The events in Charlottesville evade simple description. The tragic loss of life and violent imagery are now part of our collective consciousness and already compare as one of the darkest chapters in modern American history.
For many of us who were not adults during segregation, these images seem ripped from a time we hoped was in the past. Sadly, hatred and racism remain alive and well in America today.
There can be no question that the American form of government protects the rights of those who espouse hurtful and even hateful viewpoints. No less authority than the U.S. Constitution allows those Nazis, White Nationalists and members of the KKK who we watched march on Charlottesville make their protests openly and with a government permit. These hate groups enjoy the same rights as churches and synagogues in America. As U.S. Citizens we tolerate it, because if they are free to believe as they wish, then we all are free to think what we want and express our beliefs without fear of prosecution. This type of free expression is a part of the fabric of our country and helps make us who we are.
While we should celebrate the freedom that protects speech and expression, we should be wary of leadership that refuses to call out hate by name and reflective about ways our governmental institutions might actually encourage division.
I couldn’t help but notice among the videos and photographs from Charlottesville, the Confederate flag featured prominently in the hands of angry White Nationalists. The symbol has a prominent history in our state. The stars and bars of the Confederate Battle Flag are emblazoned in the upper left corner of our state flag as a remembrance to the valiant confederate soldiers who fell at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Corinth, Edwards and many other places around the south. Brave as these men were, they were fighting as a part of a rebellion against our country. No one can seriously argue that their cause was not, at least in part, the continuation of the enterprise of slavery; an enterprise that presumes that one man is justified in owning as chattel another man.
The institution of American slavery presumed that brown skinned people, primarily of African descent, were inherently inferior to European descended whites. This paradigm persists through the ideas promulgated by modern-day groups such as White Nationalists, Nazis and the KKK. The ideals behind American slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries and today’s hate groups, like those who marched in Charlottesville, are inseparable.
The use of the confederate battle flag by these hate groups has a direct linear connection to the cause of the American Civil War–the belief that whites are superior to the “other”. It is undeniable that despite mountains of proof to the contrary, these racist beliefs continue to persist in some whites even today. Today, cynical politicians assent to hate groups with a wink and a nod, their refusal to condemn hateful behavior making them complicit.
Similarly, by continuing the use of the confederate battle flag in our state flag, Mississippi provides tacit support for hate groups like those who marched in Charlottesville. These groups can point to Mississippi and say “at least they get us in Mississippi.” Hate groups and hateful people are emboldened by the silence of leaders and the condoning of hateful symbols.
It is long past time to remove the battle flag of a rebellion against our country, a rebellion based on the belief that white men should be allowed to own dark skinned people, from all official state symbols in Mississippi, including the state flag. For the State of Mississippi to continue to endorse the Confederate Battle Flag as a part of our official state flag is to tacitly agree with the premise that all men are not created equal and that some are, in fact, inferior to others simply because of the amount of melanin in their skin.
It is time now to retire the current state flag and adopt a new, more inclusive emblem for all Mississippians. Those who wish to continue to celebrate the Confederate rebellion are free to do so by flying the flag of their choice on their homes, cars and boats, but the State of Mississippi should set it aside. If Mississippi can do so, the message to all the world will be clear: hate will be neither sanctioned nor condoned in Mississippi. The very state once considered to be the most hateful place in America will loudly and clearly proclaim that all men are truly created equal and that hate has no place here.
Imagine the power in the simple act of taking down the Confederate Battle Flag in Mississippi. We can show the world that in Mississippi we believe in the inherent equality of all people. We can be leaders on the world stage by setting aside our hateful past and embracing the power of the human spirit that can be unleashed by working in unison towards a common future.
I am inspired to work for a new flag for a new day in Mississippi. I hope thoughtful Mississippians of all shades of skin will join me.