I’m from Mississippi, the blue-eyed black bastard of America’s affair with slavery. Ranking first where you want to be last. Ranking last where you want to be first. The state that is the poorest, fattest and least educated. The state that even other southern states take comfort in by knowing at least they ain’t us. It is the butt of jokes about the South. America’s fat ass.
Of course, I am still proud to be Mississippian. Why? Why the hell am I proud? Pride is ignorant. Pride is unwilling to accept where it was wrong. OK, I’m not just proud. I’m proud and I’m ashamed. There’s got to be a German word that explains how I feel, right? People love to say there are German words that perfectly sum up ideas we can only get across in sentences, paragraphs, Great American Novels. I don’t have that perfect word, but maybe I can explain it another way. When I started NYU four years ago, I spoke with an accent. My drawl didn’t just announce where I was from, but it made others assume what I believed. Four years later, I’ve dropped the accent and just tell everyone I meet that I’m from Mississippi instead of letting them hear it first. Pride and Shame.
Perhaps I should clarify. I’m a southern white cisgender heterosexual male. Otherwise known as the most judgmental and prejudiced group in the United States. This is not a woe-is-me piece about muting my accent. I understood why, by hearing it without knowing me, people would make assumptions. I mean, have you ever met someone from Mississippi?
But that is not who I am — which is ironic because being able to say, “But that is not who I am” comes with the privilege afforded to me by being exactly who I am. I’d like to think I’m one of those rare white dudes who really gets it. Who understands how my race, gender, sexuality and class all inform the way I see the world and how the world sees me. Who understands that because of arbitrary traits like complexion and attraction, I benefit most from our failed system, and how preposterous, unfair and unacceptable that is. So yeah, I’d like to say I get it. But that’s not true. I am still getting it. Every day. Because of who I am, I can sympathize but I will never be able to empathize. But I will continue to sympathize and more importantly listen. It is by listening that I started to understand any of this.
Hopefully I can use my privilege to help dismantle the white patriarchy from the inside. That would have been a great name for my Gallatin concentration: Dismantling the Patriarchy from Within. And that brings me back to the terrible irony — I haven’t said anything that countless smarter people with different skin tones, sexual organs and sexual preferences have already said. But, because of my straight white dick it is likely that I could get more attention for mansplaining it. Screw that. Don’t listen to me. Join me in listening to those who know better and say it best.
All of this is to say that I could not have said any of this had it not been for an enlightening four years at NYU.