Examining the Racial Demographics and Systemic Racism of Mississippi
When most people think of the “blackest state” in America, they may immediately think of a Southern state like Mississippi or Alabama. However, according to recent data, the state with the highest percentage of Black or African American residents is actually Washington D.C., with a population that is nearly 47% Black. But what about when it comes to the states themselves, rather than just the district? According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey data, the state with the highest percentage of Black or African American residents is Mississippi, with a population that is 37.8% Black. However, it’s important to examine the racial demographics of a state beyond just one statistic. Here, we’ll take a closer look at Mississippi and what makes it such a significant state to examine when it comes to understanding Black Americans and the impact of systemic racism.
History of Mississippi’s Black Population
Mississippi was a major center of the antebellum slave trade and later became the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement, with notable figures like Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer calling the state home. Despite the struggles and violence Black people faced during the Civil Rights Movement, many chose to stay in the state and fight for change. Currently, Mississippi has the largest African American population in proportion to its total population of any state in the U.S. As a result, Mississippi also has a complicated history when it comes to race relations. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, from 1877 to 1950, Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings in the country, with Black people being the primary targets. The state has also faced criticism in recent years for its failure to remove Confederate symbols from public spaces and for discriminatory laws like the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, which some say allows for discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. While the state has made some progress in recent years, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done when it comes to addressing systemic racism and ensuring equal opportunities for all Mississippians, regardless of race.
One area where Mississippi’s racial disparities are particularly stark is in education. According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Mississippi has consistently ranked near the bottom when it comes to education outcomes. Specifically, Black students in Mississippi are more than twice as likely as white students to attend schools that perform poorly on state measures of academic achievement. Additionally, Black students in Mississippi are less likely to graduate high school and attend college than their white peers. This can be attributed, in part, to the state’s property tax system, which ties school funding to local property tax revenue. Since Black Mississippians are more likely to live in communities with lower property values, they are more likely to attend underfunded schools.
Another significant area of disparity in Mississippi is in health outcomes. According to data from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Black people in Mississippi have higher rates of mortality and lower life expectancy than white people in the state. Additionally, Black Mississippians are more likely to die from diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. One contributing factor to these disparities is the state’s high poverty rate. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, over 24% of Mississippi residents live in poverty, with higher poverty rates among Black residents (31.7%) than white residents (18.7%). Poverty is linked to higher rates of chronic illness and lower access to healthcare, which can contribute to poorer health outcomes overall. Additionally, systemic racism in the healthcare system can lead to lower quality of care for Black patients.
Criminal Justice Disparities
Like many other states in America, Mississippi’s criminal justice system disproportionately impacts Black residents. According to data from The Sentencing Project, Black people make up nearly 40% of Mississippi’s prison population, despite only comprising around 38% of the state’s total population. Additionally, Black people in Mississippi are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement, more likely to be convicted and sentenced to longer prison terms, and less likely to receive parole than white people. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including racial profiling, biases among judges and juries, and harsh sentencing laws. Additionally, many people argue that the privatization of prisons in Mississippi and other states has incentivized the incarceration of more people, particularly those from marginalized communities.
While Mississippi may be the state with the highest percentage of Black or African American residents, it’s clear that the state’s history of racial discrimination and systemic racism has had a significant impact on its Black population. From educational disparities to healthcare disparities to criminal justice disparities, Black Mississippians face a variety of obstacles when it comes to achieving equality and justice. However, it’s important to remember that Mississippi’s Black residents are also resilient and have fought for positive change in their communities. As the state and country continue to grapple with issues of racial justice, we should all listen to and uplift the voices of those who have been most impacted by systemic racism.