In Mississippi, in America, everything is Black and white

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Dr. Ivory Phillips

When the writer traveled to Seattle for graduate study, although it was not a complete cultural shock, he was taken aback to see how accepting much of the Black population was of their white classmates and other residents. Admittedly, he had grown up in a society wherein there was strict segregation and other features of Jim Crow all around. In Seattle, at that time, Black people voted and ran for office. There were some white neighborhoods that had sprinklings of Black residents. Seattle was such a contrast in some ways that many of his friends and associates were somewhat irritated that so much of his conversation and other reactions were around the matter of race. They boasted that in Seattle there were more than just Black and white people and subtly suggested that it was not racist.

Upon returning to Jackson, Mississippi, his new wife was irritated that everybody there was either Black or white. It was, however, slowly but reluctantly changing. For example, she was one of the first Black persons hired as a case worker with the Hinds County Department of Welfare, and that was as the result of a class action lawsuit.

The different perceptions of the two of them caused the writer to try and take a closer look to see if he was blowing things out of proportion when he discussed or reacted to perceived racial incidents. In the state of Mississippi, it was fairly easy to spot examples of racism. After all, it had a slightly majority Black population but only one Black state legislator. Barely 20% of the Black adults were able to register and vote. Many firms, public and private, used subtle techniques to detect and reject Black applicants. The list could go on and on. This, however, was supposedly just Mississippi, not the rest of the country.

Then low and behold the biggest race riot in America’s history broke out in Los Angeles. Several national studies revealed that the textbooks in most school districts were biased in how they dealt with the history and culture of Black people. Patterns of racial discrimination in housing and bank loans were discovered and published. In short, the matter of things being treated on the basis of Black and white were cropping up everywhere that close, objective studies were being done. While many were still pointing just to Mississippi as an example of society treating people in terms of Black and white, to the writer, America was becoming “Mississippized” in that sense. 

In 1980, William J. Wilson wrote a fairly popular book, called “The Declining Significance of Race,” that suggested that racism was not only declining, but would soon be replaced by wealth as the most distinguishing factor in American society. Then as Black mayors were elected in many cities, and especially after Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S., there was a great deal of talk about America having become a post-racial society.

Things, however, were not changing that rapidly; white attitudes about race were not changing that much. “Angry white men” quickly became a phenomenon and their organizing efforts became a threat to democracy. They realized that Obama had been elected despite the fact that the majority of white men had voted against him. They realized that within several generations they would be a minority. Since that discovery, there have been increased actions taken to enable white people to rule even when they are the minority. The matter of Black and white has become a major point of discussion, again.

This development would not catch people by surprise if they closely follow the history of racism in this country. As far back as 1977, the writer had referred to racism as America’s original sin. It was white America’s original sin in the sense that it was a societal immorality that began as the country was established – the land being taken from the Indian people and African people being forced into slavery to develop it for white America’s economic benefit. It was white America’s original sin in the sense that white supremacy, which sprouted the actions, was seemingly a part of their cultural DNA.

It was these actors and their descendants who exploited and pillaged on the basis of their concept of race. In their effort to subdue America (and other places as well), they began classifying all Europeans as white people and thus their allies and other people as non-white, sometimes called Brown, Black, red, or yellow, depending upon the local social condition. Prior to this effort in the 1700s, most Europeans did not realize that they were “White People.” It took even longer for most African people to realize that they were “Black People.” You see, it was the Europeans, especially those who occupied America, who tried to divide the world into Black people and white people. Furthermore, they are still not sure what to call many other people of the world, Orientals or Asians, Arabs of Middle Easterners, Latino or Hispanic, etc. 

This brings us back to the point of Seattle compared to Mississippi. In Mississippi, especially the Delta, because the Black population was so overwhelming, Jews and Chinese were often considered “honorary white people,” which would enable whites to have a political majority. On the other hand, in Seattle, the Black population was so sparse until they were not a threat. It was, therefore, not important to even have “honorary white people.” As the writer’s middle son likes to point out, since the southeastern part of America is the most western European part, it is the most affected by the mental illness called racism – white supremacy to be specific.

When one looks at the predicament of the declining percentage that white people are in the country today and understand how that threatens their felt need to be in charge, he/she can understand how the idea of disenfranchising Black people and their allies through gerrymandering and various forms of voter suppression appeals to many white people. They are looking for whatever means are available to “make America great again” and to preserve “our country and civilization.” They want the country Black and white. And as one historian, Winthrop Jordan, expressed it, it has to be white over Black. 

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 In Mississippi, in America, everything is Black and white

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
June 12, 2022