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Open society good for Mississippi business

As I See It

When my stint with the U.S. Army ended and I came back to Mississippi to work for Ernst & Ernst (now Ernst & Young) in the firm’s Jackson office, my boss and mentor was Ken Humer, an extraordinary tax consultant who had come south from Cleveland, Ohio.

Ken tried to become an active member of Jackson society. He was a golfer and a country clubber, and appeared to be doing everything needed to mesh with the business community. Whether he was successful or not I don’t really know since we didn’t run in the same circles, but he complained frequently about how hard it was for a “Yankee” to penetrate the social structure here.

Other friends from “up North” have related similar difficulty in becoming a real part of our society, and it’s no secret that white Mississippi is considered a closed society by many. To a large extent that belief is correct.

Those of us who were born here seem to feel that we are the only “true Mississippians.” In spite of our tradition of Southern hospitality, those who have moved here from other states and countries are still the “outsiders.” This attitude has contributed to the difficulty white Mississippians have in accepting minorities, including black Mississippians, many of whom trace their Mississippi ancestry back hundreds of years. This attitude is a stumbling block for progress in our state.

I believe that opening up our society to be more accepting of newcomers would move Mississippi forward. Not only is it a good idea, it is essential if we are to lift ourselves off the bottom of the economic pile. Perhaps Nissan’s influence will help open us up to be more inclusive.

The Japanese who come to Mississippi are coming under different circumstances than other minority groups. They are not bound by the legacy of slavery that plagues our African-American citizens. Nor are they going to be limited to the low-paying jobs that have prevented many Hispanic and Vietnamese immigrants from assuming many high-visibility roles in our society.

The arrival of Nissan has created a lot of interest in the Japanese. With the goal of improving our understanding of Japan and furthering our relationship with the Japanese people, the Japan-America Society of Mississippi has been launched.

The kick-off meeting of the organization was held recently at the University Club in Jackson. Guests of honor included Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and the Hon. Hideto Mitamura, Consul General of Japan in New Orleans. The spirit was festive and a good time was had by all. I enjoyed seeing many of our community leaders there excited about the Japanese and their culture.

What does the Japan-America Society of Mississippi hope to accomplish?

The plan includes a wide range of activities designed to familiarize Mississippians with Japanese culture and expose our Japanese citizens to our local culture. Specifics include an annual Japan festival, a Web site, conferences, language classes, concerts and more.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, my job took me to Mexico regularly. Though I never lived there I did learn a fair amount about Mexican history and culture. I enjoyed the experience, and I am certain that it broadened my perspective. I’m optimistic that the arrival of the Japanese here in Central Mississippi offers the same type of personal enlightenment I enjoyed with the Mexicans.

I hope we throw off the chains of suspicion and open our hearts and minds to the opportunity the arrival of Nissan offers. If we treat the Japanese to the Southern hospitality that we show to each other, both our society and our economy will be better for it.

Unlike many of our Mexican workers who are primarily employed in lower level jobs and are not highly visible in the community, the Japanese are likely to be in leadership positions and make their presence felt. This will be a good thing for our state.

Native white Mississippians need an attitude adjustment when it comes to bestowing the benefits of Southern hospitality on newcomers to our state.

Will we use the opportunities the arrival of Nissan has brought to broaden ourselves? Only time will tell, but groups like the Japan-America Society of Mississippi offer the opportunity for improvement — if we are interested in making the trip.

Thought for the Moment – You never know how a horse will pull until you hook him to a heavy load.

— Coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant (1913-1983)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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