This post is written by Education Fellow Allison Poirier.
I live in Mississippi now, but I remain a very proud native of Massachusetts. I know Bill Belichick is the most brilliant NFL coach of our generation, I think the rest of the country has us to thank for Thanksgiving and the Revolutionary War (you’re welcome), and until the age of six I thought the word was pronounced “idear.”
But last week I was embarrassed on behalf of my great state.
A few weeks ago, I went home to visit my family for the weekend. My visit coincided with the special election to fill the senate seat John Kerry vacated to become Secretary of State, and my parents had received an ad related to this election in the mail. The advertisement, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, said in big bold letters “THIS IS MASSACHUSETTS, NOT MISSISSIPPI.”
The point was to show how Gabriel Gomez, the republican candidate, held values not in line with the priorities of Massachusetts residents. Gabriel Gomez was born in California, and grew up in Washington (state), and now lives in Massachusetts – and has no apparent connection to Mississippi. So what does the ad mean by saying “this is NOT Mississippi?”
I get that the big idea here is that Mississippi is “backwards.” And yes, there are a number of issues on which Massachusetts and Mississippi find themselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Mississippi numbers among the most conservative states, Massachusetts among the most liberal. This flier obviously hopes to evoke some sort of fear that “Massachusetts could become Mississippi,” but the portrayal of Massachusetts a Good State, and Mississippi as its polar opposite Bad State, is a drastic and unfair oversimplification.
In the process of moving to Jackson I discovered a lot about my new state. Yes, there are problems here, but I have found that people in Mississippi talk a lot more honestly and openly about these issues than people in other places, where they may think they don’t have that problem. There are many organizations devoted to community building and “racial reconciliation.” The recent controversy over Mississippi’s open carry law has prompted a great deal of discussion about gun control and how it should work. People are talking about the challenges, and working hard to address them.
There are also many aspects of Mississippi that are simply wonderful. On my first Friday night in Jackson I attended a synagogue potluck dinner and ate the most amazing home cooked southern food. All my neighbors have introduced themselves and assured me that I am living in a friendly place where everyone watches out for each other. I have thoroughly enjoyed the art, music, and culture I have encountered. I am also looking forward to my first snow-free winter.
The people who sponsored this campaign ad, people who have obviously never lived here, ignored the good qualities to make a point about the bad.
Portraying Massachusetts and Mississippi as opposites ignores and negates the complications of life in both states. Instead of throwing Mississippi under the bus (or, in this case, onto the bumper stickers), stick to the issues – because using the bully-tactic of building yourself up by putting someone else down is what’s really “backwards.”