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Rebelling Against the Past

Any native Mississippian who has spent any significant time outside of our beautiful state knows exactly what the rest of the country thinks of us. They think we are backwards, racist and stupid.

Why?

Because we present ourselves to the world as backwards, racist and stupid.

What do you expect people to think about a state that is consistently, for decades, dead last or near dead last in education?

What do you expect people to think about a state that is consistently, for decades, dead last or near dead last in poverty?

What do you expect people to think about a state that is consistently, for decades, dead last or near dead last in teen pregnancy?

What do you expect people to think about a state that seems wholly unwilling to recognize the great evil perpetrated by our ancestors? A state that proudly bears the symbol of the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan? 

We have given them good reason to think that Mississippi is full of backwards, uneducated racists. 

I can't blame them. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and flies like a duck, I don't blame a person for expecting a duck. Especailly as we are actively promoting ourselves to be exactly what the rest of the country thinks we are. 

It does not have to be that way. 

We cannot undo the shame of our ancestors, but we certainly can move away from that shame.

A wise person does not fight for the past. A wise person fights for the future.  Our future is bleak so long as we hold onto the sins of our past. 

I am not saying that we forget where we have been. Quite the opposite. We must always, vigilantly remember exactly where we have been so that we never end up in there again.

Where we have been is in the gutter. We have been failing our citizens for far too long. We failed our citizens when we allowed the shame of slavery to be the basis for our economy. We failed our citizens when we fought a war to keep people in chains. We failed our citizens when we refused to embrace our African-American brothers and sisters as full equal members of our State. We fail our citizens every time we pass policy that keeps us poor, uneducated and hopeless. 

And we fail our citizens every single day that we fly a flag that is a shameful reminder of our racist past. 

Mississippi continues to fight a losing war over 150 years after everyone else has moved on. In our singleminded obsession with our make-believe glorious past, we have allowed poverty to run rampant. We have allowed our children to receive insufficient education. We have allowed our African-American brothers and sisters to live under a symbol of their oppression. We have allowed all of us to be marked by shame to the rest of the country. 

I want every Mississippian to beam with pride when we say we are from Mississippi. We have a lot to be proud of. We are the State that gave the world Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, Jerry Rice, Muddy Waters, Walter Payton, Walter Anderson, Eudora Welty, John Grisham,  B.B. King and Oprah Winfrey.    

We are also the state that violently stole from the world Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, Rev. George Lee, Emmett Till, Lamar Smith, Herbert Lee, Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr., Paul Guihard, Louis Allen, Vernon Dahmer, and Ben Chester White (amongst far too many more). 

Until Mississippi finally moves away from its shameful past and starts working towards a future free from the shackles of racism, we will never be anything more than the poorest of the poor, dumbest of the dumb, and most racist of the Confederate states to every other person in our country.  

We need to give the rest of the country a reason to change its mind about Mississippi. We need to give our citizens a reason to change their mind about Mississippi. Start with the flag. Put it in a museum where it belongs, and lets move forward. 

Matthew Pavlov