Wednesday, May 15, 2019
When jazz singer and Jackson Renaissance woman Pam Confer and I cozied up to the podcasting mics last week—on the day Gov. Phil Bryant (ahem) had proclaimed as "Mississippi Beautiful Day" to honor her powerful, layered song that closes out Civil Rights Museum visits here—I knew it would be an entertaining tete-a-tete. Pam is one of the funniest people I know in Mississippi, and her off-the-cuff metaphors and similes are "Endgame"-level epic. Seriously, listen for them in our podcast at LetsTalkJackson.com the day this issue hits the streets.
But I wasn't exactly prepared for how profound Pam was going to be in so many ways. That ranged from the importance of facing and discussing our full race history (ahem, governor) to the need for Mississippi's women to stop just talking to each other about the sexism and misogyny we face and have always encountered in Mississippi, and to talk more about it publicly. About every woman, left or right, I know in this state is talking about this now; men must join us, as my partner Todd Stauffer called for in the last issue.
And we don't just want a seat at the table; as Pam put it, ask us to "save" something, or get out of the damn way and allow us to lead without wigging out over the idea that we might criticize something you're doing or believe, guys. Start seeing what we have to offer and hearing us. Her comments about gender and brain drain of women gave me chills because it skipped past us deserving basic table scraps or a pat on the pretty-little-head or maybe a few dollars in investment if we stay polite enough to the men "in charge." She went straight for the jugular: Mississippi needs women at the top—visible, loud, proud, strong, fearless.
Anyone with half a brain should see that confronting and defeating the insane misogyny here is a huge step toward lifting Mississippi to higher and more successful ground for all its citizens. No, it doesn't mean women are "angry" or "miserable" when we dare call out the naked, sexist emperors now dominating the conversation: Listen to our animated podcast and then try to rant about how unhinged we chicks are. We're passionate about this state, baby, and want others to join us.
On that note, Pam really spoke to me on a subject that's been dear to me, my newspaper and our staff for nearly 17 years—the development of Jackson into a vibrant, economically successful, artistic, tolerant capital city with a stellar quality of life available to everyone. In fact, that goal has been at the very heart of this newspaper's raison d'etre since our first issue.
We've both chronicled and contributed to those successes all these years—gleefully lauding wins like the King Edward coming back after crumbling all those decades to avoid integration, and our choice to hold all Best of Jackson parties in a part of the city or a building that needs public attention and support. Mississippi and its capital city becoming competitive as a wonderful place to live (which then brings the economic development; not the other way around) is a key mission point for us. Todd, our staff members and I live, work, network and invest in our city every day. We don't go home to gated micro-mansions or to work in cookie-cutter office complexes in the suburbs. We don't ship profits beyond the county line.
When I mentioned brain drain, Pam articulated something I've observed over time: the cycles of energy and then near-despair as hope dies out again in Jackson. She talked about the generations of young people who get excited to build promising things, only to then suffer from lack of support or the frustration of intolerance, racism and sexism that kills a place and its spirit (ahem, who-know-you).
When the hopelessness comes from policy targeting specific groups of people (women, LGBT people, immigrants), it's a special kind of stultifying disease. Our elected officials use our money to push bigotry and misogyny (even after we all get together and beat back crazy laws like Personhood designed to hurt or even kill women). Is this a place where we smart doers and makers want to stay and keep investing our energy, time and expertise? Or do we move on to another state where we don't have to dodge hateful attacks even if we will miss the spirit and joy that grows out of Mississippi's pain (as Pam sings)?
Many move on. Others give up the hope of really making midtown, downtown, or west or south Jackson into dynamic villages for all who want to be there and thrive. Still, others soak up the toxicity that Mississippi specializes in—tearing down those with high standards who want the rising tide to lift all boats.
All are predictable, tragic responses.
We must continue to choose the path less traveled. We have to spread abundance and build on our successes, and support each other's artwork and creations. Expect to see me out and about more now that I'm mostly recovered from my breast-cancer surgeries and back from an out-of-state writing sojourn that helped renew my energy for the work and growth we must continue here on the home soil.
In fact, I'm near giddy about the Mississippi Museum of Art food-truck festival this Thursday precisely because I'm ready to re-engage in the work of stomping out the hate, cynicism and poor organization that hold our city back. After you've been gone for nearly seven weeks, the potholes seriously rattle your bones when you return to see little progress fixing them.
To me, those dirt-filled holes are a metaphor—ha, Pam—for the work to be done. No more excuses; get organized; come up with a system and work it. Love the city hard, and leave the house if you can to support what our urban warriors are killing themselves to do for this city and state. We can be even more beautiful, but it takes us all. You, too, Mr. Bryant.