October 26, 2020

Perspective: Mississippi’s ugly past lives on through campground gun incident

The haunting image of a white woman wielding a gun against two black picnickers in Mississippi seems out of place, a snapshot from another, uglier time in our state.

But sadly the image was made this week, not in 1964.

A video of the incident at a Starkville campground holds a mirror up for Mississippians to see how the rest of the world views us — a state filled with sad, fearful, gun-toting white people who fear dark skin so much that we must arm ourselves.

Fortunately, the couple confronted by the gun-toting stereotype this week was cool-headed (way cooler than most people in such a situation would be) and they defused the situation.

Sadly, some people will try and justify the woman’s actions by trying to somehow rationalize it:

“You can’t be too careful these days.”
“They weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.”
“It’s her right to carry a gun whenever she pleases.”

But the woman’s behavior — at least from what we can see in the video, which admittedly only shows a portion of what occurred — is unconscionable.

The campground’s owner fired her. That seems just. No one with that itchy of a palm should carry a gun, let alone work with the public.

But for the state we love, the damage was done.

Mississippi — the real, modern Mississippi, not the stuff of national stereotyping from our past — is better than this.

The real Mississippi understands that Mississippi is what it is, not in spite of our pasts and our diversity, but because of it. Mississippi’s marrow is black, white and brown. It’s European, African, Asian, Indian and Native American.

Influences of each of those cultures, and many more cultures unlisted, are what make Mississippi special and what makes the right-minded folks — you know, the one’s who don’t pull guns in campgrounds — love this state so much. It’s what makes us love God, banana pudding, football rivalries, fishing, hunting and so much more.

All of those are pigment agnostic. Truth is black, white and brown Mississippians have FAR more in common than we have differences. But situations like the campground foolishness bring all the attention to Mississippi for all the wrong reasons.

So how do we get over such things? Simple: We need to talk through it all.

While we shouldn’t shame the revolver-wielding grandma or try to pull some kind of Old Testament punishment on her, we should talk about the issue. What made her feel the need to pull a gun? Why are we all so darned fearful and intimidated these days?

Arming oneself and being “ready” may have been justified if someone was found lurking in outside your house like in this case. But clearly, such behavior was utterly uncalled for here.

Some Mississippians scoff at the labels others from different parts of the world place on us. But to continue to do so is foolish and will be to our continued detriment. For Mississippi to flourish, economically and culturally we must have serious conversations with one another, have long looks in the mirror and ask ourselves: Do we want to be labeled like the woman with the gun in her hand or do we want to be known for what we really are — good, mostly God-fearing people who are smart, love one another and love the world around us.