Hey dude. Are you OK?
That was one of the dozens of text messages I have gotten over the last few days as the water crisis in Jackson, MS, has made the headlines. Our already fragile water system was overwhelmed by the recent flooding, and now vast portions of the city have little to no water pressure.
But even before the flooding, we were under a month-long boil-water notice.
So, the short answer is that we are personally unharmed. We were not damaged in the flooding, and we have plenty of access to safe water.
But there is a longer answer.
I intentionally live in Jackson, MS.
That, in and of itself, is a political act. Jackson is an overwhelmingly majority Black city, surrounded by overwhelmingly majority white suburbs. The white people who live here have mostly decided to be the type of person who wants to live here.
The suburbs have good schools, good roads, and a nice tax base. We do not have any of those things. Nor is our water currently safe to drink.
When we moved here four years ago, we had a bevy of folks try to convince us to live in the majority white suburbs. But here is the thing: Deciding to live in a majority white space is also a political act.
So we live in Jackson. And we don’t have safe drinking water. We have the resources, personally, to manage this. We can afford drinking water. We have the flexibility, schedule-wise, to boil the water we need to boil. I just dropped a not small amount of money on a reverse osmosis water system to ensure that our drinking water, at least, will be safe to drink. That I can do all of that means only that I am privileged enough to have the resources to manage the catastrophe better than folks who don’t have those resources.
But 25% of Jackson residents live under the poverty line, so many folks here don’t have those resources. Parts of Jackson look and feel like the aftermath of a war. But the war – Mississippi against Jackson – is ongoing.
When a crisis hits, it is always the most vulnerable that feel it first. The hungry feel food shortages first. The elderly feel a healthcare crisis first. And Jackson is catching the infrastructure crisis before larger, better-funded cities do. But it’s coming.
In 1979, 65% of all new water and sewer treatment development was funded by the Federal Government. In 2020, that number was 7%. So it’s coming. It just caught us first.
As I write this, The White House, the Governor, and other places are all involved in trying to get us safe drinking water. And I really, really hope they do, because my city needs it. But it is not lost on me that this is not a new situation – the week we arrived here 4 years ago, the city was under a boil-water notice because of problems at the water plant.
And neither is it lost on me that churches all over Mississippi spend serious dollars to get safe drinking water for Black kids in other countries yet are content to let Jackson flounder.
So, we are unharmed, we Hollowells. But we are not OK. None of this is OK. The persistent racism and fear driving so many of Mississippi’s policies is not OK. The state legislature having countless opportunities to help, and refusing, is not OK. The infighting our own political leaders do is not OK. And the poverty pimps bilking the vulnerable is not OK.
None of it is OK.