I am Mississippi, the dirtiest part of the South.
I am the butt of every joke. Obesity. Illiteracy. Poverty. Go ahead. Make the obligatory punchline you have already cued up in your head. It’s okay. Because sure, those struggles may be around, but there’s also so much more. There is still abundant culture, and a proud one at that. We may be considered “simple” people, but that’s okay. In fact, we prefer it that way. Because what you call simple, we call hospitable, relaxed, and unconcerned with the constant status struggle that declares us to be obese, illiterate, and poor.
I am the physical embodiment of the blues. Beaten down and busted, yet timeless and original. There may not necessarily be a lot of money around here, but one can’t play the blues without soul, and soul is something that is never in short supply in these parts.
I am the warm breeze on a front porch at sunset, sweet tea in hand. I am simple, but not in the negative way others may misconstrue it as. Rather, I am the simple celebration of life. I am an appreciation of the simplicity of that breeze and that porch and that tea. A disconnect from the constant movement of life. Time stands still, or at least slows down, when that warm breeze blows through.
I am not a kissing cousin, but I am part of a family. One that cares for each other and picks each other up when they fall down. Hurricane Katrina destroyed buildings, but it didn’t destroy the helping spirit of all who came to rebuild. Tornadoes ripped apart Yazoo City, but as soon as they were gone, thousands came in to clean up the mess. We look after our brothers and sisters.
I am poor, but not discouraged. Economies come and go for white and black alike, but culture never goes through a recession.
I am not “Where do you live?” but rather, “Where do you stay?”, as if there is an ingrown universal understanding of the impermanence of life.
I am not “How are you?” but rather, “What’s good?”, as if we know what really need to be asked.
I am not “doing well”, I am “blessed”, as if we all truly understand where good and perfect things come from.
I have a difficult history, but one that includes ongoing reconciliation. Tough reconciliation that is in constant progress.
Where there once was division, there is now opportunity. Opportunity for the beautiful diversity to blend together. Opportunity for ancient wrongs to be righted again and again and again. Opportunities for mercy to be shown to those who do not deserve it.
I have a proud history, but one that has been abandoned. I am streets left for dead, which once upon a time were thriving. I am Chimneyville; a place burned down so thoroughly that only chimneys remained, yet soon rebuilt. I am the City With Soul, where even in difficult years, culture survived. Yet I am also the abandoned neighborhoods, where children run cocaine because it’s the only life they know. I am the parents who teach their kids that an entire city isn’t safe and isn’t worth saving, because it’s the only life they know.
I am a place with plenty of mistakes. A place where people would rather lose all identity and history than rebuild and rebirth. A place that only needs people to care.
I am just as much Farish Street and Peaches Restaurant as I am State Street and Walker’s Drive-In. I am just as much Oxford as I am Starkville as I am Hattiesburg. I am just as much the Coast as I am the Golden Triangle as I am the Natchez District as I am the Delta.
You see, I am Mississippi. It is in my blood; my being. And wherever I go, I bring her with me.