By Leslie Criss
“Words have meaning and names have power.”
– Author Unknown
“A name can’t begin to encompass the sum of all her parts. But that’s the magic of names, isn’t it?”
– Charles de Lint
“Even if they’re saying your name with dislike, at least you know you’re you, that you exist.”
– Aidan Chambers
The Weather Channel got in a bit of hot water with a lot of folks this week while tracking Hurricane Isaac. They mentioned early on the storm could come ashore on “the land mass between Mobile and New Orleans.”
That would be Mississippi. The Magnolia State. The state of my birth.
And before anyone could say “Jim Cantore,” upset Mississippians were emailing and tweeting The Weather Channel folks with admonishments for designating our state an unnamed land mass.
So, we’re a little sensitive. Who could blame us?
We all remember in 2005 when a hurricane named Katrina made a direct and deadly hit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For a short time, national media outlets were there, keeping all the world updated on the terrible tragedy.
Then over in New Orleans, the levees failed. And Mississippi was all but forgotten. That’s not whining, it’s simply a fact.
The folks at The Weather Channel were good-natured about all the fuss this week and went out of their way to make sure Mississippi was mentioned by name in great abundance thereafter.
Holly Springs native, Ole Miss graduate and Fox News personality Shepard Smith took other media types to task by telling them proudly – and with a bit of defiance – “the land mass has a name and that name is Mississippi.” He also took the opportunity to correctly pronounce Biloxi a few times. (Thanks, Shep.)
As a Mississippian, I find it personally offensive when the name of my state is not used, especially when the threat of a potential disaster is heading toward it.
As a journalist, I find it professionally negligent – and a bit lazy.
Members of the national media don’t hesitate to talk about Mississippi by name when they’re announcing we are, in the nation, Number 1 at something negative.
And, good heavens, we all know folks who’ve never taken the time to learn much about this state’s progress and love to continue to talk about the dark parts of Mississippi’s past.
It should come as no surprise to anyone: There are bigots and racists in every state in our nation, and abroad. Not just in Mississippi.
The good news is we in Mississippi have a sense of humor.
Creative and fun-loving Mississippians turned to Facebook this week, posting all manner of rip-roaring wit to assuage our collective hurt feelings. One of my favorites was a mock-up of the cover of a magazine named Landmassippi, with teasers to inside stories on “Who Needs Teeth? Poll results inside” and “Coming soon to us – Elec-tricity.”
I believe it’s quite a testament to have the ability to laugh at ourselves, and the silly, unintelligent way some folks still see us.
I’m grateful for folks like Shepard Smith, Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper and others with strong ties to this state who work hard to make sure the truth gets told so the perpetuation of poor perceptions takes a plunge.
For we are much more than a land mass between Mobile and New Orleans.
We are Mississippi.