Cindy Hyde-Smith Is Not Funny Because She Is Not Really Joking

Do not let anyone gaslight you. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican candidate for Mississippi’s US Senate seat, wants to make it harder for black students to vote.

She says she was only joking, but nobody was laughing. That’s because voter suppression is not funny, it is a serious thing that Republicans actually do all the time, and now more than ever.

Hyde-Smith was visiting Starkville earlier this month when she made the remarks to some (white) students outside her campaign bus. “There’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote,” she said. “Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.”

Because Hyde-Smith was careful to refer only to “liberal folks,” much of the commentary today misses the racial implications of her alleged ‘joke.’ Put simply, Starkville is the home of Misissippi State University, where just 20 percent of the student body is African American. By contrast, nearly 4 out of 10 Mississippi residents is African American.

To hear the dog whistle, you have to look at what Hyde-Smith means by “those other schools.”

Clearly, she was not referring to Ole Miss. Compared to Mississippi State, integration and the civil rights era were much more fraught at Ole Miss, there are even fewer African American students. Furthermore, the surrounding area is much redder; Starkville narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, so Hyde-Smith was actually standing on the bluest spot for many miles around when she “joked” about “those other schools.”

Located in Hattiesburg, Southern Miss has a more diverse student body than either Ole Miss or MSU, but the surrounding counties are also reliable Republican bastions. So Hyde-Smith could not have been complaining about the way that campus community votes, either.

In contrast, there are no less than six HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Mississippi — Rust College, Tougaloo College, Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State University, Coahoma Community College, and Hinds Community College — all of which are located just about as far away from Starkville as you can get without falling into the Mississippi river.

They lie in the “blue zones” of the state. You know, where “liberals” live. If sounds a lot like “those other schools,” way over there, that Hyde-Smith was talking about, you are starting to get the picture. Here, I have made a helpful map to help you visualize her meaning:

While this is based on the New York Times county-level election results map for 2016, I could have just as easily substituted a heat map of African American population, as the two match almost perfectly.

Asked for comment, Hyde-Smith’s opponent, Democrat Mike Espy, called her a “walking stereotype who embarrasses our state.” He can hear the dog-whistles and he knows what they mean: “For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter.”

Indeed, those voting rights are under greater threat right now than at any time since the Civil Rights Era, and HBCUs are a primary target. Students at Prairie View A&M have been fighting back against local election officials for years, while students at Alabama A&M have just filed a lawsuit over missing registrations. These are not jokes, they are the deliberate actions of Republican officials embracing white supremacy.

Perhaps Cindy Hyde-Smith finds racial disenfranchisement humorous, but that does not make her a comedian.

Featured image via public domain