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Mississippi — Stereotypes and The New Yorker

One of the reasons I let my subscription to the New Yorker lapse several years ago was the increasingly snarky tone of their content. The magazine’s obsession with George Bush fueled this trend. Well, someone gave me a gift subscription, and I’m glad to see that even with Bush gone things haven’t changed. “Talk of the Town columnist Hendrik Hertaberg, a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, was discussing Obama’s handling of the oil spill. He described Ray Mabus, who Obama had just appointed to head a commission to restore the coast, as “the Secretary of the Navy who, although a former governor of Mississippi, is an enlightened and competent public servant.”

In my recent book, “The Past Is Never Dead, the Trial of James Ford Seale and Mississippi’s Struggle for Redemption,” I talked about some of the reasons for the rigidity of the almost universal  stereotype of Mississippi. One reason was it’s place on the bottom of almost all lists measuring well being, such as income, obesity, childhood diseases, education, and also the ever running movie “Mississippi Burning.” After reading Hertzberg’s remark, I have a new reason: it gives the already enlightened and competent a place to be snarky about. Everyone needs someone to kick around, particularly those who sees themselves as rightfully on the top of the pile.

I couldn’t say for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that Hertzerg has never been to Mississippi. Which is a real shame, since you can still hear the best blues in the world there.

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