Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Where I grew up the bugs are loud in the summer. The mud is red. The winters are predictably unpredictable. The grass grows at an incredible rate. The trees are big. The highways are lined by Kudzoo.

When I was in college I wrote my one and only published opinion article for the Mississippi College student paper. There was a state-wide vote on the issue of choosing an official state flag. I think Georgia had made the change and maybe another state or two. Officials discovered that Mississippi accidentally repealed the law that declared the current state flag about 100 years ago, and so technically had no official state flag. Politicians took this as an opportunity to wash their hands of the issue. They put it to a popular vote, and everyone knew how it would turn out.

For some reason this issue resounded strongly with me. I've never viewed myself as a civil rights activist, and I can't claim to have ever taken strong positions in the issue of race relations in Mississippi. I had black friends in school and college, but I wasn't making any efforts at racial reconciliation. I guess, like many people, I was of course unhappy about racism, but I felt like it was an issue of the past that would slowly fade away within a generation. When this issue came up and the opposition to changing the flag was so strong and the reasoning seemed like thinly veiled racism I realized that if we don't change something then the problems of Mississippi won't fade away. They'll get worse. People were saying things like, "Well if they don't like it why don't they leave," or "I don't see why people are making such a big deal about it." This struck me. At best this reasoning is naive and self-absorbed. At worst it is hypocritical, subversive hatred. Why were my white friends not even taking a moment to consider the feelings and arguments of my black friends? Why were Mississippians describing a large portion of our population as "they" instead of "we"? I'm not saying there isn't an argument to be made for the preservation of the flag, but the reasoning was so terribly short-sighted and honestly disrespectful.

Heather from the MC Library Archives was kind enough to find and send me a scan of the article I wrote in the Collegian.
The staff at the MC library were kind enough to dig up the article for me. It is rather short and emotional, but if I remember correctly they gave me a word count limit and I didn't have lots of free time my senior year anyway. If I had the chance to do it over again, here are some thoughts I might include.

Romans 15:1 reads, "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves." One way to apply this is that if you are the one who "knows better" regarding a certain issue it is still your responsibility to consider the needs of the one who "doesn't get it." Yes, from a selfish perspective, it might make sense to keep the flag. I don't understand why it brings people such pleasure to have a flag that evokes the darkest aspect of our nation's and our state's history, but I'll take them at their word. So you want to keep the flag because it reminds you of sweet tea and humidity and fried foods, but should you have no consideration for your "weaker" brother who doesn't get that? "Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'" I guess the argument could be made from the other side. Shouldn't people who oppose the flag bear with the weaknesses of those who want the flag? Well, if you are the weaker party, then I suppose minorities with a faith stronger than yours must be asked to endure your disrespect. If you're happy with that kind of logic then I don't know what else to say.

There are so many things we don't want to and/or shouldn't compromise on, doesn't it make sense to find things that we can compromise on to make the discussion of other things a little more tolerable? If black Mississippians are concerned about the connotations of a symbol that is our state flag, isn't the respectful thing, the kind thing to do, to at least listen and think about if you can accommodate them? If you are not willing to change the flag then what are you willing to do? If the answer is "nothing" then please stop pretending that you are not satisfied with the current level of race relations. Please don't say, "Can't we all just move on?" Please don't argue about the historical "facts" (let's be honest, you haven't done any original research on this, and websites don't count) and claim that this is a made up issue. The truth of the issue is that Mississippians are hurting right now. If a black person were to explain to you why they wanted to be heard on this what would you say? I don't mean what would you say on Facebook. I mean what would you say to their face. If you have a reasoned argument, then great, but most of what I have seen is eye-rolling, exclusionary, dismissive, haughty, heavy-handed rejection. The message is clear. We do not care.

I moved away from Mississippi in 2001. My life's calling has lead me to other places, but my heart is bound to my home state. Everywhere I go I have defended my home state against the perceptions of the world. All the while I know that Mississippians (like all Americans, but that's for another post) live in a wounded society. It is a place full of heart that bears a beauty held mostly in the storied hearts of its people. From my point of view black and white Mississippians have more in common with each other than they do with their own races in other parts of the country. If the music, literature, food and spirituality that is produced in Mississippi isn't enough to bring people together what is?

I'll be interested to see if Mississippians will be willing to do what it takes to put the flag in a museum where it belongs or, even better, to realize what they've been missing by treating each other as less than human.