Thursday, June 16, 2005

I Stayed in Mississippi a Day too Long

There were two things I saw in Mississippi that made me go "What the fuck, America?" Those were not the incredibly awesome farm machinery driver who so gracefully maneuvered his rig off the road so that we could get by nor the young fucker with the SS tattoo on his neck, though both of those things were things I never considered were possible. No, here's what I saw: 1. An old man sitting on the porch of his one room tar paper shack on the Stovall farm land. He had his overalls on and a cane. His was not the only one room shack we saw, and in all fairness, we saw some two or three room shacks, as well, but he was the only person we saw who looked like he'd probably been there his whole life and worked side by side with McKinley Morganfield. 2. Half sheets of paper stacked on the counter of the Stovall plantation store with directions, in Spanish, for how the farm workers could make themselves understood and how they should behave at lunch time with the store workers, who did not speak or understand Spanish. America, here's the deal. If someone has a full-time job, if they are spending 40 hours or more a week doing anything, I don't care what--tending rice paddies, sweeping Walmart store rooms, collecting garbage, cleaning houses--it is FUCKED UP if they only have one room to live in. We are supposed to be a land of prosperity and opportunity. No one who lives in a tourist destination, especially--people coming for the blues and the casinos--should be living in a one-room tar paper shack. And it is fucked up that we've just made room in those tiny shacks for desperate Mexican laborers. It's not even "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," it's "meet the new farm hands, same as the old farm hands." It really blew my mind when Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton got so mad at Mexico's president for saying that Mexicans do work in the U.S. that even Blacks won't do. Instead of accusing him of racism and accepting his apologies, as if that was the be-all and end-all of the problem, you'd have thought that one of them would have said, "See, you fuckers, this is what we've been saying. It's so obvious that the U.S. considers African Americans to still be the poor laboring class, that doesn't have to be paid what he or she is worth, that even the president of Mexico can see it." I mean, unless there's more to the story than we saw on the news, I really can't understand why Jackson and Sharpton were so pissed at Fox. He didn't seem to be saying that he thought it was right or natural or fine with him that so many black people have to take shit jobs and live in shit housing. He was just pointing out the truth obvious to anyone who opens her eyes. We're still a nation dependent on desperate poor people with few options and fewer legal protections--to clean our houses and work our farms and run our factories--and those desperate, unprotected people used to be primarily African American, but increasingly, those people are also Mexican. Could President Fox have said it with a little more finesse? Sure. But it's really fucked up that we're letting ourselves be distracted from the real importance of what he's saying--that we depend on certain groups of people we don't have to pay shit or give a shit about in order for our country to function--by the clumsy way in which he said it. Well, it's fucked up, but it's not surprising. It's hard to even see, let alone admit, how our country is so dependent on people who will work for nothing or next to nothing, who lack basic legal protections (either because of how the law was/is written or because of how the law is carried out), and who carry the weight of the blame for all of society's ills. We like to think that we're beyond that.


Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

It doesn't seem to me that you stayed there too long. It seems to me that the extra day afforded you the opportunity and the voice to say what needs to be said. I agree: Fox could have put his point more eloquently, but come on, America, this IS fucked up. Additionally, it makes me tire even more of the idiots who scream that Mexicans are taking valuable jobs away from Americans.
The more you travel, the more the rest of us learn. Thank you for this post. And again, if you're ever in Memphis, let me know!

6/16/2005 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Sam Chevre said...

The thing that is critical to realize is that it's not just racial minorities; there are significant pieces of the South that are still part of the third world. Go east into the hill country (my home) and you will find some of the same desparate poverty among whites; I always feel like I'm home when I pass Chattanooga on I-24 and see the amazing shack that started out as a bus tucked between the road and the mountain.

6/16/2005 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Yankee Transplant, are you kidding? I saw the pictures of your beautiful house. Of course we're coming by the next time we're over there. Hell, I might secretly be laying in your front yard right now, pretending it's mine.

Ha, made you look.

6/16/2005 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't really mean that you don't understand why Jackson and Sharpton were so pissed at Fox, did you? The reason has nothing to do with what Fox actually said or meant. It's because that's how Jackson and Sharpton get on TV.


6/16/2005 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

I'd even let you tell people it's yours! I still can't believe it's mine!

6/16/2005 11:07:00 PM  

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