Life in Jackson after Eudora & Katrina
March 3, 2008 12:17 PM   Subscribe

I've been considering a position in Jackson, Mississippi. The job would be fantastic and a real step-up. The folks there seem eager to have me. The problem is Mississippi. My parents and sister now live there, but pretty far south (Picayune). I live in PA and before this mostly in the Midwest. Will I fit in?

I've lived in Madison Wisconsin, Chicago Illinois, and rural Pennsylvania. My family has been in Southern Mississippi and Louisiana for over ten years so I know that part of the state. I would not be comfortable there. But as for Jackson, I've never been. Is there enough culture, diversity, tolerance that I could acclimate? I really would be a good fit for the job, it's how the life-style would effect the rest of my hours that I'm concerned about.

Anything you can tell me about Jackson and the immediate area would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Toekneesan to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
I travel throughout the Deep South frequently and I really like Jackson. It's very Old South--but at the same time, is probably the only place in the state you can find organic food, good coffee, kinda of a gallery scene, [I've never been to Oxford though] You should check out the Jackson Free Press. It's an alt-weekly that has breathed a lot of life into the downtown scene--and is sort of rallying point for creative, liberal types in town. and is read by both conservatives, blacks and whites--which is a huge deal down there in a city that's still very conservative and very split along racial lines. You should check out the Fondren neighborhood if you want to get a glimpse of diverse, creative class Jackson.

Jackson still seem achingly slow to a person from Madison, much less Chicago. But by Deep South standards, I'd take it over say, Birmingham or Baton Rouge any day for quality of life, tolerance, etc. Cost of living is dirt cheap [hello $70,000 house] and you'll find you'll have more free time to read, paint, hang out whatever--but if you really need big city excitement--Atlanta and New Orleans are the only things in the South that deliver [and often in much better ways than northern cities] Anyway,here's a list of the best of Jackson to get you started.
posted by caveatz at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there enough culture, diversity, tolerance that I could acclimate? I really would be a good fit for the job, it's how the life-style would effect the rest of my hours that I'm concerned about.

I live in a large Southern city (and have for most of my life) and I have grown increasingly disenchanted, even disgusted, with the South. While perhaps being a smidgen more cosmopolitan than the rural South, I think it is very easy to overstate the level of tolerance and diversity that any of the large Southern cities (including Jackson, Birmingham, Memphis, Savannah) have. These cities are home to some very persistent backwardness that gets under my skin.

Jackson, I think, has a fairly high crime rate for its size. The last time I was there, a couple of years ago, there was a security guard in the parking lot of practically every restaurant in the decent parts of town.

If you moved to Jackson, get used to people asking you where you go to church. That question, along with the assumption that you belong to some sort of fundamentalist church, will be common.

There is a lot of racial tension in Jackson. Among whites, you will find a persistent distrust and fear of blacks; and among blacks, you will find a persistent distrust and resentment of whites. A sizeable percentage of the city is poor.

Here's how I break down cities like Jackson:

-- at least half of the population is so poor and so culturally alien to you that you will not have any meaningful contact or connection with those people (unless it is your profession to serve them in some way);

-- at least three-quarters of the remaining half is made up of white, redneck, NASCAR-and-gun-loving types who, since you're posting on Metafilter, I'm guessing you will have little connection with;

-- most of the remaining population is the Southern-genteel business class who live in nice homes and work in law firms and accounting offices and other professional jobs, and who go to the same churches and belong to the same Junior League and Rotary clubs. You may think you can connect with these people, but unless you share their peculiar "family, faith, and football" perspective, you will find their narrowness very offputting.

-- the cosmopolitan, liberal, MeFite types are few and far between in a city like that. Yes, they exist, and you might even convince yourself that there are enough there for you to feel at home. But after you've settled in, I think there's a good chance that once you eliminate all these groups whose socioeconomic and/or cultural situations are dramatically different from yours, you will realize that there are about seventeen people in the city that you could have a really fun night out with.
posted by jayder at 3:42 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

My experience in the south is pretty much the opposite. I haven't spent time in jackson. But I've spent time in many towns like it. I've lived in birmingham. And if you want liberal/mefi type friends they're not difficult to find.

Yes, it will be different. But why not try it out. You might be surprised. You might be able to help change what isn't surprising, but if you're just going to go, expect everything to be perfect, and then whine like jayder, I'd pass.
posted by gtr at 4:16 PM on March 3, 2008

I tried hard to love Jackson, because I was born there, and I grew up elsewhere in Mississippi. But . . . I can't sell it to you. I am very proud of being from Mississippi, and I would try to sell you on Oxford, but not Jackson.

There are some cosmopolitan places to be -- good bookstores, a whole food store -- but you better like them, because they're all you'll get, culturally speaking. And do you like driving? Do you like driving a lot? Because you have to.

On the other hand, MS is MS, and you're not far from natural beauty; it's a great place for kids to grow up, too. Nothing beats being from Mississippi. The "NASCAR types" can be much kinder and more accepting than stereotypes tell you. And the immigrant communities are burgeoning in Mississippi, bringing new cultures and flavor.

I strongly suggest visiting first, taking your family, seeing how you feel. Jackson is not something to step into blind.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:35 PM on March 3, 2008

Here's a recent thing I experienced in the urban south: I belonged to a professional group that has no religious affiliation. I know for a fact that there were Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the group, and that's just the people whose affiliation I knew; the rest, for all I know, are atheists.

I was in charge of scheduling a guest speaker for a few months. One of the members proposed a speaker who had done some international missionary work, and he was willing to speak to our group "about his love of the Lord." I suggested --- very tactfully, I thought --- in an e-mail that since our group represented many different views on divinity, a speaker talking about his relationship with Christ might not be the suitable choice. Well, all hell broke loose, the member who proposed the speaker raised hell, the president of the club intervened, and we had to invite the speaker, because after all, we have to make sure Christ doesn't get kicked out of our local civic groups.

Another true story: a friend of mine works for the Army Corps of Engineers in a Southern city. He works among a lot of highly educated people --- civil engineers, primarily --- and among these engineers, there is a strong creationist group. One dude (an engineer) was seriously defending a theory about how, due to some cockamamie reading of the fossil record, the earth was only a few thousand years old.

People who are Jewish, or some other non-Christian faith, in the South often have to deal with people who want to start meetings with Christian prayer. They're faced with the dilemma: Do you point out that not everyone is Christian? Or do you go along to get along?

Maybe this stuff happens commonly outside the South, but I don't think so.

Like Countess Elena suggests, make sure you know what you're getting into.

And as to gtr's suggestion:

Yes, it will be different. But why not try it out. You might be surprised.

"why not try it out. You might be surprised" is a pretty weak endorsement, when the questioner is asking for specific advice on whether the city will be hospitable.
posted by jayder at 5:08 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

People are people, and our similarities outweigh our differences. If you can handle rural PA, you ought to be able to handle Mississippi.

Can you go down there and visit for a weekend? Check out the office and people, ask them what areas they think are nice to live in, what they do on weekends. I think you'd have a pretty good idea after that.
posted by gjc at 5:53 PM on March 3, 2008

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