plethora's avatar

Have you ever lived in MS? I’m sitting in my office in the Jackson MS area right now. Thank God I don’t live here anymore. I just have a part of my business here. Five years ago I moved to Nashville TN, primarily to get the Hell out of MS, and have not regretted the decision for one moment. NO ONE, I repeat, no one, moves TO MS, with the exception of the MS coast. There is a saying in the state that “south of I-10 it’s a different state”. And it is. I-10 is 8 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

It is not only the poorest state, it is also the fattest and the dumbest. Last in education, first in fat. Interestingly it is one of the top states in charitable giving.

lilikoi's avatar

That (charitable giving) probably has something to do with the fact that they are last in education…

SuperMouse's avatar

Because they spent the entire budget on s’s. Ba dum bum!

JLeslie's avatar

@plethora Top states in charitable giving, I am assuming that is based on a percentage to income, and not total dollars? My dad used to say, “the Bronx is a great place to come from, but not to go to,” feel free to use the line inserting MS. My question is, does MS want to change? I am not being condescending, I am being serious. I agree that with so much poverty it is hard to get a leg up. And, it seems to me that the people with money, don’t really care much about the people without. My impression of this part of the country is that generally people are very out for themselves, as evidenced by all of the recent right wing talk about individual reponsibility. How are you going to get good schools, when the people who have money in the state will fight tooth and nail against paying higher taxes for schools?

My girlfriend used to teach high school in MS outside of Memphis, middle class kids. Now she teaches outside of St Louis, and she said the school system is drastically different. She cannot believe how great the opportunties are for the kids in St Louis and that detention works very well no need for corporal punishment. I had to make her repeat it three times, corporal punishment in public school?! As a yankee transplanted I just cannot believe that still exists in public school in the US.

So back to my point. Does MS think corporal punishment is the right way to do things, and doesn’t want to change? Do they resist being told that having a baby when you are still in high school is not a good idea? Has the state ever tried to give incentives to businesses? I have no idea the answers, just throwing out some ideas/questions.

What @njnyjobs said Many of these poverty problems could be solved through urban planning techniques and policies. Some of that has to do with elected officials and tax money, I find here in the midsouth urban plannning is lacking. When I moved to TN, even new housing developments and communities were less planned than the community I lived in growing up 30 years ago in MD, forget about recent communities I have lived in the past 15 years in FL. But, the people here seem to be ok with it, kind of like they don’t know any better and accept it.

JONESGH's avatar

woah I’m in Jackson, MS right now, strange to think that another jelly is here!

ChaoSS's avatar

Fact: Mississippi has the highest proportion of African Americans in the nation.

JONESGH's avatar

@ChaoSS Fact: that’s not really relevant.

JLeslie's avatar

@JONESGH It might be relevant since they were opressed for many years.

ChaoSS's avatar

Indeed. It is the White Mans fault, JLeslie. They oppressed them for many years and even though “Whitey” has stopped Segregation, put in Affirmative Action, Black History month and numerous other activites aimed at promoting Black Pride, its still not enough. It has nothing to do at all with the actual persons living in Mississippi to try and get an education and make life better for themselves.

Oh dam the White Man, “He be always oppressing us! Dats why we so poor!”

ArtiqueFox's avatar

@ChaoSS Anyone can be lazy, whether they happen to have a black, white, yellow, red, purple, green, blue or rainbow colored hide. Race doesn’t indicate diligence.

ChaoSS's avatar

@ArtiqueFox That was a sarcastic response.

And yes, it is just a coincidence that Mississippi is the poorest state in the US and has the highest number of Blacks. I love the Liberal Mindset!

plethora's avatar

Whites and Blacks are at fault in MS in many ways. However, it is a fact that MS has the highest percentage of Blacks of any state. In fact, Hinds county, the county which encompasses Jackson, the capitol,is the Blackest county in America, 68% Black. There are poor Whites and poor Blacks in MS, but the Black population is burgeoning and the work ethic among Blacks in MS is very poor. In addition, English is a second (or perhaps unknown) language among Blacks.

What I have said above is in reference only to MS (and extending as far as the Memphis TN area). It is not true of the Black population I have had the privilege of meeting in Middle TN or in other areas of the country. Further, it is not true of every single Black person. I used to have a Black banker who was with one of the major MS banks, and the guy was as competent and as literate as he could be and was a pleasure to work with. But that is not who rules MS.

JLeslie's avatar

@ChaoSS Well, no, I was not really saying that. In fact, some of my answer is indirectly directed towards the fact that there are a lot of blacks in the state. They are statistically more likely to drop out of school, have teen children, that is why I was wondering if they want to change, or want to stick to what they feel is ok. But, of course there are white people, and Hispanic people, and Asians, etc who also drop out of school, and have babies too young, outside of marriage. A lot of it has to do with poverty, and not with the color of someone’s skin, but there are some cultural norms, well, probably it is better to say it is a subculture of the black population.

But, the white in MS don’t help the situation. Another thing I was alluding to in my answer. It seems the southern way is not to look at the big picture. White children are in private school (I am generalizing of course, but I find this to be more the rule than not) and the black children are in public schools where little emphasis is put on the public system. I have people around me here in the middle south ready to get rid of public schools altogether, they don’t give a damn if everyone is educated or not, they just care about their own child. This right wing way of thinking, since you are accusing us of being liberal, is not helping in my opinion. But, I have to say that really it is more a southern way of thinking, because I don’t agree with blue or red in the south on many things. Of course it is more complicated than that, the family and the community matter probably more than the school itself.

And, I agree that opression does not explain the whole thing. My people were sent to the gas chambers, and somehow we perservered, the ones who survived, and are educated and prosperous as a group. Another reason why I want to know if the people in MS really want to accept what has to be done to be more prosperous, both white and black.

ArtiqueFox's avatar

@ChaoSS There are lazy black people in Mississippi. There are lazy white people in Mississippi. Both races have the potential and choice to be lazy. Race, universally, doesn’t indicate laziness of individuals on a whole. I believe anyone of any color can be lazy. Period. But pointing fingers at a specific ethnic group doesn’t solve the problem, it merely diverts attention away from solving it. Generalization is quite the nasty fallacy….as is appeal to ridicule. :)

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty convinced it has something to do with math…

JLeslie's avatar

@ArtiqueFox I think it is like the statement Harry Reid made when he said Obama speaks like a black man only when he wants to, or whatever the quote was. That does not mean all black people speak the same, it means, that if you speak that way, you are most likely black, everyone knows what that means, and that people tried to say that they don’t know is disengenuous. Of course not all black people are poor and uneducated, but when you look at groups in the US, Asians, Caucasians, Blacks, Hispanics, etc., the blacks seem to be struggling with some things more than other cultures as a group. It is a generalization, it does not at all mean that every black person is like every other one at all, but it does matter I think. For instance, if you want to try to help the situation in MS, I don’t think you can send in a bunch of white people to help, because I think they might be less likely to listen, might feel condescended to. You cannot ignore the ethnic and cultural realities I don’t think. Maybe I am wrong? Maybe we should ignore it altogether, like we do the poor in Appalachia, many white people there living in incredible poverty.

ArtiqueFox's avatar

@JLeslie Allow me the opportunity to clarify. I do believe ethnicity is an important factor, in general. When we stick our heads in the sand, and try to be “color blind” it leads to other issues.

To me @ChaoSS’ reponse was blaming black Mississippians for the poverty based on the fact that they are black, based on the fact that they have dark skin. Maybe my interpretation is wrong, but that’s the way it came off to me. I won’t deny that their group has the issues you mentioned, but I think the root causes are history and such, not due to the amount of melanin in their epidermises.

JLeslie's avatar

@ArtiqueFox Then we are in complete agreement on the issue. I don’t know what was in @ChaoSS head, what his intention was when he wrote his answer. If you are right, that he just thinks all blacks are lazy and stupid, then I take issue with that of course. I guess I am surprised when people think that way, that the amount of melanin in someone’s skin is to blame, so my mind doesn’t go there, doesn’t go to the racist place, but rather the sociological place/analysis of the situation.

plethora's avatar

If you havent lived in MS I dont think you can begin to understand the issues. I am not a native to MS. I have a nephew in NC, a young white kid with an enormous attitude of entitlement and a limited command of the English language. I am saying that MS has a large and growing Black population with exactly the same attitudes as my nephew (and he was raised in a pretty poor family).

Color of skin has nothing to do with it. Attitude has everything to do with it and in MS that kind of attitude is ingrained in much (not all, many Blacks insulate themselves from it and are strong citizens) of the Black population and the Black population in MS is HUGE.

JLeslie's avatar

@plethora Do you have an idea of how it can be solved? I hear things like your nephew and people in MS having limited command of the English language and I just can’t wrap my head around it IF they have attended at minimum primary education. In Memphis there are people who literally are almost impossible to understand, but generally they are over the age of 40, and possibly were not educated much at all. BUT, how can young people be in this boat? The teachers can’t speak English either?

noyesa's avatar

What has become of Mississippi can also happen in wealthy areas in isolated packets. I live in Michigan, and our largest city is Detroit, which is known for being, let us say, not the nicest town in the world.

Despite its depressed state, Michigan has a lot of exemplary things about it. It’s much more populated than Mississippi. There’s about 40% more people living in the Detroit area than there is in the entire state of Mississippi. Concentration of resources and people is an important concept in urban planning.

Additionally, Michigan has one of the best public education systems in the country (and possibly even the world) given that many of its primary school districts are highly distinguished, well-funded, and perform very well. Michigan is also home to one of the best public secondary education systems in the country too. Dare I say, second best after California.

Despite all that, none of it can really help Detroit be anything more than… Detroit. The economy is depressed, manufacturing has fallen off the radar, and the concentration of wealth in the city proper has diminished (Detroit has fallen from nearly 2 million residents in 1950 to less than 900,000 today) to near zero and many of the essential services that keep a city running have either failed or are failing.

When police and other emergency services are unreliable, city government appears disfunctional and corrupt, and vast tracts of the city look like barren wasteland, the effect of all these things work together to essentially create a snowball effect of negativity that has made it hard enough for the city to make what little progress it has, despite 40 years of work, with some of the most affluent and educated regions in the country sitting just a few miles outside its city limits.

Nobody wants anything to do with Detriot, no matter what kind of tax incentives or ammenities it has to offer. I think a similar thing can be said of Mississippi. It’s just not an attractive place to open a business or to move to.

BoBo1946's avatar

Well, I was born in Mississippi and lived here all my life accept 10 years in Memphis. Personally, like it here. No traffic jams, very low crime accept in the intercities (Jackson, Greenville, Greenwood, Clarksdale, etc), good rural schools, cost of living is low, and the climate is okay. In the rural areas, great place to live, but not visit. Never have heard a person say, “I’m going to Mississippi for my vacation!” loll

Back too your question. Mississippi has always been a predominantly agricultural state. As we all know, going back to slavery, the Black people were taken here to work the fields. Those people were suppressed from getting a good education. This started the cycle that was passed down from generation to generation. Also, many of those same families still live and work on farms in the Delta. Most of those families get free housing as part of their salary to work the farms. Consequently, the per capita income here is very low. Understood, this is certainly not the only reason.

Unfortunately, for so many years Mississippi has been controled by the “good old boy” politicians, much like Louisiana. These politicians and the plantation owner have suppress the Black Man. The Black people that lived on the farm that didn’t want this lifestyle have moved too the inner cities….These people aren’t educated due to being suppressed also. Hopefully, someday this will change.

Going back to the statement about the cost of living. Yes, our per capita income is low, but takes much less money to live a good lifestyle here.

BoBo1946's avatar

@noyesa there are some very attractive towns here. Personally live in the Tupelo area in Mississippi and it is a very clean, neat, and great place to live. Also, Oxford, Ms, my hometown, is a great place to live. One of the best 100 small towns in America to live in as stated in a popular magazine a couple years ago.

But, overall, you would be correct.

noyesa's avatar

@BoBo1946 I’m sure, I don’t ever pidgeonhole an entire state. My girlfriend is originally from Maryland. Parts of that state are gorgeous, but she’s from the eastern shore. If you’ll excuse a crass joke, the eastern shore is to Maryland as Mississippi is the the US. =)

It’s not exactly bad. Sure, the culture has less of that characteristic Maryland “middle temperament” and is closer to straight-up southern culture, the people are not exactly inviting to out-of-towners (they can spot me from a mile away), but it’s not a terrible place to live and it has its redeeming qualities.

Unfortunately, much like Mississippi, the region doesn’t retain many of its college educated inhabitants. The best students are going to the sizable collection of excellent colleges in western Maryland and most of them are not coming back. The young people who do stay often don’t go to college, or they go to one of the local colleges (which primarily graduate nursing students and teachers, most of whom go directly into local employment). There’s no engine generating educated people in the area, the area doesn’t retain its educated people, and it’s difficult to find investment in some sort of high tech industry. It’s much, much easier to simply move to the Baltimore or D.C. area, which are excellent places to be for almost any high tech industry.

Point is, even if there’s nothing particularly wrong with a place, disadvantages like these can severaly impede its ability to make progress and grow.

BoBo1946's avatar

@noyesa ditto and well-said!

JLeslie's avatar

@noyesa Detroit is a great example. Has remarkable similarities to MS really, except one big difference is that Detroit has some fantastic possibilities on the river. Looking over towards Canada is a nice view, and there was at one time significant job opportunity in the area (of course that has changed) you would think throwing money at development along the water front would have worked, but every attempt seems to have failed. My girlfriend worked selling computer software to MI public schools, and the inner city had more money to spend than most districts, but still the students have trouble performing.

I think maybe crime has something to do with it. If you want to attract people to the area, they have to feel reasonably safe.

West Palm Beach in FL went through a big growth spurt in the last 10 years. The city did extensive planning, coordinating residential and commercial growth simultaneously (which I think is very important). The area had been a not so great part of town, but the redevelopment was done so large at once that it was successful, and really converted the area. Of course FL has the advantage of being a tourist destination, so not quite comparable. But back to developing an area at once, in a large way. It is like the old Dean and Deluca example. If you are in the produce section and there is only 4 apples left in the apple section, people basically think they are left over, not so great, apples, even if they are perfect. People want fruit to be full and brimming to the top, then they are enticed to take one. This is true in almost everything including real estate. You cannot build one building at a time and expect people to move in.

noyesa's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, Detroit has a lot of advantages that many other places don’t have. But that’s kind of my point—it’s difficult to work against all these things that shouldn’t mean so much, but they do. Crime is obviously a huge issue for Detroit, but even if the crime rate were cut in half, nobody of any reasonable wealth is going to want to live in a city with huge tracts of land that mimic the appearance of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Contrast that with cities that have comparable or worse crime rates than Detroit, like Baltimore and Philadelphia. There are large areas of those cities that have seen a very successful revival. The Inner Harbor in Baltimore and Central City in Philadelphia, for example.

The thing is, people want to live in a place that has an identity. Cookie cutter suburbia sucks, but people are surely willing to live in a paper-mache 2500 sq ft cookie cutter tract home on a cul-de-sac in light of all the problems that affect both urban and rural depressed economies. Living in a city that is functional, healthy, and has an identity is extremely important. Detroit and surely Mississippi could offer so much of that, but in order to acquire that, a lot of work has to be done to make these places into places that are worth caring about. You don’t need a vibrant tourist economy (like Florida) has to make a city great. There are plenty of cities that lack a tourism sector that are vibrant and fun places to live in. Detroit has so much potential to offer the excitement and pride that people look for in their home, but fails so miserably to capitalize on it.

You’ve got to have the basics covered before people are going to consider it. People might move into Detroit or Mississippi if it could offer them what they’re looking for, but these places seem to repeatedly go after things that couldn’t reasonably have much effect—like tourism or casinos.

JLeslie's avatar

@noyesa I think MS could do mega development with retirement communities if they focused on it. Land is cheap, climate is reasonably moderate. Just a thought.

plethora's avatar

@JLeslie If the climate in MS year round were similar to the way it is right now, the place would be overrun. From Dec to Mar (4 months) it’s absolutely great. But Summer starts in midmarch and continues through October, sometimes into November. By the time June arrives, we are talking 90–100 degree days and 100% humidity. There is nothing mild about the climate in MS, except for a very limited period each year.

BoBo1946's avatar

@plethora not that bad…...

I love Misssissippi…and proud of it!

JLeslie's avatar

@plethora retirement is not always in mild climates, mostly people crave getting away from the frigid air of the winter, and the snow. The south is plagued with ice during bad winters, which is more paralyzing than snow, but in mega retirment communities this would be less of a problem. FL and AZ are full of retirement aged people, and it is hot there too, although MS is hotter than FL during the highs in the summer. Many people have gone from the north to FL and then have become “halfbacks” winding up in NC. I think southerners and some midwesterners might prefer MS if done right, to the east coast. Like I said, just an idea.

plethora's avatar

@JLeslie Actually the MS coast does have many retirees. At least it did before Katrina. And I do like the coast. Was there just last week. But as I said in an earlier post, the saying in MS is “south of I-10 it’s a different state”...and it is.

@BoBo1946 Point taken. If you were born and raised in MS and have stayed in MS, you probably like it. My point is you surely see no one moving TO ms….and I know why after living there for 10 years…and going back pretty often for business.

BoBo1946's avatar

@plethora most of the people are friendly and cordial. I live in the Tupelo (great place to live) area now. Grew up in Oxford. But, certainly understand your comments.

JONESGH's avatar

@BoBo1946 Tupelo and Oxford are both great places to live! I know many people from out of state who have condos or vacation homes in Oxford.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The answer to the Q is: Somebody had to be, and Alabama and Louisiana teamed up with Arkansas to make sure it wasn’t one of them. (Mississippi never got the meeting invitation, because none of those other states could spell “Mississippi”.)

BoBo1946's avatar

@JONESGH if you got to live in Mississippi, those are two best places to live. Oxford was voted one of the 100 best small towns in America. Very beautiful town. Lots of old antebellum homes, huge oak trees, etc..

JONESGH's avatar

@BoBo1946 Plus, there’s nothing like the Square or the Double-Decker Festival!

BoBo1946's avatar

@JONESGH you got that right…hey, if you get a chance, eat at Ajax on the West side of the square….really really good food!

JONESGH's avatar

@BoBo1946 I’ll definitely check that out! Thanks for the suggestion

BoBo1946's avatar

@ArtiqueFox just a footnote to my prior comments, the Mississippi Delta is some of the richest land in the World. Also, it is an area of “have’s & have not,” as there are plantation owners with thousands of acres. Lots of huge “Old South,” antebellum homes!

JLeslie's avatar

@BoBo1946 The thing is, there are nice people everywhere. For me it is about lifestyle and climate. I have made friends everywhere I have ever lived.

BoBo1946's avatar

@JLeslie worked State Farm Ins Co for 25 years and worked floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc all over the USA and agreed on nice people everywhere, but this is my home, where i was born, most of my family is here, etc.; so have to be a little prejudice.

You will not find a better place to live than Oxford, voted one of the best small towns in America. Have lived in Tupelo area for 30 years, and it would be the second best place to live in Ms.

Bottomline, I’m very happy with where I live…but, i would be happy almost anywhere.

JLeslie's avatar

@BoBo1946 Not trying to convince you to move. I think it is great that you are happy where you are. I will be stopping for lunch in Tupelo in a few weeks on my way to Birmingham.

BoBo1946's avatar

@JLeslie really…great place to eat is the Grill. It is in the downtown area.

My regional office was in Birmingham..use to go there a lot.

JLeslie's avatar

@BoBo1946 Oh thanks. I will google it to get the address, we usually wind up at some chain restaurant. Is it easy to drive through the parking lot of the Grill? We will be towing a second car, so turning around will not be easy.

BoBo1946's avatar

Yes, very easy…will not be a problem. Also, not far out of your way!

JLeslie's avatar

@BoBo1946 A lot of things pop up when I google it. Is this it?

BoBo1946's avatar

yes, it is in Fairpark!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ChaoSS it is not coincidence that poverty in many urban ares goes along with non-whites but the connection isn’t race in question, it’s systemic racism of many decades.

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir So what are the blacks going to do about it? I believe that 95% of Americans are not racist. They are happy to accept blacks as equals if they are equal. If someone speaks English poorly, dropped out of school in 10th grade, and has three babies by the age of 22, that is what is keeping them back, not the color of their skin. It really is a poverty and cultural question I think, not race. Certainly there are whites in our country who also drop out of school, speak English poorly, etc, and they too are going to have a hard time, and there is prejudice against them. So, I do not accept that it is systemic racism of many decades, even though I too stated that years of oppression may have affected black people in MS, because the question is now what do the people of MS want now? Do they want to know the formula to get out of that poverty or not?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie there is a difference between individual racism and systemic racism – for the latter, no one and everyone is at fault and it speaks to an intersection of oppression – an intersection of economic, educational, health and otherwise difference in what’s available to whites and people of color….all of these trajectories have been decades in the making…no single generation just gets whatever, they’re born into a system that disproportionately discriminates against them…people in urban poverty zones are people of color…because they’re poor, they have access to worse education, less access to healthier foods or healthier ways to exersise, less access to opportunity…many are targeted more than whites for prison…areas are less safe…this all has an all-together negative effect on the population – what we, in public health, identify as the ‘broken window phenomenon’ – the idea that people who grow up in an unsafe, disorderly environment feed into it, don’t see a way out, and make health and life decisions (the dropping, the pregnancy, all the things you mention) that make sense to them given their possibilities for success or status but these decisions don’t have to make sense to anyone else…even in your answer all these things seem so condescending: after all, one doesn’t have to think that dropping out of school is all that bad (maybe they don’t want to feed into the traditional education system that they don’t think speaks to them or represents them or wants them)...maybe their ‘poor language’ is not poor at’s just another way for the community to bond together and separate themselves because they have been separated involuntarily so often…maybe the pregnancies are about what kind of an education they’re exposed to and these areas, as I’ve mentioned, have been largely underfunded in anything related to education…

Each family tries to do what’s best for them…it’s not like there’s this one giant group called ‘people of MS’ – they don’t have that kind of an organization…they’re not meeting and advocating for their communities as one single unit…and who would they look for answers to? the white people in power? I don’t think so.

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I have empathy for all of the points you make. I agree with all of it being a factor, but I do take issue with the language. There is no reason why they cannot speak better English when in school and while intereacting with people outsie of the community, and then use their dialect/slang/accent inside of the community. I know Jamaican people who do it, my husband speak Spanish with is family, and English at work. They don’t say you will have to learn to understand me, they understand that the way to get ahead in America is to be understandable and conform when you are among the many. Like Oprah says, English is your friend.

I understand why they don’t want to look to white people for help, but that is too bad. During Civil Rights many white Jewish Lawyers and others went down from the north to help the blacks, and they rejected a lot of the help. I think it was in The Bronx years ago they drove the white teachers out of the schools (many were Jewish), not sure why NYC went along with it, wanting black teachers who better identified with the neighborhood. As a white person, I don’t care who mentors me or helps me if they have the knowledge to help me acheive what I want. I don’t care if they are a different race, religion, gender, height, eye color, it shouldn’t matter. There are plenty of white people in power who do want to help, who understand, but probably less likely to find those white people in MS, because MS is full of people who are part of the majority in every way. They are less likely to put themselves in the minority person’s shoes.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie the issue I take is with what is ‘better’ language and why we think of it as such – just because this ‘better’ English is more accepted, something you need for jobs, etc. doesn’t mean anything, in reality, philosophically speaking – it just means that using the ‘norm’ language will get your further along in the ‘norm’ society – as we other others because of their race and sexuality, the communities develop their own norms which, given the context, are on par with the outside norm…and it’s not specific white people again whose help they don’t want…it’s the concept of getting help from organizations and businesses and structures and systems that, in the past, (and many in the present) discriminate against you.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JLeslie this may be hard for you to take, because I’m sure that you don’t consider yourself to be racist, but you perpetuate it with statements like “I understand why they…” do this or that, but “I don’t understand why they…” don’t do other things.

Your use of language (that is, the words you use in your statements about “they” and “them”, not your proper English) tends to individuate yourself from “them” (others) and point out their “differentness”.

Some people notice this about the world around them and do it pre-emptively to positively differentiate themselves. Language has always been one of the surest ways to do this. (And sometimes the only way, when one has nothing else of value and can’t really “escape”.)

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I agree “norm” is more correct.

@CyanoticWasp My language might sound us and them, but that is not my intent, I am using “they” referring to the blacks in MS that we have been talking about. I also used “they” in the sentence to describe white Christians in MS. I do not feel or believe blacks in MS are fundamentally different than me in any way. I think their situation, the circumstance they live in, is what is important. All @Simone_De_Beauvoir said is valid, growing up inside of the “broken window phenomenon” as she calls it. My grandfather had a horrendous childhood, you may have seen me write about it before, and he had mental health issues, most likely because of the trauma he experienced, and so did many of his siblings. They were poor, extremely poor. My father grew up poor as well, BUT the community he lived in had good educational opportunities, and other positive things to offer, and they were proud to be Americans, grateful. Growing up in a “war zone” or with a feeling that you are a second class citizen in your own country is awful, and would have an affect on anybody.

And, I would add that if the black people in MS are happy with their situation I am not out to force a change or cast any judgement. I am saying if they want a change, then there is a kind of fomula to follow. It’s like the Amish, if they are happy with their lifestyle have at it. Or, a family who lives in a rural part of our country, who farms their own land, lives simply and modestly, maybe they are poor by some standards, but are content with their lives, have the necesities, live safely, that all sounds fine to me. No judgement. I am trying to figure out what would help the people who want help, who want a different life with different opportunities.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JLeslie a lot of it comes down to knowing—really knowing—that there are choices.

I grew up in suburban / semi-rural towns outside of Worcester, Massachusetts, a middling-small city in the center of the Commonwealth. You would think (I always thought) that anyone in Worcester who wanted to could certainly know what a “farm” or a “lake” or “the country” could be like, because it’s so darn close to town. But it ain’t necessarily so.

In high school I worked at a summer camp for underprivileged kids from Worcester. I was amazed—really and truly amazed—to see pre-teen and ‘tweener’ kids who had no idea what a pasture looked like, or a cow, a horse, a cornfield, etc. They thought, I guess (I never examined their psyches on this) that those things and animals only existed in exotic places (or television) that they would never see. They had no concept of the closeness, the reality… the “other things” that they could find or aspire to other than their relatively constrained lives in the city of Worcester.

I’m sure that we all have our various cultural and experiential blind spots (I’m reminded of it more and more often when I travel overseas, for example), but until you “know that you don’t know”, there’s no way to even imagine anything different.

So I suppose that if one lives in the city and have no idea about “cow” and “cornfield” (or grow up amid rural poverty and know nothing of “city”, “ship”, “nightlife” and so forth) then one might not even use those terms—or might expropriate them for other things, since the things that you and I use the words for have no real meaning.

All I’m saying is that I’ve been astonished at how ignorant people can be—sometimes by choice, and sometimes because those around them prefer them to be that way.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie The formula you speak of should be dismantled – this all goes back to figuring out why there need to be such divisions based on race and gender and class – one thing feeds into another and for some people their minority identities snowball onto them and leave them stuck.

JLeslie's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I agree with all you said. I’m not sure if people choose to be ignorant, but many are not exposed to people and places different than their own community. They have little knowledge of the vast differences in our country and the world. I don’t fault the person if they had little opportunity to have these experiences. However, with media as it is today; tv, internet, movies, there is opportunity for the educational system at minimum to share these other ways of life. But, again, I agree that it might seem very foreign or remote, even if it is just 30 minutes away from their homes.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I’m not sure what you mean about dismantled. I am talking about education primarily. Primary, secondary, and I include vocational education, anything that helps prepare someone for life, whatever life they choose. I think a lot of the media and politicians today talk about a college education, and this ignores a large part of our population who will not attend college. And yes, I think the minority identity snowballs, that is one of the biggest problems I think. That goes back to what I said about growing up and feeling like you are a second class citizen in your own country. I think it is an untruth for blacks to believe whites want to keep them down or are racist. As long as they think that, psychologically I think it is harder to move forward.

A while back I had a conversation with a black coworker and somehow we got on the topic that her family has no history, that she has no traditions to hand down to her children, etc. She is Moslem, so I told her she has religious holidays and American holidays to create traditions with her children. I went on to tell her that in my family we don’t celebrate any Latvian or Russian celebrations, we just get together on some Jewish holidays and Thanksgiving, July 4th, etc. That my experience is not really any different than hers. She was shocked. She was sure every white person has this great connection to the old country. Then I asked if she feels, and if she teaches her children that America is a great country. She had no real answer, which means no. I grew up being told America is paradise. I had immigrant friends who had escaped their countries, literally escaped. Being happy with the soil I live on, and believing in the American Dream was a very positive influence in my life I think. I don’t think black Americans in MS get that message or have that feeling.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie I suppose I was expressing my negative attitude towards capitalism, not so much the structure of education here in the U.S. I agree with you that all people should have access to education and be safe and sheltered and fed enough to be able to succeed in schools. I don’t think anyone should have to pay for college (after all, community schools aren’t thought of the same as private schools when it comes to the job market and poorer people can’t afford the latter).

I don’t think her experience is what I’ve heard here in Brooklyn – people identify from having roots in Brooklyn, no matter the race – and I as an immigrant in a marriage with an American, have no pride for any country (I don’t believe in nationalism or patriotism) but I am not bothered by this.

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Overall I think everyone does have access to education for now. even bad public schools have teachers teaching, if the kids are paying attention. It is so complicated really. Yeah, in NY and also in metro DC (I grew up in both) we all had some connection to our family background. This woman I worked with lives in Memphis, which is about 3 minutes from MS, and I fear black people here put more weight on their shoulders than necessary. She has her masters degree by the way. In the south it seems people are very PC, never talk about race relations, ethnicity, cultural differences, and no one really knows each other, the communities are very separated.

JLeslie's avatar

So I was talking to this woman I recently met, and seems she used to teach school in both public and private in MS. She said back when the schools were desegregated the whites ran out of the schools to start private schools. She actually, it seems, suggested that this was a big mistake. That the public schools had better facilities, labs, and more elective choices for the children. So, by her account the whites chose to have less educational opportunity at the time to make sure their kids were not mixed in with the blacks. She also, during the conversation, said she had told her son when he was going out into the real world, he is in his 30’s now, that he needs to be able to look another person in the eye, and get used to the idea that he might have a boss who is black. I mean come on. She was very nice, I don’t think she is a racist, but that just 10–15 years ago she had to give her son a talk like that is beyond me.

I also, just drove through the Northern part of MS last weekend, the roads suck.

@BoBo1946 We ate at The Grill, and enjoyed it very much. Thank you.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie oh dear…a black boss? the horror

BoBo1946's avatar

@JLeslie super….you are very welcome!

Ron_C's avatar

I think Mississippi is the final result of a truly conservative state. They live mostly in a post civil war time and have ultra-conservative values that keep them there. Integration was forced on them and they resent it. The establishment, educated in private schools, works for their own and emphasize “self-reliance” as an excuse to avoid working for the common good. I expect the white establishment would be quite happy to go back to the plantation system.

The public school system is bad because the conservatives keep it that way. They teach blacks that they are inferior and have the poor results to prove it. At the same time, they tell poor whites that they are better than blacks to keep the poor in their place. The Republicans and many “Blue Dog” democrats would like the entire country to operate in the same way. The rich keep their money and can isolate themselves from “their inferiors”.

Of course that system will eventually end in revolution. When people have nothing to loose they easily accept radical agendas. That’s what happened in Russia, China, Palestine, Pakistan, and many other countries.

Very few revolutions are democratic, mostly they are revenge against the aristocracy and replace them with political or religious oppression.

I have always believed that education is the best first step towards democracy. The first thing they should do in Mississippi is develop an effective public education system, install a progressive income tax system, and remove the religious exemption for property. Another way to see a poor educational system is the over-abundance of churches and church property.

cfinley's avatar

Ron C, have you ever even entered the state of Mississippi? NONE, and I mean NONE of what you wrote is at all true about the Magnolia state. As any educator knows (I’ve taught school for 17 years), you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Alot of the problem as far as education in MS simply boils down to a lack of interest from the students-which, of course, is taught to them by their parents. We certainly don’t tell black people that they are inferior to white people or tell white people that they are superior to blacks, that’s just asinine! Also, I grew up in Mississippi and I can tell you that no one has ever mentioned how great the plantation system was. I mean, that was 150+ years ago, we don’t even know HOW the plantation system was! I guess you think we still burn crosses and don’t have running water or electricity yet, either. We have progressed as a state right along with every other state in the U.S.
I am so tired of my beloved state being stereotyped by people in this country who have never so much as placed a foot on its soil. Now THAT is ignorance.

JLeslie's avatar

@cfinley I just wonder, do you live south of I10? Did you go to public school?

Ron_C's avatar

@cfinley I travel a great deal and have been to Mississippi and Alabama. If you stay at the beach or tourist area they are not bad. When you get away to the cities or country side it is like going back in time.

Mississippi ranks last ( as of the 2004 census) in spending for students. I know that it takes more than money to educate a child. It does show a state’s commitment to education.

I expect that you do have running water but you cannot live in a conservative, tradition steeped environment where teachers are paid less than McDonald employees and parents think the football basketball game is more important than PTA meetings. States where you can only get a quality education in a private school are doomed to be forever at the bottom of the heap.

I believe that conservative means that you don’t have to change and you don’t have to think because everything necessary has been done and though before you. A conservative’s job is to insure that nothing changes because change is bad.

Since humans are not designed to stagnate the result of conservatism is to degenerate. Look at Afghanistan. They have tribe and headmen. Anyone that violates tradition is sentenced to death. That to me is the essence of the “Old South” “Good times there are not forgotten”.

Our founding fathers knew that democracy could not survive without an educated populace. Unfortunately the current attacks on the Public School system will cause all states to degenerate to the status of Mississippi and Alabama.

cfinley's avatar

Ron C. Where do you live? Conservatism calls for low taxes, small government, and Christian values. None of which, I’m sure, you are familiar with. We don’t have to pay 20 dollars to drive on public roads (not one toll road in the entire state that I am aware of). We don’t pay 20% of our income to state taxes. And, for sure, we are not communists or socialists. We believe in hard work and a kind disposition, and we sure don’t get on the internet and dog our fellow states (any of the other 49).
The reason our spending per student is low is that we don’t have the tax base to pay teachers what they deserve. It definitely is not a sign of our commitment to education. We have Rhodes scholars from the public school system just like every other state does. I actually know one personally. At any rate, I could go on forever about the great things in our state that people who don’t spend real time here have no idea about. But people that get their info from blog sites won’t believe me anyway. So, keep getting your “news” from hate-filled blog sites while I enjoy my life in the beautiful Magnolia state. By the way, I never knew any McDonald’s employees that make $40,000+ per year in our area unless they’ve been there forever and manage. You forget the cost of living in the equation. $40,000 per year in Mississippi is like $100,000 or more in the Northeast. You guys are the reason the dollar is so weak. Maybe y’all should take a page out of our book. I hear Connecticut is thinking about putting a small tax on oxygen consumed!!!
By the way, been to upstate New York lately? They better be glad they can claim NYC, because the SEVERAL towns I have been to there make Mississippi look like Harvard graduates! Stop hating and start loving. Accept people’s differences or stay in your neighborhood! By the way, I’m proud of our churches. Everyone could use a little more moral turpitude. We might not be in this recession mess right now if there were a few more Christian values on Wall Street, THAT is for sure!

Ron_C's avatar

@cfinley I came off pretty harsh. The fact is that the first person that I met from Mississippi (I’m from Pennsylvania) told me that he doesn’t need to read books, “the bible is the only book I need”. I think that we were discussing Reagan’s campaign and why I quit the republican party.

Mississippi is a beautiful state, in fact, most of the states in this country are beautiful (even New Jersey) when you get away from the big cities.

The reason there is no tax base in Mississippi is that there is no well paid industry. I am pretty sure that Mississippi is one of the “right to work” states. That translates to anti-union.

I am sure there are many people that rise above there circumstances from that state. I also believe that people should be raised from their circumstances and the basis for that is a strong public school system.

Coincidently, I have been having discussions relating to our local school board and teacher’s contracts in my state. I want well paid, effective, teachers. What prevents the effective part of that statement is a system where teachers have a union and also tenure. Unions promote decent pay and a good working environment and ironically promote teacher improvement and criticism. Tenure retains teachers long after their “sell by” date. We are working on a citizens attempt to eliminate tenure and automatic raises and implement a merit based system.

It all boils down to this, to have a successful, democratic state you need an educated population, you need quality teachers, most importantly, parental involvement. If you have that you will probably end up with a better industrial base, wider tax base, and a less conservative, and more progressive state. I am more concerned that a student read and write, understand history, civics and geography, than whether there is prayer in school or that Ol’ Miss does well in football.

Take away education and it all falls apart and that is what I see happening in most of the southern and many western states.

You can have a beautiful and friendly state but if the citizens do not have enough education to appreciate it, it does not wit of good.

cfinley's avatar

I grew up in Starkville, MS; home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs where my dad taught mathematics for 30 years. He graduated from Ole Miss (our, the Bulldogs, rival). But, for me, I don’t care how Ole Miss does as long as Mississippi State kicks their a**! HaHa! I agree that education is the answer, but that comes from the home, not the quality of educators. I learned earth science in the 8th grade from a baseball coach that couldn’t even spell “Earth Science”, but he made us learn the material for the test and I learned every bit of the curriculum because I wanted an “A”. It really boils down to the desire of the students, not the quality of the teacher. Which is why I don’t favor merit pay. Believe me, if you teach in an affluent area, you can be a total idiot and look like the teacher of the year. Whereas, you can teach in the inner city and be a Cumma Sum Laude graduate in your subject area and look like a total moron. It simply isn’t fair. Demographics is HUGE when it comes to education. I favor paying higher wages in tougher areas. But, there are arguments against that as well. Education is a tough problem to conquer. Bottom line is, we HAVE to start stressing the importance of an education BEYOND what a child will make per year when they grow up. Education affects quality of life, period, no matter what the salary. Americans have forgotten that. I don’t know the solution; I can only identify the problem. Publicity is a start. Hopefully parents will read this and it will help. That is one of the main things I like about Obama, is his stress on education and his adresses to the students of America. We need to all get the message out; and, for that, I appreciate your beliefs. Because, the importance of education is something you and I both agree on!

JLeslie's avatar

@cfinley I know a high school teacher who grew up and taught in MS, just outside of Memphis is a middle class area. A few years ago she moved with her husband to the St. Louis area, and she said the schools and the kids are vastly different. Education is much better, the kids are way more knowledgable and involved. Some things she pointed out that were different, not necessarily associated with coursework: no corporal punishment in St. louis. Corporal punishment?! I could not believe what I was hearing, flipping corporal punishment still exists in public school in MS?! Sorry, that is Christian bullshit idiocy at this point, or ignorance. She also pointed out kids in St. Louis do not say ma’am and a lot of them do not tuck their shirts in. I have a friend here who said he relates being able to hold down a job to having to have worn a uniform in his private school. Now, I happen to be all in favor of uniforms, but his conclusion is flawed. I would bet you half of Harvard did not wear uniforms in high school, and more than half of the professionals in our country. They have some sort of superiority complex going, and it is along racial lines, and socio-economic.

I walk with a woman in my neighborhood who taught public school in MS during desegregation. She said the white families left the schools and chose to have their children in less equipped private schools than be with the blacks. She tried to convince families to stay in the public schools where they had science equipment, and more variety of classes. Now the private system is built up of course in the south, and most private schools are better than the public. She said, when her son graduated her advice to him, he is in his thirties now, was, when you interview with someone shake their hand, look them. In the eye, and be able to carry on a conversation, and know that you might be interviewing with someone who is black. I do not feel this woman has a racist bone in her body, but it demonstrates the community and experience she lived in.

I am right outside of Memphis, on the TN side, which is very close to MS, there are some decent public schools, in white neighborhoods, but mostly people spend a fortune for private schools, and they are pissed to have to pay to send other people’s children to public school through their tax money. It would be way cheaper to pay higher taxes and have better public schools. But in the end it is not only about the school, it is also about the kids in the school.

True that up north there are small towns that are poor and conservative. I generally think it is more a small town big city thing, but the bible belt does seem to have their own way of looking at things, because of how the south grew up. Have you lived up north? In a diverse city? It is not that I am saying one is better than the other, but the experience is very different, and so the outlook of the people is very different.

cfinley's avatar

I grew up with corporal punishment in school and at the house. I know one thing, it sure kept me on the straight and narrow and I have no violent tendencies like the liberals claim happens to people who are disciplined that way. I have never, however, had access to corporal punishment as an educator. So, I don’t know about where your friend taught, but, as far as I know, corporal punishment is no longer accepted in the public schools of Mississippi at least since I started in 1994, and that was a LONG time ago. Again, it seems as if people outside of our state never get the facts straight about us. We’re just everybody’s whipping boy. By the way, why is it OK for people to go to private school up north but not in the south? My children attend private school and there are several black students as well as hispanics, native Americans, Asians, basically any minority group you can think of right there at school with them. Mississippi private schools are NOT segregated like most outsiders seem to think. I guess these minority students are trying to get away from black people as well, according to your logic.
I just get tired of everyone only bashing Mississippi. So what if we don’t have loads of cash in our pocket. Racial relations in our state are as good as they’ve ever been. I would say my family has just as many, if not more, black friends as we do white. Now, how many white northern families can honestly say that?
One more thing, I don’t know of any area in the entire state of MS that is as dangerous as St. Louis, MO. And, yes, I have spent time there. So, just how good is their education?

JLeslie's avatar

@cfinley try this article on corporal punishment I’m sure some instances are in the north, but there is a disporportionate amount in the south and MS. I can’t find the artcile from last year that was in my local news, MS side of the state line, of an elementary student who came home with welts on his backside. It was noted the parent had signed the waver for corporal punishment to be used on her child at school.

I’m not sure if I was clear above, the teacher who moved to St. Louis is in her late 30’s and moved there 3 years ago. The other woman I spoke of taught in MS back during desegregation and she is in her 60’s.

I grew up outside of DC and NYC, and I was stunned to hear corporal punishment exists outside of parochial schools. It seemed impossible to me. It also seems impossible that there is a prayer on school, but hey, like I said, totally different experience when you live in a place full of Jews, and Catholics, and buddhists, and Muslims, and Hispanics, and Iranians, and Vietnamese, and Koreans, and I could go on.

You are right of course that northern children go to private schools also. Most of my friends up north send their children to private school either because the school is much better than local schools, or for the religious education, none of them talk about race, although I admit that even in some northern communities the private schools are much less diverse than the public schools.

But, it does feel to me, having lived in MI, MD, NC, FL, NY, and TN that the south is more racially divided generally, economically. The socio-economic divide is the real problem in my opinion.

cfinley's avatar

The socio-economic divide is not because of the establishment in the south, but of personal choices. We have the same opportunities for minorities (more, actually, due to affirmative action) as we do for white people. The stress on education among the less than affluent in our state is the problem regardless of race, not some kind of systemic problem with our government or authority. As far as corporal punishment, we are going to have to agree to disagree. As a teacher, I know my job would be much, much easier with the threat of a possible spanking for bad behavior. And, yes, there are certain school districts that will allow corporal punishment ONLY if written permission is given by the parent. So, if you personally had a child in our public school system, you wouldn’t have to worry about him/her being paddled without you approving it. Now what is possibly wrong with that? Oh, yeah, I forgot liberals don’t care for freedom of choice.
And, no, we don’t allow prayer in public schools over a P.A. system or any other public forum like that. Any school district that does so is in violation of federal law and would be held just as accountable down here as they are up there. Also, we have all the religions and cultures that you mentioned in your post. They are welcome here. We are not some secret society; we are a proud member of the United States of America and follow all federal statutes and guidelines or pay the just consequencs. God Bless America! ; )

JLeslie's avatar

@cfinley i know you don’t have prayer over the loud speaker, I am not attacking the school system, I am talking about the mindset of the population, but of course I am generalizing, not everyone. I have people all around me who think prayer in school should be just fine, talk about how the city has “changed” referring to northerners moving in, “kids can’t have any fun anymore, because they can’t celebrate Christmas in school.” When I ask them what they would want if the majority of the school was Muslim or Jewish, should we drop Christmas and do chanukah? Or, try to squeeze in everything for all kids, then they begin to understand why we liberals, as you say, want secular schools. By the way, according to moms in my neigjborhood the high school here teaches the bible in English class as literature. I don’t get how no one has challenged that.

Honestly, even if someone is ok with hitting their kids, I can’t fathom how anyone would allow a teacher the discretion to hit their children. Just imagine all of those states that have made corporal punishment illegal still turn our children who are disciplined and wind up successful and prosperous. It is not that someone like you who received corporal punishment wound up fine and not violent, it is that we can raise obedient children without hitting them, why not choose that option?

We agree that it is economics more than anything.

cfinley's avatar

Absolutely agree with you on the economic thing. But, I’m telling you from personal experience that the public school system is in the shape that it is in right now due to us dropping corporal punishment. Of course, people who want to be in school and receive a quality education can be well-disciplined without the threat of a paddle. Unfortunately, there are many kids in this country who don’t want to be in school at all, and certainly don’t want to be told what to do. Look at the expansion of alternative schools (which I currently teach at now). They didn’t even exist when I was in school and there was no need for them. But, I’m beating a dead horse (no pun intended – HaHa!), because corporal punishment is basically a thing of the past. Hopefully, a quality education is not. But, I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with the parents having a choice of corporal punishment or anything else, for that matter. I mean, isn’t that what this great country is based on?
As far as the secular school thing, I definitely believe in freedom of religion (yet another principle this country was based on). I think the federal government has that issue resolved. Nothing wrong with personal prayer or even group prayer that is organized by the student body or even a teacher for that matter. As long as participation is stricty voluntary. Again, we follow that law in MS just like every other state in the U.S.

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