In 2018, Mississippians claim to have completely distanced themselves from the days of lynching and segregation, but how far have they actually come? According to the NAACP, Mississippi was responsible for 581 lynchings from 1882 to 1968—the highest number of lynchings in America.
While campaigning for the upcoming runoff election, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith commented, “if [one of my supporters] invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” After immense public outcry, she continues to refuse to apologize for the tone-deaf joke, but it has not seemed to affect her campaign in a substantial way.
The fact that she made these comments while running against Mike Espy, a black man, proves that Mississippi as a whole will never truly believe in racial equality.
After making the comment, Hyde-Smith pitifully attempted to de-escalate the situation by saying, “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” She could have easily acknowledged that her comment did, in fact, have a negative connotation. As a senator for the state with the longest-standing record for racial prejudice, it should be second nature to understand the lasting effect of that prejudice on Mississippi’s black residents. Rather than showing remorse, she proved the blatant racism Mississippians claim has been left in the past.
Days after her comment about attending a public hanging, a video was released of Hyde-Smith speaking to students in Starkville while campaigning for the upcoming runoff election. In the video, she said, “there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.”
She quickly responded that it was a joke, yet it becomes increasingly clearer that Hyde-Smith’s values are that of a stereotypical racist Mississippian. Her ‘joke’ seems to be pointed directly to the historically black colleges and universities in Mississippi, which are arguably the most liberal colleges in the state. It is unfathomable that she would joke about supporting voter suppression for students at ‘those other schools,’ and it almost seems as if she would prefer black Mississippians to not have the right to vote at all.
In response to the ‘joke,’ Danny Blanton, a spokesperson for Espy’s campaign said, “For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter.” Hyde-Smith and her conservative supporters’ dismissal of the weight of her comments bring light to the racial hierarchy that continues to prevail in the South.
This is not the 1950s—it is no longer acceptable for white politicians to discriminate against their black counterparts. The fact that Hyde-Smith shows no remorse for her inherent racism proves that Mississippi has made little progress when it comes to racial equality.
Hyde-Smith’s comments should have ruined her reputation. Instead, she continues to be a strong favorite to win against Espy in the runoff election on Nov. 27. I’m not naïve to say that President Trump’s own racism is the cause for Hyde-Smith’s carelessness, but I also cannot ignore the racial tensions that continue to grow under the Trump administration. Mississippi has always retained underlying racism; perhaps the Trump administration has simply exacerbated it.