Framing Race in Mississippi: New Research Shows How Deep the Racial Fault Lines Run

Article excerpt

FROM THE BLEAK POVERTY OF THE DELTA to the tatters of the Gulf Coast, many Mississippi residents suffer from pervasive income inequality and broken social services. Now, a new study reveals that the color line cuts through nearly every basic measure of human welfare, making the state a freeze-frame of the country's brutal legacy of racial injustice.


According to researchers, Black people's median earnings in Mississippi are about $10,000 less than whites, which in effect means that even the poorest whites typically are better-off than the majority of Blacks in the state. And on average, Blacks die four years sooner than whites in Mississippi.

The study's authors conclude that Black Mississippians "on average, experience the level of access to choices and opportunities of the average American in 1974." Geography complicates the picture: whites in Hinds County have higher development scores than the country as a whole, while Blacks in Pike-Adams County live at the same level as the average American did in 1960.

The statistics are laid out in A Portrait of Mississippi: Mississippi Human Development Report 2009, published by the research group American Human Development Project. Drawing on the United Nations Human Development Report, the study tracked three fundamentals of well-being: health, education and income. The report follows a national study published last year, The Measure of America, which ranked Mississippi last among all states on human development criteria.

"There's a large constituency in Mississippi that believes that these disadvantages come largely from people's personal decisions and choices," said Kristen Lewis, codirector of the American Human Development Project. "And part of our work is to try to document how and where policy does make a difference."

The study parses structural factors underlying the disparities. …