Thomas Howard: Mississippi’s marketing problem

By THOMAS HOWARD,

Telling people in other states I am from Mississippi never fails to bring the look, that slight start of surprise at where I’m from clashing with the stereotypes the Magnolia state bears like badges of honor. Racism, sexism, poverty, the Ku Klux Klan, the confederate flag, all have played, and continue to play, a part in making Mississippi what it is today.

That mental image of a sunburnt redneck wearing tattered overalls, a Bud light in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Sure, Mississippi has that. But so does Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and a host of other states.

Racism, sexism, poverty, Mississippi has that aplenty, and I won’t waste my time trying to qualify it. However, we also have communities rallying around the sick or injured, fundraisers for natural disaster victims that bring thousands to help rebuild and civic organizations that go above and beyond to help their neighbors. In Mississippi, you have only to ask for help and it will be given.

I could fill volumes with the problems I see in Mississippi. From a legislature that routinely chucks the Constitution out the window to illegal dog fights, education to infrastructure, there’s no doubt our state has some work to do.

But there is also a lot of beauty and good in Mississippi that doesn’t get talked about, doesn’t make the Washington Post or New York Times and never goes viral on social media. For arts enthusiasts, there’s no better place to be than Mississippi. Hundreds of authors, musicians and artists came from our state from Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Elvis - despite what our northern neighbors would have you believe - and even Oprah, born just up the road in Kosciusko, are Mississippians.

For the hunting and fishing type, we have state parks, national parks, wildlife management areas and public fishing waters. Name a place in Mississippi and chances are there will be at least a half-dozen public areas within an hour’s drive put a boat in the water or bag a deer.

In a recent column, Mississippi State University Public Relations Director Sid Salter refuted claims from New Jersey politicians that Mississippi was a moocher state, taking money from other states without giving back its fair share. He pointed out over 20 states receive more in federal dollars than they send to Washington through taxes, and the situation is similar here.

Mississippi has problems, but I challenge you to name a state that doesn’t have problems. Name a state that doesn’t have a handful of racist people causing a stink. Name a state where no resident ever struggles with money and a man has never said or done something stupid in the presence of a woman. I’ll wait.

As I said, I could fill volumes with the problems I see in Mississippi, but I could also fill volumes with the good things, the things I love about this state and make me proud to call it my home. Do the good things cancel out the bad? Should we just look at the good? Absolutely not!

But who says its not alright to celebrate the good every once in a while? Who says we can’t share the things we get right while we work on the things we haven’t quite figured out yet?

Maybe next time the Washington Post runs a story on a racist KOA campground manager waving a gun at folks, part of it can be about all the other Mississippi campgrounds that welcome everyone.

 

Thomas is the managing editor of the Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@newtoncountyappeal.com

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