This has been explained hundreds of times I’m sure, but in light of the current fight to avoid a state takeover in Jackson this legislative session, it bears repeating: Black people can’t be systemically racist.
We can be “prejudiced.” We can be “biased.” We can indeed discriminate against someone. But we do not have the historic, political or financial infrastructure to be systemically, structurally or institutionally “racist.” Especially if we’re talking about a place like Mississippi.
I know a lot of Mississippi’s “patriots” got together at their last meeting and got the directive to start recreating narratives with code words. You know, like how they’ve turned “woke” into an insult. But calling Black folks “racist” because we’re calling out the obvious racism that’s currently stinking up the Capital is nothing more than cheap parlor tricks.
See, although Mississippi has the largest Black population of any state in the country, white Republicans—ranging from moderate to full-on racist—still run the Legislature. They hold a 77-42 majority in the House and a 36-16 majority in the Senate. That majority is basically able to push whatever tripe through they wish or kill whatever bill they wish.
During this session, the obvious target is Jackson and its Black leadership.
Bills Designed to Undermine Black Leadership
Systemic racism occurs when one group is able to force their will on another through the passing of legislation, laws, or practices that form the system of specifically targeting and oppressing a group of people. For example: redlining, gentrification, gerrymandering, redistricting, etc. How is this working right now in Mississippi? Glad you asked.
Jackson, Miss., is an 82.8% Black city. It has a Black mayor and a majority-Black city council. All our county supervisors are Black. It’s also the capital city, where legislators have to spend half their year in session. Many of them are not at all happy that Black folks run Mississippi’s capital. It’s much too valuable and has valuable chips (i.e. the airport, Jackson State University, UMMC Medical School).
Now, you won’t get any of them to admit this on the record, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. They will also tell you that this has nothing to do with the “color of the mayor’s skin” but with his “incompetence.” Which I always found hilarious considering that the state of Mississippi has one of the most poorly run governments in the nation.
For years, the state has watched us deal with 100-year-old water pipes, dilapidated school buildings, a shrinking police force and a shrinking tax base. A huge chunk of that base was white folks who fled from the city like it was on fire in 1997 when Jackson elected its first Black mayor, Harvey Johnson, which added to the white disinvestment that blew up after forced school integration in early 1970.
Every ask, every request and every plan (former Mayor Tony Yarber presented the Legislature with one plan in 2015) was met with a “NO.” The benign neglect has gone on for years. Finally the current Lumumba administration, realizing that Jacksonians were being left for dead, went out and secured $600 million in federal funds and $195 million from other funding sources to help fix the city’s water woes.
Systemic racism is the state Legislature introducing new bills designed to undermine the Black leadership of their own capital city and trying to usurp power away from them. David Parker’s Senate Bill 2889 looks to divert the monies Congress approved outside Jackson and put a regional board in charge of our water and sewer systems. That bill is headed to the House.
House Bill 1168, authored by Rep. Trey Lamar of North Mississippi, would require funds from the 1% Sales Tax Commission to only be spent on water and sewer, excluding roads and bridges.
Then there’s the most egregious of them all, House Bill 1020, which Lamar also authored. In layman terms, the initial bill looks to carve out a “city within a city” that would have its own separate police force, judges and court system. The problem here is the Capital Complex Improvement District that this bill was created for is the area of the city with the least crime. Ironically, it’s also the area of the city where the majority of white citizens live.
Then, on Feb. 23, 2023, the Mississippi Senate Judiciary A Committee passed the new version of House Bill 1020, importing language from Senate Bill 2343, which seeks to establish a new court system in Hinds County with unelected judges and prosecutors in an expanded CCID, giving the Capital Police jurisdiction over the entire capital city. It also demands that Mississippi Commissioner for Public Safety Sean Tindell and the City of Jackson must agree to a memorandum of understanding by July 1. The newest incarnation of the bill incidentally now has support from most of the Jackson City Council. A sign that this bill may actually get pushed through.
Coincidence? I think not!
Both West and South Jackson have seen spikes in crime for nearly six years. I was present at some of those town hall meetings where residents were pleading with JPD for some assistance. But instead of crafting legislation to go to where statistics show it’s most needed, instead of giving JPD the funds to beef up their numbers, these legislators carve out an enclave in Northeast Jackson to better protect the folks in Fondren, Belhaven and Eastover. Why? Again—racism!
We’ve just got to start calling it like it is. And we’d all be better off if legislators just admitted their racism and moved on. The funny thing about all of this is, these white, Republican, right-wingnuts are calling Black folks in Jackson who oppose these bills “racist,” saying that “the Blacks don’t want help” because we’re not summarily rolling over and accepting this attempted takeover of our city.
What happened to negotiating? What happened to colleagues coming to a compromise? What happened to earning mutual respect?
‘All Help Isn’t Good Help’
Listen, I know a lot of folks don’t like Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. A lot of it is just personal animus. He’s too light-skinned, looks like Drake, he’s too young, he’s a socialist, communist, Black radical, etc. All things being equal, Lumumba and his administration do bear some culpability in all of this. But the most damage being done to Jackson, possibly irreparable damage, is the Legislature’s campaign this session clearly has against Black leadership. They’re trying to neuter our leadership and take voting power out of our hands. Which is not only unconstitutional, it’s illegal.
We’ve got to start giving a damn about these state House and Senate races. The bulk of what affects Black folks in this state comes from that body. And yet everyday I hear folks saying “the mayor” this or “the mayor” that. No, the root of this problem starts rotting at the state level. It’s a much bigger picture, and it’s playing out in front of us right now.
Try as you might, but this “I know you are but what am I” playground foolishness of trying to label Black people as “racist” isn’t fooling anyone anymore. We know that you don’t like that Black people are running the capital city (at least not the kind of Black people you prefer) and we know you’re dead set on changing that by whatever means, legislative or otherwise, you can.
All “help” isn’t good help, especially long-term. If you’ve done your research, you’ll know that’s why we’ve got miles of State Street that Jacksonians now has to maintain, and dozens of non-taxed state buildings in downtown Jackson proving that point.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion 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.