“Donna Ladd is like the verbally abusive parent (who) spends a lifetime finding fault in what she says she holds so dear.”
“Your smug smile on CBS proves you’re a liberal c*nt.”
“I’ve read and heard your lies.”
As a 20-year newswoman in Mississippi, I’m used to the drumbeat of personal attacks. The attempts to run me back out of my home state—I had left for 18 years due to misogyny, racism and lack of a welcoming climate—have come fast and furious.
The smears don’t come from where many want to think they do: you know, the stereotyped uneducated “rednecks” I descend from. No, it’s usually from college graduates in business suits (the first two insults above) and expensive pumps (the third one). And it’s not limited to one party because, as anyone educated in political history knows, both parties created this mess, and systemic racism knows no partisan boundary.
These exact remarks, and many similar ones, have rocketed my way just in the last 10 days. It’s the moral of an ancient story: Never talk about systemic racism or the effects of white flight in Mississippi, especially if you’re white and from the state. White disloyalty brings out the ugly in some people who want our history covered up, thus helping perpetuate it. And if you’re a woman openly connecting the dots as I do about systemic racism, all bets are off. They’ll trot out anything to try to shut you up; and they really melt down if you say it on national television, as I did on CBS News.
A Labor Day Torrent of Sexist Attacks
The barrage was fast and furious over Labor Day weekend, even as my partner Todd and I were staying in a downtown Memphis hotel for a short holiday, with the c-word guy unloading on me through repeated Facebook messages under his own name. This is all happening now, of course, because our reporting team is telling the entire story about Jackson’s water crisis. Our stories cover how 50 years of white flight, intentional disinvestment, federal unfunded environmental mandates, white and Black mayors who didn’t or couldn’t do enough, and more recent failures have all congealed in this very predictable systems failure.
These white folks don’t want us all to own our role and to work together; they want to finger-point at a Black mayor who inherited a billion-dollar-plus water-sewer crisis, fixate only on recent missteps (which matter too, but as part of 50 years of context) and, thus, abdicate all other responsibility.
That simplistic approach continues the old cycles. Right now, a cadre of the usual suspects is reframing the entire crisis in an openly racist attack on the current mayor, Chokwe A. Lumumba, and slightly more subtle digs at minority contractors.
It doesn’t occur to these people that they can criticize the mayor respectfully without painting an ugly picture of all of Jackson’s Black leaders being incompetent, a hackneyed racial stereotype the Citizens Council perfected in Jackson in the 1960s.
I’ve watched this for 20 years as the same white people blame crime on whichever Black mayor is in office, and his police chief, refusing to consider the complex system of actions and neglect that create cycles of violence. Rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Invoking White Supremacist Skeletons
The most bizarre Labor Day attack came through a mailer that landed in Northeast Jackson mailboxes (where most remaining white folks in Jackson live) last Saturday. Its authors lack talent, as you can see here, but it was the first time these types went after me by name on an anonymous glossy mailer to people’s homes. They also mentioned the Mississippi Free Press team and donors (sorry to any reading this).
I laughed when I saw this weird mailer, but I still know that this is ultimately a warning to those here willing to speak and report truth.
That is: Keep your mouth shut, or we’ll anonymously attempt to sully your name, too. It is, of course, also an attack on free press in the state and the U.S.—and another example of the misogyny women face here for stating opinions and facts.
Another mailer then showed up this past weekend in that ZIP code attacking Lumumba, as well as “Democrats,” which many white Mississippians use as a euphemism for “Black,” as in “Democrats looked at the place next door.” (Something a white man actually said to me here, then whispering, “you know, Black people,” when I looked confused.)
One Facebook friend who, like me and our team, is capable of understanding that multiple factors contribute to the water crisis and critiquing them all, compared the mailings to burning a cross in the yard of someone speaking up about racism. The white Jacksonian wrote this Sunday on Facebook after the latest mailer showed up in his box (the mailer doesn’t reveal who is paying for it, in violation of election law): “To the Person Making Massive Anonymous Mailings: Dude, that’s Klan shit. Cut it out. You’re not winning any arguments, and you’re not hurting the mayor any more than he’s already doing himself. … Mississippi has some pretty terrible skeletons in its closet. Do Not Invoke Them.”
He’s right; these smears are veiled threats. Many women have told me directly over the years that they are afraid to speak out because they see how people treat me. One blogger, who features regular advertising by prominent Mississippi politicians, called me a “journalistic slut” for interviewing a now-deceased white sheriff. Another man wholesale made up a story about me (and called me a c*nt) that I had to correct publicly. An attorney set up a fake Twitter account for me filled with obscene S&M innuendo involving my long-time partner and, somehow, Rachel Maddow, and a businessman posted a drawing of evil me whipping my partner on his blog. These types love to add violent, sexual components to their misogyny.
This is just a taste. There have been so many more in the last 20 years. My receipt cabinet is packed. Maybe there’s a book some day.
I tell you all of this not looking for sympathy of any kind. I have tough skin, and I do not care who dislikes me over the truth I tell. I chose to come back home and then co-found two Free Press publications because people like this ran me off the day I graduated from Mississippi State. I was fleeing the hate, but found it elsewhere, too. I’m telling you this because this vicious cycle of intimidation and lies has roots in Mississippi’s dark past. That past is handed down through generations if we’re not careful. Those efforts are amping up right now.
Business-Suit Racists, Sexists An Obnoxious Minority
Not every white person in Mississippi is like this; in fact, members of what I years ago dubbed the North Jackson Angry Men’s (N-JAM) Club are the minority. They want to turn the rest of us against each other and run off people like my team and me who want our state to turn the corner on our terrible past rather than recycling the same tired political stunts repeatedly.
It’s the same instinct, even if they are replacing a burning cross or a threat of boycotts of a non-compliant white business with anonymous mailers to intimidate people who say things they don’t want to hear.
It’s also not limited to conservatives. White, male Democratic operatives have contributed to the receipt stash. After I tweeted about Lt. Gov. Jay Hughes in 2019, the Mouth of Y’all Democratic Twitter account called my critique a “girl crush,” saying I was acting like Hughes had “dumped” me. After I posted on Facebook a few years back that it might do Jackson more good for a long-time Democratic senator to stay in the Mississippi Legislature rather than run for mayor, a white Dem operative called me a “miserable, argumentative ass,” assuring me that “people are sick of (my) narcissism and pious lectures.”
Like I said, women who speak out in Mississippi get it from all sides. But, we must; our voices are vital, even if sexist jerks don’t dig it and trot out the nasty in response.
If you’re in Mississippi, please help us be different and reject these divisive stunts and false blame games. It matters that you speak out about it whenever you see it, especially if you’re a white man. Don’t laugh along; help bring the change. If you’re outside Mississippi, don’t think this is who all Mississippians are. These folks represent the absolute worst of us. The better among us must find each other and build stronger, loving networks focused on understanding the causes and together imagining the solutions.
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This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.