A dark history of racism and violence maybe a threat to Mississippi’s tourism industry according to an associate professor of anthropology and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. Jodi Skipper spoke from personal and academic experience during her lecture “Touring Violence: History and Memory in Mississippi” at Strong Hall on Monday.
Skipper acknowledged challenges that arise because the comfort and enjoyment of tourists does not line up with the truth about the dark history in Mississippi. “You have to make people uncomfortable… This is an uncomfortable history, but it’s an uncomfortable present for us.”
Skipper said opposition exists between the well-being of tourists and the well-being of the community because money from tourism is not going directly into the community. “If we have a happier, healthier, more racial cohesive community, it does by default lead to economic development. The problem is that it’s thought about in a reverse.”
As tourism developers attempt to “rebrand” Mississippi, the redesign threatens to hide the complex heritage of racial tensions, slavery, civil rights, and violence, Skipper explained. “These [dark] histories are shared, and we really can’t separate them.”
Skipper explained that people who privately own historic sites control the narrative, and the owners choose whether or not they include history of slavery and civil rights into that narrative. Skipper said this results in “reinforcing segregated spaces over and over and over again.”
Currently in Mississippi neighborhoods, grandchildren of Klan members live beside grandchildren of individuals who were lynched by Klan member, and Skipper said tensions still persist. “People say to me, ‘Black and white people are getting along just fine. Why are you all bringing this up?’ You don’t go to church together; you don’t go to school together; you rarely visit each other’s homes. What do you mean by ‘getting along fine?’” Skipper said.