Argue with me about this on the thread if you want, but fair warning: I have a zero tolerance policy for bigotry and meanness. And my threshold for that bullshit is even lower today than normal.
Oregon has removed the Mississippi flag from a public area of their capitol where they display state and tribal flags. The Oregon legislature agreed to take the flag down last year during the outcry after a shooting at a Charleston, SC church was linked to the Confederate Flag.
Oregon held off removing the flag to see if maybe we’d change our state flag, but after 12 different bills to change the flag were all allowed to die in committees last month, protests were renewed and Oregon pulled it down. (There are actually 19 different bills listed in this Jackson Free Press article; not sure what the discrepancy in the numbers over at Think Progress is about.)
I’ve written about this before, but your guess is as good as mine as to whether I posted it on a blog or on Facebook. Here’s my position on the issue, and keep in mind that lots of Mississippians want this symbol gone for various reasons. Several public bodies here refuse to fly it above municipal buildings, including the city government of our own state capitol.
People have the right to tattoo Confederate symbols on their own bodies, wear it on clothing, fly it in their yards, and otherwise display it on private property. The fact that so many of us find that an ignorant or hateful thing to do is beside the point.
We don’t ban the use of political symbols as personal expression in this country. Not even the swastika. Regulating the symbols we use to represent government institutions is another matter, and we have every right to object to government symbols when we find their use as such to be hateful and ignorant.
I want a better state flag. I’m glad Oregon took it down, and I hope more government entities, both in Mississippi and across the country, refuse to display it. I don’t think of this move as Oregonians thumbing their noses at Mississippi and looking down on us. I choose to see it as an expression of solidarity with Mississippians who want Confederate symbols relegated to museums and history books where they belong. So thank you, Oregon, for your support.
State flags don’t just fly in front of public buildings. They also find their way onto uniforms and into official documents. They get incorporated into the service marks of government agencies. And Mississippi has a long history of racist public policies we still haven’t shaken entirely.
Given the racial composition of our prison system, sending law enforcement officers out to do their jobs with a Confederate symbol on their uniforms is a terrible idea because that symbol has to inspire resentment and ramp up the tension any time a police officer interacts with a Mississippian who has strong feelings about the way we’ve historically oppressed people of color. (Note the careful wording there — there are plenty of white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Indian, and people of many other races or ethnicities living in this state who are angry about racial oppression, too.)
All that does is increase the already-way-too-high probability that whomever is being questioned will lose their temper and get arrested. It also makes the officers’ jobs more difficult and more dangerous. We already don’t pay them enough. At this point, given where we are with everything, sending a law enforcement officer out with a Confederate symbol on his or her shoulder is adding insult to injury.
It’s also stupid branding. Mississippi has an even worse image among the general population and around the world than it deserves. Mississippians are not inbred, barefoot, illiterate subsistence farmers. We even have people here who work for racial reconciliation every day of the damn week.
Once upon a time, my wife and several other family members went to New York to sit in the hospital with one of her siblings. The New Yorkers in the waiting room loved, loved, loved her accent, but they assumed she was from Texas. When she told them she was from Mississippi, their jaws dropped and they said “But we’ve seen you reading! . . .?”
I have a cousin who went to college in the Midwest. She once told a new acquaintance she was from Mississippi and the first question that person asked was “What crops does your family grow?” This was in the last 10 or 15 years. Our flag isn’t helping that image one little bit.
I acknowledge my insurrectionist ancestors. Hell, I’ll even go so far as to admire their grit and their military prowess. If they’d had a more diverse economy, or a larger white population, or had managed to convince the great powers of Europe to recognize them as a state, they might have won that war.
I know all about the Civil War and I will tell you this. The Old South wasn’t fighting for the right to display symbols or properly acknowledge cultural heritage. Some number of southerners who fought in that war, mostly the elites, were fighting for the right to trade people like livestock. A few were supporting their states and taking a stand for (an unworkable) vision of federated government in a principled way. The rest were fighting a rich man’s war because their legislators and their employers and their preachers convinced them they were being oppressed by the federal government.
I think if we’re going to acknowledge our Confederate heritage, we need start by owning up to that last paragraph in its entirety with no arguments. We need to accept every single word of it.
I’m glad my ancestors lost that war. If they’d won, even if they had eventually abandoned slavery and re-joined the U.S., I would have inherited a meaner and more impoverished culture. So would the rest of us, including all you Yankees. The world would be a very different place.
I say working to preserve this symbol as an emblem of state power is a poor way to acknowledge my Confederate ancestors. At this point, it’s not just hateful and disrespectful to people of color. I’d be interested to see a question about the Confederate flag added to the General Social Survey because I suspect it’s actively offending better than 60% of the population by now.
If we could hold a seance right now and call up my Confederate ancestors, they’d be appalled at what we’ve become. And they’d be more appalled at the fact that we seem to be running downhill as fast as we can to a situation where we’re divided into two camps and willing to fight than they would be about all the diversity and civil rights.
The rich ones who understood such things would tell us to get over ourselves, to fix our shit at home, and to make every effort to help our government preserve our power in the international arena. And all of them would tell us we don’t want our descendants — including the ones so far removed into the future that we can’t see them as an actual possibility — to even contemplate another civil war.
If I know anything about my Confederate ancestors I know this: They did not take war lightly, and they suffered mightily for their decisions, as did the rest of the country.
I want the Confederate imagery gone from the official symbols of my state. Keeping it can only divide us even more than we already are. And we very much need to be finding ways to bring people together right now.
Mississippi Legislature: You are not the center of the goddamned universe. Oregon is telling you is this is not about you. It’s about the rest of the country too. They’ve been extremely polite about it, so please snap the fuck out of whatever haze you are in and do them the courtesy of listening.
Ed. – I’ve got a couple of substantial posts coming. One’s about how the meanness we’re seeing in these elections got into our public conversation. The other is a reaction/response/elaboration to Luther’s post on Michigan at Infinite Free Time. I hope to get both of those out before voting starts on Tuesday, and if you like this one, you’ll want to tune in for those. Also: Follow the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on Facebook as a personal favor to me.