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“To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” - William Faulkner
My hometown of Jackson, Mississippi has been on water boil notice for two months. This isn’t the first time that Jackson residents have had a lack of access to safe, clean water — it happens fairly often in a city that has been subject to negligence and neglect for decades on end.
Jackson is one of the Blackest cities in one of the Blackest states in America, and is in the company of many Black cities across the country that have been subject to limited access to health care, limited educational resources, impoverishment, and premature death. Jackson sits in the heart of Mississippi, surrounded by wealthy predominantly-white cities and counties that seem to avoid the infrastructural problems that Jackson faces so often. And, as the capital of Mississippi, Jackson is filled with lawmakers who often fail to care about the poor quality of life that the predominately-Black residents of Jackson experience.
The water problem in Jackson began, not in August when central Mississippi was hit with historic rainfall, but earlier. In April of this year, prior to the peak of Jackson’s water and infrastructure problem, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and other politicians asked the state legislature for additional funding for their water problems. However, the Mississippi State Legislature refused to allocate Jackson enough money to adequately fund and solve their infrastructure problems.
Thus when the rainfall and flooding started, this led to Jackson’s already-struggling water system to fail. Though it worsened this summer, Jackson’s water crisis has been brewing for years now. In 2016, a state report found lead in Jackson’s water system. And, in 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency found that Jackson’s drinking water “had the potential to host harmful bacteria or parasites.” Then, in 2021, a severe winter storm caused residents to be without water for a month.
The water problem in Jackson isn’t a partisan issue that can be chalked up to whether leadership in the city is red or blue. The problem in Jackson, Miss., is one of racial capitalism and anti-Blackness. Black populations have continuously been at the forefront of government neglect and violence. Whether it be Flint, Mich., Mount Vernon, N.Y., or Jackson, Miss., the problem is systemic and reflective of a larger history of anti-Blackness in America.
Water is politics. Access to water affects every aspect of life. Besides being unable to shower and drink water, people in Jackson don't even have enough water to fight fires and flush toilets. Jackson is facing this issue, not due to municipal mismanagement, but because after years of white flight and segregation, Jackson became a majority Black city left behind to suffer in favor of wealthier white cities. A product of the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and the War on Drugs, Jackson has had to fight against the rugged terrain of anti-Black governance for years now, and this has culminated in the crisis we see today.
Capitalism and anti-Blackness are the structuring modalities of a society birthed off the backs of slavery, and it is only when the legacies of anti-Blackness are addressed that Black populations are no longer treated as disposable. Treating the water crisis in Jackson as an isolated event just puts a bandaid on a bullet wound. The structural problems that Jackson faces today were years in the making–a legacy of anti-Blackness that spans the history of Mississippi and this nation. Before Jackson, there was Flint. Before Flint, there was Lowndes County Alabama, and there will only be more cities to add to the list as the years go on.
A first step to helping Jackson would be donating to Cooperation Jackson, The Mississippi Food Network, or The Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition. But on a larger, more structural level, it is our jobs as students now and as leaders in the future to fight for change in the status quo. In the years to come, we will be the next generation of writers, politicians, CEOs, and business owners. We will soon have the power to make decisions that will impact our future for the better or worse, and it is only through a concerted effort that we can fight the structures of oppression within our society and strive to create a better world for all those that live in it.
Christian A. Gines ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Mather House.
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