I’m a white woman who voted for Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2018. Here’s why I’m voting for Mike Espy in 2020.
An essay by Cagney Weaver | Nov. 1, 2020
I’m a white woman who voted for Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2018. I will be voting for Mike Espy this November.
For me, it comes down to one thing: race. Cindy Hyde-Smith has routinely shown in the two years since she was appointed to the Senate that she simply does not care about all Mississippians.
I am not sharing my story to be some sort of moral crusader or to show that I have become “woke.” I am doing this because this version of Mississippi has existed for far too long. Someone has to speak up. It is our moral obligation as Mississippians, as women, as mothers to change what Mississippi has been and fight for a better future for all of our state’s children.
I haven’t always felt this way. I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a very white world. The schools I attended were predominantly white, and I had few opportunities to interact with people of color. It’s difficult to explain the strong grip that upbringing in that kind of environment can have on you.
I began seeing things a little differently when I went to college at the University of Southern Mississippi. I became friends with people of color. I was shocked to learn that sororities were segregated by race. I took a class from my first ever teacher of color, Dr. Shirley Bowles.
But what really changed me was becoming a public school teacher. I began teaching in 2010 at the same elementary school where I attended kindergarten myself. In a small-town Mississippi turn of events, I took over for my kindergarten teacher in the very same kindergarten classroom where I had once been a student. In my first few years of teaching, it was impossible not to notice how few students of color I taught. That had a profound effect on me.
In 2014, I was awarded the Milken Educator Award, a national award that allowed me the pleasure of working closely with game-changing women of color in education from across our state and country. That same year, I was asked to speak at the Mississippi Teacher and Administrator of the Year Conference. As I looked around that room, I saw so many people of color in these vital roles that shape young minds. It was hard not to wonder why I had seen so little of that in my life. That was a defining moment for how I felt about race in Mississippi.
I long for my students to see people who look like them in administrative roles in my workplace. Just in the history of public education, it’s not hard to see how people of color have been systemically held back by racist policies: redlining, immoral treatment of Black mothers using government subsidies in the 1950s and 1960s, the disproportionate number of children of color whose best hope at gaining a quality education was a lottery system.
Today, that public education system of racism looks a little different but still exists, most obviously through how our schools are funded. How can it be that my elementary school in Biloxi is less comfortable for students than a similarly sized school across the bay in Ocean Springs? How can it be that teachers in schools in southwest Mississippi and the Delta are asked to meet the same academic benchmarks with dramatically fewer resources than my colleagues here in Biloxi?
It’s clear from listening to her that Cindy Hyde-Smith doesn’t understand that history or that present. And she sure doesn’t understand the effects that her actions and words have on so many Mississippians.
In 2018, I voted for Hyde-Smith because I honestly didn’t know better. As a registered Republican, the last few years have shown me that the makeup of the party I once believed in is disgraceful, immoral and incompetent to hold public office. I am ashamed of my previous vote of elected officials, but I will never make that same mistake again. My vote matters, and so does yours.
I became an educator because I care about children. The longer I teach, the deeper that care becomes. I will fight with every breath that I have to ensure all my students – particularly my students of color – have a successful future. I know I cannot save them from all the problems they’ll face, but I need to have faith that our elected officials will make the right choices for their future. That is part of me, it’s part of my morals, and it’s something that I fight for every single day. I need to be able to say the same of my U.S. senator.
Cindy Hyde-Smith has done nothing for our state, and worse, she has done nothing for our children. Our children are the future. If you’re not fighting for the children of Mississippi, then you’re not fighting for Mississippi. And I believe that future looks better in the hands of Mike Espy.
Editor’s Note: We are sharing our platform with Mississippians to write essays about race. This essay is the fourth in the series. Read the first essay by Kiese Laymon, the second by W. Ralph Eubanks, and the third by Taylor BreAnn Turnage. Click here to read our extended editor’s note about this decision.
About the Author: Cagney Weaver is a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She has been in education for 11 years, during which she has attained her National Board Certification in 2014 and won the Milken Educator Award in 2014. Serving as a Lowell Milken Unsung Heroes Fellow, she has dedicated her life to education in the state. She has worked in several capacities as a speaker, presenter, and facilitator at educational conferences in the state.