After repeated attempts
to engage one young, seemingly non-verbal African American boy — his stomach swollen from malnourishment — picking through dried rice and beans on the dirt floor of a shack, Bobby Kennedy, the father of 11 children, quickly turned and walked outside. He did not want the photographers who accompanied him to catch the tears welling up in his eyes.
The depth of Mississippi’s poverty was almost too much for Kennedy to bear. Speaking mournfully about “children with distended stomachs,” Kennedy urged
the federal government to do something to alleviate the state’s widespread “suffering.” Deeming “housing inadequate” and commenting on the “insufficient clothing” of the state’s impoverished children, he rightfully concluded that Mississippi was a “terrible reflection on our society.”
Now, 54 years later, it is necessary to ask the federal government to intervene in the state again. Many of the primarily Black residents of Mississippi’s capital, Jackson, spent weeks without running water
after a cold spell
burst a huge number of the city’s pipes. According to Mississippi Today, Over 40,000 people
, the equivalent of a sold-out game at Wrigley Field, were not able to drink, bathe or wash clothes, dishes, hands or even flush toilets — all during a pandemic.
Over the past several days, the city has made significant progress in repairs, restoring water to most of its residents. However, two major, potentially deadly issues remain
. First, the water pressure is extremely low and unreliable in certain neighborhoods, particularly in the poorer parts of south Jackson. More importantly, city testing has revealed that the water in Jackson is still unsafe to drink, according to USA Today reported
, “because of high turbidity — cloudiness that increases the possibility water might contain disease-causing organisms.”
The capital of an American state is still under a boil-water advisory — an advisory originally issued nearly a month ago, on February 16
. Jackson’s problems, like those of so many other US towns and cities, are a blight on the political ideals White Americans traditionally claim.
Jackson, Mississippi, is a microcosm of our nation’s massive failures to make amends for centuries of colonialism, slavery and racism. The story of Jackson is like those of Flint, Michigan; Centreville,
Illinois; and Shreveport, Louisiana. While the details from each city may vary, the core issue that binds these places together in anguish is painfully obvious.
Our problem, our shame, is that American poverty springs not from lack of funds, but instead from White supremacy. Due to the ravages of history — from slavery and the failures of Reconstruction to more modern tactics of redlining
, White flight
and the crisis of mass incarceration
— poverty in America is almost always dependent on racism, even when the impoverished are White. From pitting laborers of different races against each other
to stoking racist and xenophobic fears through…
Read more:: Opinion: Jackson water crisis shows Nina Simone is still right about Mississippi