The Mean In Tennessee Is Mean

February 7th, 2020

Tn Prison

(published in The Daily Memphian)

Mean has several definitions.

As a verb, mean intends to convey, indicate, or refer to something. Just for example, used in a sentence:

While the Governor says he’ll accept refugees, the super majority in the Tennessee State Legislature means to keep everybody who doesn’t look like them out of Tennessee; the same criteria they mean to use for voting.

For another few examples, used in sentences:

Tennessee State Senator Paul Rose means to keep same-sex couples from adopting, and Governor Lee has signed Rose’s bill into law.

Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey means to enshrine the interests of owners, his clients, at the expense of labor in the state constitution.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee means to pass the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country, removing pregnancy decision rights from women and their families, even in the case of rape or incest.

As an adjective, the Brits define mean as unwilling to give or share things, especially money. In North America, mean is defined as unkind, spiteful, or unfair; even vicious or aggressive. Again, just for example, in both the British and North American applications:

It’s just flat mean of the Tennessee State Legislature to continue to deny even basic health insurance to some 300,000 working Tennesseans just to make a political point.

Again as an adjective, a more informal definition for mean is excellent; very skillful or effective, as in:

In one mean legislative move, school vouchers were passed, and public education was compromised when former speaker, Glen Casada, kept the vote open for 45 minutes until he could buy one more vote.

As a noun, mean is the value obtained by dividing the sum of several quantities by their number; an average. In other words, and lately:

The mean in Tennessee is mean.

I mean, really. Doesn’t it seem that way to you?

It seems that Tennessee now wants to be measured by what we deny rather than accept. Can’t is what we want to teach rather than can. No is the default, yes, the exception.

And we’re racking up the statistics to prove it. Looking at a recent report from the Prison Policy Initiative, we’re not just mean on a national level, we’ve got global creds.

The United States locks up 698 people for every 100,000, the highest incarceration rate in the world. The rate for the United Kingdom is 139, Canada is 114, France 102, Italy 106.

Tennessee locks up 853 per 100,000. We’re stacking them like firewood. Almost 60,000 people are behind bars in our state.

The rate in Russia, people, is 581.

We must rediscover compassion and reclaim civility. We must unfold our arms and unclench our fists. We must learn again to invite, to include, to involve. We must raise hope and opportunity for the least of us rather than raise the net worth of relatively few of us or we will bankrupt our souls.

Growth in and of itself is not a goal. Weeds grow. Poverty grows in Memphis as buildings rise. 

In his state of the state address, to the cheers of his audience, Governor Lee promised increases in education spending. Even if all of that occurs – and it still has to get by our state legislature – we’d still be 45th in the nation in education spending. And he’s still budgeting $39 million to go to private schools in the form of vouchers, a program whose very existence is under investigation by both the TBI and the FBI. 

And while the Governor is sending $50 million to the state “rainy day fund,” already funded at 20% more than required, I remind you again of the 300,000 working Tennesseans without health care insurance. Not even the Trump administration will approve the Governor’s block grant proposal, while Medicaid expansion would cover those Tennesseans and save the state ­– you and me – $300 million.

The price we’ll pay for small-minded, hard-hearted, backward leadership in Nashville will be paid in generations and measured in the loss of who we once were – worse – in the loss of who we might have been.

I’m a Memphian, and mean is a lousy average.

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