OPINION: Impressions of the political turmoil in Mississippi

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Mississippi is in the middle of the campaign season for state and county elected officials. Typical political ads are dominating the air ways. In that regard, the race for governor, in particular, captures almost perfectly the turmoil of Mississippi politics.

Ads for Republican candidate Tate Reeves try to crucify Democrat Brandon Presley by linking him in the minds of white voters to Congressman Bennie Thompson and President Joe Biden; by repeatedly using the terms “liberals” and “radical left” to describe some of Presley’s supporters; and by asserting that Presley is pro-choice on the abortion issue. All of this is to generate dislike or hatred. 

On the other hand, Presley attacks Reeves as being anti-working class by accusing him of various financial scandals, including the illegal payment of funds for a University of Southern Mississippi volleyball facility, funds for a northeast Mississippi horse farm, and funds to his personal fitness trainer. In other ads, Presley invokes a class argument by promising to cut taxes on car tags and groceries and by using a strong southern white accent as do many working-class white Mississippians.

What the candidates’ ads together underscore is the fact that Mississippi politics exaggerates the concepts of race and economics. They throw in evangelical Christianity and southern provincialism for good measure. Unfortunately, this is not new. It has been going on, to some degree, since the days of chattel slavery. It just seems more pronounced this election cycle due to the fact that Trumpism has given a negative twist to such concepts nationally.

The things that Tate Reeves says and the stands that he takes are just as characteristic of a candidate who would be running in South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas, or even South Dakota or Montana. It has become “popular” to take stands against racial inclusion and equality by labeling them with that grammatically-stupid term “wokeism.” It has become “popular” to oppose union organizing, living wages, and workers’ benefits by just using the term “socialism.”

While one may understand why Presley leans into the southern white accent and evangelical Christianity, it just further shows the influence of racism in this region of the country. It enables him to pick up a few more low-income white voters. Otherwise, he might perhaps be labelled “as a n—— lover.”

When it comes to the matter of economics, there is the problem of some Black politicians catering to white leaders, portraying themselves as being the most acceptable of the Black candidates. They try to appear as less radical or more cooperative. 

This often occurs in heavily Black areas where white votes are not even needed to win elections. These Black politicians want to be able to win the approval, as well as contracts and favors, from wealthier white businesspersons and politicians. It often occurs in areas where Black people are more sparsely populated. These Black politicians want to appear to be the “head n—– in charge.”

As these things happen over and over again at the state and local levels in Mississippi, many relatively powerless, low-income Black residents stay away from the polls “in droves.” The result is that during each election cycle politicians win office with support from only a fraction of the residents. Contrarily, if in each election there were massive turn-outs in the Black community, Black people could influence the results of another 50% of the offices in the state. 

For an example, in the Mississippi elections prior to 1965, white politicians ran for office by boasting of how they would “maintain segregation and keep n—– in their place”. After passage of the Voting Rights bill, they dropped that rhetoric and pretended to be friends of Black people. That was also during the days when Black Power and Black is Beautiful were en vogue and many Black people were proud to be voters. 

Realizing those realities, Black people must learn from their history and utilize it to end this current political turmoil. 

In similar fashion, low-income white people need to learn from their history and realize how wealthier white people have been utilizing them over the years. 

 Political leaders, such as Tate Reeves, still depend upon the use of slogans and symbols to appeal to low-income white people, relying on the fact that race is thicker that anything else. They try to keep lowly white people minimally educated, thinking that education is not as important when it comes to making such political decisions. 

 Without a doubt, upper-income white people continue to utilize low-income white people and even some other minority groups to keep Mississippi politics in turmoil and themselves in power.

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OPINION: Impressions of the political turmoil in Mississippi

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
August 28, 2023