The Jackson Mississippi Water Crisis Is a Complex Problem — the Press Prefers Making It All About Race

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

With a major city like Jackson, MS, dealing with a severe health issue, childish accusations are not the place to start.

The residents in Jackson Mississippi, are under serious duress right now, as the main water supply in the city experiences spotty availability, lowered pressure, and health concerns requiring that nobody consume the water for now. Supplies of bottled water have been streaming into the area, as Governor Tate Reeves has declared a state of emergency.


The issue stems from recent flooding that overtaxed an already struggling municipal water treatment infrastructure. The excessive contaminates and silt strained facilities long in need of maintenance and repair, leading to major failures and reduced output. The causes behind this are plentiful, as years of neglect have been brought on by lost tax revenues, budgetary restrictions, and bureaucratic sloth and graft.

Or, if you are a member of the media, it is all due to racism.

Many journalists only need to look at the residential composite being majority black and declare that this problem is entirely about race. As MSNBC describes the scenario, it has been “Triggered by racist white flight” from Jackson.

It’s a favorite tactic of Republicans to complain about the prevalence of problems in what they like to call “Democrat-run cities.” But the cities they describe are often islands inside Republican-controlled states.

NBC News reporter Kat Tenbarge also sees this as a skin-color issue.

Tenbarge became notably prickly when it was pointed out that the city is governed by Democrats. It was with no small amount of amusement that she condemned someone resorting to partisan politics, while laying the problem on the doorstep of the Republican-run state. This is where much of the obliviousness rests for those who rely on tired tropes of racism. How are the GOP state leaders ignoring this crisis, when their doorstep is actually in the state capital — of Jackson?


Then just to add to the claims, we can see a local reporter, Ashton Pittman, also resorting to this approach. Amid his and other local reports, he says, “Some folks are real upset about me acknowledging that systemic racism is at the root of Jackson water crisis, but this is just a fact of reality and history.” This would be where many questions will largely go unanswered, because when looking at the “system,” you need to wonder where this racism exists.

We are talking about a municipal water supply in Jackson, so who are the city leaders and planners engaged in this racism? When looking over those in offices with oversight of this problem, I am at a loss as to who I should be pointing at as being behind this racial problem.

Look over Pittman’s comment – this is just a fact of reality and history. That last word is what tends to linger on the mind when looking over the current crisis. At what point is it acceptable to look back at the actions – or more accurately, the inactions – that provoked this current situation? The current mayor of Jackson is Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and he rests in an uninterrupted string of Democrat mayors stretching back over 30 years. When did this systemic racism become entrenched?


Lumumba states, in regards to the current water treatment problem, that it has been brought on by factors such as understaffed management, equipment failings, and other problems in the treatment operations. “This is a set of accumulated problems based on deferred maintenance that has not taken place over decades,” Lumumba said, in this video from the Clarion-Ledger. These decades entail 33 years of Democratic leadership, including when his own father was mayor. This bureaucratic issue seems to loom as a far greater reality than systemic racism.

The Environmental Protection Agency was brought in to look over the numerous problems, and the agency found a severe lack of action by civic leaders, something noted just ahead of the water crisis that erupted this week. The agency added that the decades of mismanagement and lack of viable efforts were not only a factor; they were still being seen today. In the face of a looming crisis, the EPA noted that little was being done to address the problems.

Only days before the effective collapse of Jackson’s water system, the Environmental Protection Agency highlighted a critical failure on the part of the capital city’s leaders in pursuing new water operations staff and in implementing an alternative water plan. EPA leadership warned that the City of Jackson has put no visible effort into hiring new employees. Not only is Jackson nowhere near acquiring the necessary staff to operate O.B. Curtis at full capacity, the EPA says it has yet to see the City even try.


I would like to see how racism is the main factor of the civic leaders today not doing the basics to even staff up its water supply system.

While there are certainly political issues to grapple with, there are also realities that need to be addressed. Jackson is a city that has seen constriction over the decades, leading to a loss of revenue. But also the metropolitan area has been stretched to accommodate more suburban areas in need of water, taxing the plumbing grid. But these supposedly racist (according to MSNBC) departures would involve more affluent areas, which should contribute tax revenues. 

Additionally, if the current problems in Jackson’s water supply are partly due to these suburbs requiring a supply, then you are looking at white residents also being affected today; so the charge that this is a problem being ignored due to the racial makeup is tough to reconcile. Certainly, a number of the accused GOP state leaders are living in these areas as they, again, work in Jackson. 

Federal money is also an issue. In the past, federal monies were there for the creation of these water facilities, but over time that money has been scaled back, affecting ensuing needs like the expansion of capacity and related issues.  President Biden has been hailed for one of his policies that had been passed since his inauguration–his highly touted infrastructure bill. This would be a specific point to address a problem like Jackson’s. The state is tabbed to receive over $400 billion specifically for water infrastructure improvement.


This will be a welcomed and needed infusion of federal money. The trick is going to be getting the politicians in Mississippi to do their jobs and apply efforts to the problems. Blaming their inactivity on systemic racism is not the solution Jackson residents need in answering this crisis.


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