When my out-of-state friends ask me about Mississippi, I generally respond by asking, “Which one?”
I’m a seventh-generation Mississippian, so I’ve long realized that there are two Mississippis. But if you’ve spent even a few years here, you understand the importance of understanding which Mississippi we are talking about.
There is the Mississippi we take pride in, the one with great natural, unspoiled beauty, the one whose citizens are routinely ranked as the most generous in the country, the one whose citizens are the most religious (77 percent of adult Mississippians consider themselves “highly religious”), the one that produces artists, writers, musicians and entertainers far beyond proportion to its population, the one that has the lowest cost of living.
If this was the only Mississippi, we would probably have to build a wall just to keep from being overrun.
Instead, we might think about a wall to keep Mississippians in. Our state, along with Louisiana, is the only sunbelt state that is losing population.
Well, there is this other Mississippi, the one we don’t like to think about, the one Mississippi legislators, in particular, don’t like to talk about.
It is the stepchild Mississippi, the one with the nation’s highest poverty rate (19.7 percent) highest rate of food insecurity (1-in-4 children in the state go to bed hungry and more than half of its senior citizens run out of food at some point), second highest incarceration rate (652 prisoners out of every 100,000 in population) and 45th in pre-K-12 education, which is sort of a high-water mark for the state when it comes to the misery-index rankings.
So what are we doing about this second Mississippi?
Not too much, at least not in terms of state legislation.
To be fair, the Legislature does, from time to time, take up an issue to address these problems. Senate Bill 2794, which will increase parole opportunities and expand prison job-training programs has cleared the Senate and awaits House approval addresses one of those real issues that plague our state.
But real efforts to address real problems are more of an outlier in our Legislature.
Instead, we have a bill to prevent transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports and a bill to punish people from picking up pecans that don’t belong to them.
Senate Bill 2072 stiffens the penalties for people who pick up pecans that have fallen onto public property from the branches of the pecan tree owner’s property that have extended behind his/her property during the harvesting season. In some cases, it can be prosecuted as a felony.
Raise your hand if you didn’t know this was a big problem, one that required our Legislature to devote some of its limited time and energy to address.
Aside from criminalizing the vast majority of the squirrel population of Mississippi, I’m not sure if this really moves the ball toward the goal of making Mississippi a healthier, happier, more productive state.
If SB2072 is a silly bill, SB-2536 goes from silly to mean-spirited.
That’s the bill that prohibits transgender females from participating in female sports.
Mind you, there has been no evidence that such a thing is happening. It is again, a classic case of a solution looking for a problem, a knee-jerk reaction to President Biden’s executive order that abolishes such restrictions as discriminatory.
The bill is a reflection of the Legislature’s ignorance of and hostility for transgenders.
The bill sailed through both chambers and awaits the enthusiastic signature of Gov. Tate Reeves. When Reeves signs the bill, Mississippi will at last be first: The first state to enact anti-transgender legislation.
It underscores a popular myth when it comes to transgender: that transgender is a made-up plot that allows boys to dress up as girls and kick their butts in volleyball or the 100-meter dash. It ignores and diminishes the real struggles that transgenders face — rejection, mockery, bullying, etc.
It’s the narrative that transgender females will endure all that simply to gain an edge in a ballgame. It makes about as much sense as a Guatemalan walking hundreds of miles over rugged, dangerous terrain with little food, water or shelter simply to get to the U.S. and “game the system” for a couple hundred dollars in SNAP benefits.
Of course, our Legislature rarely misses a chance to discriminate when the opportunity presents itself.
Transgenders and pecans.
Kids going to bed hungry.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi