Editor’s View: Why Mississippi has much to ponder in wake of recent events
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”
Emma Lazarus penned that in 1883. Sound familiar?
Fast-forward to 2017.
We live in a much different world now. Available avenues to enter this country are rapidly shrinking while the interconnectedness of our society expands and improves with each new advancement in technology.
Mississippi, despite any past reputation, is not the same infamous place it once was. On the contrary, many of you know without being told that the state’s college towns have become increasingly progressive hubs of culture and education - especially in Starkville.
Recent events have highlighted that racial and cultural divides aren’t unique to Mississippi. The fire of unrest still smolders fresh in the minds of all races and creeds, not just in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Our marginalized population isn’t alone in the fight for equality.
But, warts and all, we've made strides to improve our image as a more welcoming place.
With a backdrop of hot-button immigration issues looming like a storm cloud, Americans are standing at a crossroads in history: whether to confront our fears through empathy or choose the paranoid route of xenophobia.
Mississippi has experience with these kinds of deep-seated cultural issues. The old label of the prejudiced Southerner belongs in the history books and it’s up to us now to make sure that doesn’t follow us into the future.
I grew up right across the state line, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama - in a town and state still exorcising its own demons. I’m no stranger to these discussions, nor am I immune to the weight on my conscience levied by the sins of those who came before me.
I'm proud of what my part of the country has done right - and for our willingness to confront and correct the wrongs committed in the past.
Rather, I am critical of how many good people have closed their minds to the concepts of fact, humility and compassion.
Full disclosure: I grew up in the Baptist church. In the countless sermons and Sunday school classes I sat through, I was never taught to turn away a person in need, regardless of my fears, paranoia or preconceived notions.
I know many now living in fear of the future were taught those same principles.
I’m not asking you to shed your convictions or discard your opinion. I’m simply suggesting that the nation can begin to heal when compassion becomes our knee-jerk reaction instead of isolationism.
One of my first ancestors in this country immigrated here as an indentured servant in the 1700s and took full benefit of the compassion provided to him in a strange and foreign land. Had he been turned away out of fear, I may not have ended up sitting comfortably at my computer writing this column.
I would imagine we all have enough of these stories to fill volumes. So, it's important that we think about the bigger picture and work harder to become that beacon of hope that the founding fathers set out to create.
We as Mississippians, Southerners, and Americans should acknowledge the current state of affairs as a chance to react more thoughtfully than we have in the past. Not only can we avoid the divisive stigma that has been so hard to shake, but we can also build a strong reputation of inclusion - opening our arms to the world when others won’t.