Self-love begins at home and for me, Mississippi is home.
People have a lot to say about Mississippi. Most of the ones doing the talking have either never lived there, never been there, or only ever passed through. Some and let me stress the word some, only know two things about Mississippi: Emmett Till and Mississippi Burning. I am rarely surprised by the obvious ignorance of self-proclaimed conscious individuals.
Mississippi has a blood tainted history rooted in racism, bias, ignorance, and misunderstanding; name one state that doesn’t. Mississippi may be known as the most racist state in America even with all the high profile craziness going on in places like New York, Texas, and Florida TODAY, but that was not what growing up there was like for me. I’ve read many books and heard many stories. Amazingly, I learned about the racist history of my state the same way everyone else did; in a book, more specifically this book, Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody.
I am certain that each individual’s experience of growing up in Mississippi will be different depending on where and when you grew up. I am more than positive that the experience of racism in America is directly correlated to increased exposure to other races. It has been my personal experience that once I moved to larger cities like Atlanta, Miami, and Houston, I’ve witnessed and experienced more racism in these places than I had in Mississippi.
I grew up in Canton, Mississippi a city that is almost two-thirds Black Americans of African descent. You might assume that that isn’t a good thing but that’s only because of your conditioning. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the greatest thing, but it certainly had its positive points. Firstly, almost everyone I knew was black: teachers, nurses, doctors, dentist, lawyers, politicians, engineers, business owners, police officers, college students, college graduates and the list goes on. They all looked like me. That alone does amazing things for your self-image, trust me.
Secondly, I grew up in the rural part also known as “the country”. We lived on a road bearing our family’s name and much of our family lived there as well. We had plenty of space and fields to play kick ball, freeze tag, and just meditate on life. My grandmother had a garden and there were pecan trees, persimmon trees, fig trees, a pear tree, plum and apricot trees, black walnut trees, and wild blackberries that grew in the summer. Even my cousins, who were in Jackson and other cities, lived for coming out to the country.
Finally, we were not just a city of strangers. We were all a part of one family; the black family and we celebrated Black History Month more epically than I recall celebrating at any other school I attended after leaving. In fact, at those other schools we never celebrated Black History Month. We merely acknowledged it, but in Canton, Mississippi, we went all out at school and at church. I’m talking plays, programs, skits, songs, reports, and presentations. We didn’t just celebrate our history, we honored our ancestors. At church, we dressed like the slaves and sang old Negro spirituals without instruments.
My love for my people began at home in Mississippi with my family in my city where we honored our ancestors and celebrated our blackness. There were other races but I rarely interacted with them besides the few White teachers that I had in elementary. Beyond that, my people were all that existed in my life. I didn’t feel anyway about individuals of other racial makeup because no one taught me to, however, I was taught to love my own people and thus myself. Black people in larger cities often acknowledged that I was different. I never understood why that was, but now I not only know the reason, I appreciate that reason as well.
For more post on the goodness of Mississippi, you can read about my Thanksgiving experience.
And this my friend, it what it was like growing up black in Mississippi.