I'm goin' to Jackson...or am I?
August 4, 2014 9:42 PM   Subscribe

What is it actually like to live in Jackson, MS?

I'm debating whether to apply for a job in Jackson, MS and would like some perspectives on what it's like to live there. I’m an unmarried, liberal, White, agnostic woman, if any of that matters. I’ve only ever lived in the North and haven’t traveled much in the South but have wanted to.

A friend of my same demographic set moved a few years ago from where I live now (college town in the Midwest) to Jackson for the same job. She said that she likes the area, but she also described experiencing regular street harassment (more regular than in our area of the Midwest, anyway) and feeling judged about managing her affairs without the assistance of a man. She also feels that she has to actively hide her (lack of) religious identity. If what she says is true, I would worry that my non-White, LGBT, and visibly non-Christian friends/family would feel uncomfortable about visiting me. I also worry that it would bother me to experience these kinds of things on a daily basis.

Also, I'm familiar with the current issues around abortion access there and am curious whether I would have ready access to a range of birth control options (e.g., doctors who will take out/insert IUDs, the morning after pill).

I don’t want to judge the city based on the experiences of one person, so I’m looking for a variety of perspectives! If Jackson is awesome and this is truly just her idiosyncratic experience, please tell me so that I can apply with enthusiasm!
posted by quiet coyote to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I live in a town about an hour and 15 minutes south of Jackson, so I can tell you about my experiences living here in Hattiesburg as a bleeding-heart, atheist liberal, as well as my observations about Jackson as a visitor.

It's complex, you know, being liberal and white in the South. Volumes could be, and have been, written on the topic. I find it easy to live here, but I am southern by birth, really outgoing, and very settled in to Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is a small college city and it has a turn-over of fresh faces as well as the comfortableness of an old shoe that is a very good match for me. I belong to liberal Mississippian FaceBook groups, and hang with people from a bunch of walks of life here.

Jackson I visit several times a year. There is a gentrified area known as Foundren where there are the hipster restaurants, bars and shops one expects in any medium to large city. There is a great bookstore, Lemuria. There is a brand new Whole Foods. The town is a few hours' drive to New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Memphis. Jackson also has a huge poor/rich divide, as well as some racial problems, as you would expect. The infrastructure there is TERRIBLE. The roads are a complete mess. The poor areas are tragic.

I, personally, do not get street harassed there or pretty much anywhere in the area, but I am a heavy-set 46 year old, so I am out of the main demographic for that. I do sometimes get condescended to by salesmen and the like, but no more here than in most places, I don't think. Stuff like I'm the one asking the questions, but the sales person is looking and responding to only my husband. I pretty much call people out on that, though. I am beyond caring what people think of me and have a pretty thick skin. I don't wear makeup, and I wear mostly t-shirts and jeans, and I get very little flack for it, and only occasionally does someone assume I am a lesbian based solely on that. But there are women of my acquaintance who NEVER leave the house without doing themselves up. Big hair is still a thing here.

Ah, religion. It permeates EVERYTHING. Jesus fish are everywhere. "Have a blessed day," is a common phrase as you leave a store. Politicians try to out-Christian each other to the point of ridiculousness. It is in our constitution that someone running for public office MUST believe in a higher power. Church is probably the main social thing here. But for me, it really isn't much of a deal. I have heard other atheists complaining about being asked, "Where is your church home?" on a near daily basis, but I really am not sure I believe that, as I have gotten asked that maybe twice in 46 years. Most of my friends are aware I am not religious, but most of them are also not very religious, or if they are, it really isn't that big a thing in our relationship-in fact, my closest friend is quite religious and works for her church, but she is totally cool with my heathen ways. On the other hand, I briefly considered running for public office to challenge our constitution about atheists holding office and decided against it for two reasons. 1. I am a ne're-do-well in general, and 2. I feared for my husband's job and the safety of my family both socially and physically should I do so. Not from my friends and acquaintances so much, but from Hattiesburgers who don't know me.

The South is so complex. We have something I think of as the "Good One" Syndrome in seemingly greater quantities than in other places in the world. A quite prejudiced white man will unironically have a black man as a good friend, because "he's one of the good ones." A black man in drag who directs traffic when off his meds? We have that, and the community is pretty supportive of him; he's a good guy, just "different." (Actually, at one time, Hattiesburg had TWO dudes fitting that description. The South is also full of quirky characters.) I am sort of some peoples' token atheist--I am, despite the fact that atheists are weird, and probably satanists, a "good one."

I have asked that a friend of mine who lives in Jackson and is connected to Planned Parenthood send me along her thoughts, and if she does, I will post them here. PP is fighting the good fight here and is a great resource.

I could honestly go on and on. Please feel free to MeMail me, and if you decide to come visit and see for yourself, I would love to get with you and show you around some. We are notoriously kind to visitors here--you should come check it out, and do not fear that your friends and relatives would be treated to anything worse than the occasional "Bless your heart!"
posted by thebrokedown at 11:20 PM on August 4, 2014 [26 favorites]

I currently live in Jackson, MS. I might be a little biased since I was born and raised in Mississippi and I am pretty quick to over look her flaws and highlight her gems. Jackson is like anywhere else, there are a lot of great people and there are a lot of assholes.

Maybe its because I am youngish, late 20s, but I find religion to be more about gleaning background information about someone. I might ask where they go to church so that I have a deeper understanding of them and where they might becoming from. This is more a force of habit since at this point I'm basically an atheist.

As for birth control issues, I would have to defer to my wife, but she seems to have no issue (and has had no issue before we were married) in getting a range of BC options from her doctors.
The main issue surrounding women's reproductive rights in Jackson is the sole abortion clinic that is located in Fondren. If that is something you are passionate about and would tap into, then we would surely welcome the help.

My advice is to come give Jackson a chance. There are things to do for a young professional. There is great music, good food, and a hopping nightlife for a young professional.

Sounds like your fear is being judged as an outsider, that the automatic norm of Jackson is White, Republican, Resistant to change, Baptist, etc. I'm not going to say that you won't be judged by coworkers, cashiers, or random people. But the majority of people around here embrace differences. Again, I might be a little biased. I work at a good company that has a great mix of characters and we are judged based on merit and not thoughts or external features.

Regardless, if you do decided to move to Jackson, send me a message. We have the best Irish Pub, Fenians.
posted by GreatValhalla at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am an unmarried, white, liberal agnostic woman who just moved from Memphis to New England, about 18 months ago. For my money, don't do it. I was absolutely miserable there, but then my politics are closely tied to my identity as a human, and I felt constantly invalidated. I couldn't wait to leave. Being here has been like a constant breath of fresh air.

If you do go, be prepared for the government to be less functional than you are used to; to have difficulty with some social ties because you are not a church-goer; to be frustrated by the open display of conservative hatred in the way of abortion clinic protestors and church lawns filled with tiny crosses for all the murdered babies; to hear local television advertisements for conservative candidates that are unbelievably offensive; and for racism to be much more overt than you are perhaps used to.

With all that said, I didn't have any issues getting an IUD placed in Memphis. I also enjoyed the local music culture. I do miss the wide open spaces, the lack of traffic, the warmer winters, and the affordability.
posted by woodvine at 9:17 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

These are all great answers so far that are really helping me to think about this; thank you. I will have an opportunity to visit if I apply, so I may do that and see how it goes.

my politics are closely tied to my identity as a human, and I felt constantly invalidated

I think that this best captures my dilemma. I'm not really worried about being an outsider, because I've definitely been one before, but I have a very thin skin about the issues that my friend and Mefites (both in this thread and over Memail) have raised. I know this about myself. For example, when waiters give my date the check instead of me, or men refuse to walk through a door that I've opened for them, it pisses me off for hours- more from a "it's pretty fucked up that this is how the world is" standpoint than because it means something about what they think of me. It bothers me enough in the liberal area that I live in now that I'm worried about being somewhere where it potentially happens more often.
posted by quiet coyote at 9:52 AM on August 5, 2014

I can't speak about Jackson, but I would not necessarily identify Jackson with Memphis. I have family in northern Mississippi, and people there tend to think of Memphis as a necessary evil (necessary for the urban advantages). Memphis is the Detroit of the South, and the less-diverse, less-joyous New Orleans of the North. As a single, liberal, white, agnostic woman, I could not believe how Murphy's Law dogged my every move in Memphis for five long years (though some of my favorite people ever live there). I urge you keep taking opinions, here and elsewhere - there's a good chance that Jackson would be way more suitable than Memphis.
posted by mmiddle at 10:37 AM on August 5, 2014

I grew up in Jackson, still have family there. So...

Opening the door for a woman is something that is expected behavior for a gentleman there, an act of courtesy. I personally open doors for everyone, women included, and I don't think I'm the only one who does it.

Waiters will drop the check on men, yes. They'll also ask for your order first, every time. (Asking the men first is viewed as discourteous by many.) You'll run into that kind of thing all the time.

Outright racism is not as common as you might expect, although I think that's changing. Racism in a southern city is more of a habitual obliviousness to certain parts of town, more of a passive dismissiveness than a spoken thing.

Seconding Lemuria. Square Books two hours north in Oxford is one of my favorite bookstores on the planet. New Orleans is a nice city to visit for a weekend, too.

I will say that I have been getting a bad vibe about Jackson lately. Has nothing to do with any of the aforementioned details.
posted by billjings at 12:01 PM on August 5, 2014

I'm a liberal atheist woman living in Oxford, MS (small university town, relatively liberal for the state, couple hours north of Jackson), and my manpanion always gets handed the check, and often gets the receipt even if I pay with a credit card. I've had people assume we're married for no apparent reason.

That said, everyone opens doors for everyone - men aren't upset annoyed when I'm the door-opener. I know plenty of atheists (including one who was a transplant from Jackson). I've found Southerners to generally be nice as pie to non-whites/GLBT folks/non-Christians. Being rude is widely considered poor behavior - few people want to reinforce the nasty stereotypes about Southerners. The difficulty is more that they'll attempt to sweep differences under the rug or they'll just be so, say, heteronormative, that you eventually have to explicitly explain that Jennifer and Poppy are life partners, not business partners.

I'd definitely recommend a visit. I appreciate the cultural norm of hospitality here, even if it's clumsily executed sometimes. I value that people acknowledge race as an issue and will talk about it - I haven't had anyone here tell me it's a "post-racial" society. I also think it's been really good for me to get to know people who are pretty different from me, and start to understand how they came to their opinions and what's important to them.
posted by momus_window at 1:24 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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