I was worried before the break that coming back to Denver would be harder after sleeping in my own bed and seeing my family, friends, and dog. Somewhat surprising to me, I felt at home as soon as I stepped into Denver Int’l Airport. Part of this owes to my job entailing many airport pickups. But as I boarded the light rail at the airport and took in the Christmas lights as I unloaded at Union Station, I felt warmly welcomed back into this, albeit temporary, home. My room has accumulated some cozy accents on its walls. I regularly use my library card, enjoying having a book waiting on hold for me, chatting with the librarian when I go to pick it up, and dropping it back off again. Overall, I have really settled in quite comfortably to life in Denver.
But my home rests, and perhaps always will, in Mississippi.
Home. This idea holds a bittersweet taste tonight. Mississippi, the place I was born, grew up, and dearly call home, elected a white supremacist. A woman who makes light of lynchings and promotes confederate imagery. And my heart aches.
As my roommates and many others with whom I am close have come to learn, I am very sensitive about the derision of my state. For me, Mississippi is family, friends, football, school, beautiful landscapes, and warm sunshine on my skin. Mississippi is my home and so much of my identity lies there. My home means understanding the troubling and disgusting history of my state and the complexities they have created and perpetuated, and working actively to dismantle the systems of injustice that exist there. The ACLU has a poster that reads, “Vote like your rights depend on it.” Whenever I am voting in Mississippi elections, I want to cross out the “your” and replace it with “our.” The success of my home depends on the acknowledgement that our decisions deeply affect the rights of those with whom we share this beautiful state. It is an injustice to vote for your rights and not acknowledge the collective us on which the success and hope of our state depends. We cannot continue to ignore how your vote affects the rights of our people.
I knew not to, but I typed into Facebook the NYT’s article posting the results. And then I clicked on the comments. I found exactly what I knew I would. “I am proud to not know a single person from that state.” “I will never visit this state.” “Let us not invest a penny in this state.” “Mississippi is what it has always been.” “Join the civilized world.” “You deserve her.” “Can’t we dump these dead beat states?”
I understand the sentiments of frustration, rage, bafflement, and deep sorrow towards my state. But you with your scathing words must not realize how horribly degrading these comments are both for those suffering under the oppressive systems in Mississippi and those fighting tirelessly to overcome them. You must not realize how incredibly hypocritical your urges to abandon our state and its people are. How you are further suppressing those suffocating under its systems. How you are pushing people to the extremes. Making the red, redder. How you make the people fighting for justice lose their faith and feel like breaking down and quitting. How can we win when no one is rooting for us? How can we win when we are so utterly divided?
Mississippi is troubled with outmigration of young adults when they find there is no work for them here, when they find that their progressive political ideologies cannot be supported by the systems of the state, when they want more than anything to not be embarrassed or defensive when they announce where they’re from. So they move. And when we move, our state doesn’t.
Lately I have been struggling with this question. I have always loved to travel and experience other places and cultures. I love living in a city with unlimited opportunity at my fingertips. I love the ocean. The mountains. The diverse landscape of our country and beyond.
But the work on which I have embarked this year, coupled with the criticism of my home that I have met along the way, have urged me to wrestle with this dilemma. Who am I to defend Mississippi, the state for which I hold so much love, if I succumb to the tempting call to “get out?” Who am I to learn so much from my state and take those talents elsewhere? Am I willing to endure the constant criticism, frustration, and sorrow that comes with committing oneself so deeply to this cause?