As one of the few Mississippians at Yale, I was distressed to read Elise Jordan’s opinion piece (“Southern schools: a microcosm of America,” 11/13). Indeed, I too struggle to convey to my non-Southern friends the truth about race relations in the South in general and Mississippi in particular.
Even more than that, I struggle to convince folks that Mississippi is even redeemable at any level — that we are worth something. My distress over Jordan’s article arose not so much from what she said, but rather from what she left unsaid about the state of my home state.
Though it was certainly not evident from the unfortunate stupidity of some drunken fraternity buffoons, the culture, civility, and gentility that seem to have vanished from most other places live on in the South. In fact, the students in question have been expelled from their fraternity and the frat itself has been suspended.
I totally agree with Jordan that “history has left Mississippi with unresolved problems,” but we are much closer to real resolution than ever before. The strides Mississippi has taken in the past 30 years must be taken into account in any indictment of the state’s present situation.
What Jordan fails to convey are the good aspects about the character of our home state. While our past has borne us a reputation we certainly earned, I and many others beside me do not believe that we deserve it any more.
The South has, in the span of a little over 30 years, subjugated over 200 years of its shameful past. Today, when people attack the South either for what it has done wrong or what it has left to do right, they often fail to realize the strength and effort it has taken for us to come as far as we have.
It has been a hard-fought and — as evidenced by the tone of Jordan’s article — largely thankless task for the South to fight its past in order to secure its future.
While Jordan is right to bemoan the fact that she had no black schoolmates at her private school, I am afraid that her brief article confirms a Yankee’s worst suspicions about race relations in the South. The fact is that while Jordan never had a black schoolmate, she did nevertheless come into daily interaction with many African-Americans all of her life.
The day-to-day interracial contact that occurs in a social situation like that in Mississippi, which has the highest percentage of African-Americans in the nation, is vastly different than the social segregation that occurs in the North, where many rural and suburban children may grow up not only never having gone to school with an African-American peer, but without ever having come into contact with one at all.
Mississippi’s social makeup leads to both much more understanding and more conflict because of the constant contact between races.
The article attempts to tie the unfortunately unresolved problems of Mississippi, America’s scapegoat, to a larger national and human problem. This seems to be accurate. Jordan is correct in her point that “Mississippi can be seen as a microcosm openly showing what other states may be better at hiding.”
As one of my best friends, who hails from Connecticut, told me: “We know we’ve got race problems in New England, but at least we can cover them up with nice language about equal opportunity and inclusion.” But even the Reverend Jesse Jackson, notorious for his fiery rhetoric against the South, can appreciate the steps the South has taken.
Referring to a recent election-year campaign, the Reverend Jackson said, “We went across the South on Super Tuesday without a single catcall or boo, without a single ugly sign. Not until we got to New York and the North did the litmus test of race and religion spout from the mouths of public officials.”
The popular myth that race relations in the South continue to lag behind those of the rest of America is just that — a myth.
Finally, Jordan makes the fatalistic argument that racial reconciliation is ultimately impossible. She claims this is true due to economic factors that seem to parallel racial trends. But I hold more hope than she does of the legitimacy of a better future. My hope is founded on the example of my own home state. I know that Mississippi has still a long way to go, but the success we have witnessed over the past 30 years must count for something.
I am proud of my home state and how far it has come, and I will do everything in my power to help it progress further.
David Haltom is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles.