Expansive fields of dead, winter grass spread out on both sides of the road. Disheveled, broken homes, maybe two bedrooms at most, intermittently line the side of the roads. The insides of the houses have been vomited into their yards – rusted, abused, unwanted washing machines, tables, fridges, and car parts. It’s unclear why the things have been left behind or where these thingless people have gone.
As we pass the trailer home, Floyd, a breathing relic of Mississippi, comments, “white trash.”
The Canadian (not me, the real Canadian), bubbling with curiosity at seeing a “real” trailer home in America, corrects with giddy sarcasm, “a white trash palace.”
Through the sleeting rain, no one else passes our borrowed Oak Baptist Church bus. A black girl aged no more than fourteen trudges home in the rain carrying her backpack.
The few houses remaining in the once bustling cotton town of Coahoma are now mostly inhabited by people who cannot find a way to leave. Habitat for Humanity recently constructed some better houses here. The church in town, constructed of the white panel wood used to build the white picket fence American dream, is boarded and locked up. Most people in town survive off of welfare checks, and many are on crystal meth.
We don’t pass any businesses on our way in, but park in front of an old grocery store run by a Chinese family in the early to mid 1900s. The windows are all broken out, and scattered glass crunches under our trudging feet. Wooden beams fall through the roof.
Floyd, our native Mississipian, used to come here as a child for five cent candy. The son of wealthy cotton plantation owners, the black people waiting in line would often usher him to the front where he would charge his candy to the family account. Priority by color. If they forgot, the lady of the store would call him up to the start of the line.
“I didn’t mean to be a racist.” That was the way back then. That’s what everyone, white or black, taught him: that he was better than black people. Biggie, the family’s black nanny and housekeeper, instilled that lesson in him well when he responded to one of her motherly commands with a polite, “yes, ma’am.”
“You don’t ever call me or any other nigger, ma’am or sir, you hear? You’re better than every nigger there is.”
Momentarily emerging from his reverie, he looks up straight at Bingo, our Juba based journalist from a newly independent South Sudan, “I want to look at you and not notice that you’re black. I want to be colorblind.”