On June 28, 2020, the Mississippi Congress and Senate voted to remove the Confederate flag from its status as the state flag. Mississippi was the last state to remove the Confederate flag. This comes amid a year of racial transparency following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor that inspired a push of the #blacklivesmatter movement.
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I remember that I was somewhere in between fourth and sixth grade. I don’t recall the exact grade, but I remember the project. I had to make a poster and presentation on a figure during the Civil War era. The students were asked to draw a name from a hat, and as a result, I was given Robert E. Lee for my person of importance. So, I go home and ask my mom for help with my project (as all kids do). I didn’t know much if anything about him except that he was a general. My mom encouraged us to learn how to research so, I started that portion of my project, but at the time only found info about him as a general. I had trouble finding articles that clearly laid out what the war was over — yes, his and others sins as a slave owner. I finished my report. I took it to my mom, who was a teacher, and she looks at it and tells me that it’s well written for the most part and marks it up so I can see my mistakes. And then I said, “I’ll go edit it.” Before I could leave, she stopped me and told me, “you’ll need to add more to it.” I was confused at this point. I asked what else could be added and she said, “show me where you got your research.” I showed her. She said, “there’s more than this son.” She then taught me about who the General was, and what he chose to fight for as a Confederate officer. More specifically, she talked to me about his beliefs on sustaining racial inequality. Honestly, I don’t remember anyone else’s report tackling the issue as much as mine did, but it was needed in a room that was filled with kids and an adult.
“Teach your kids to learn from their (clutch your pearls everyone) forefather’s sins.”
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What do you do when your state makes you feel like an outsider? This is the reality that I had to face when I came to the conclusion that I’ve never been proud of the state. When I moved away, I would often get asked about what it was like living in Mississippi and if I would ever move back. I’ve never looked forward to explaining the circumstances that I would entertain moving back to my birthplace. It truly becomes a source of anxiety, because on the one hand you have family and friends there, but on the other hand you are conflicted with the failed attempts to alter what can be a miserable experience for many due to the inequalities that Black people faced. I’ve been proud of my heritage as a Black person and all we’ve had to overcome, but I’m not proud of Mississippi.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished despite the hatred deep within the bedrock of Mississippi.
I’m proud of the pressure mounting for the state legislature to finally feel the need (albeit grudgingly for long-standing resisting powers in political office) to change a racist state flag that honestly should be a federal crime to display. Some will say that’s “crossing the line.” It’s not.
The Civil War was the result of the Southern Confederacy committing treason against the Union. It was about slavery. At its root, it altered the very economical makeup of the south and simply was about slavery. If you ask me what to think about your great-great-great (whoever) grandfather, I will say this about them. I will say that’s for you and your therapist (who everyone should have in my opinion) to dive into how that affects you personally. They fought for the wrong side. They fought for a broken and backwards way of life. They fought for human rights atrocity. They fought for ownership of humans simply because they were a different hue and it lined their pockets. They fought to keep their way of life at the expense of the livelihood of an entire group. They fought to have the right to do what they saw fit to people who never asked for this problem. It was a racist act. Teach your kids to learn from their (clutch your pearls everyone) “forefather’s sins.” The truth will go far.
That’s right. The confederate supporters were wrong. Tell your kids that that’s what happened and build a generation of children who understand that they have different privileges (not always economic) as opposed to the minorities that have been fighting inequality since their ancestors were kidnapped and forced to build this land in 1619. After the Confederacy lost the war, states like Mississippi became a breeding ground for racial inequality. At the center of the symbol would be a Confederate flag. I don’t know many losers who parade around their loss in a war. Nazi symbols cannot be displayed in Germany except for teaching material that has to be approved by authorities. And no statues are glorying them. And yet some people use the flag to proudly force others to think of the “good ole days” around and make it a terrible experience for a large population. We can’t even celebrate the same holidays in the same way as our fellow U.S. citizens.
Juneteenth is the 4th of July to me in terms of some form of freedom. And still, not really. Even now.
“That Confederate flag should have come down a long time ago.”
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When I see that Confederate symbol on a truck… When I see that symbol on a house… When I see that symbol on a tattoo… When I would see that symbol on a government building… When I see that symbol on a billboard… When I see that symbol on a shirt… When I see that symbol at a restaurant… When I see that symbol anywhere… What flashes in my head are my people as slaves — being beaten and whipped. I see us in chains. I see us being hosed down by fire departments and beaten with billy clubs. I see us being lynched. I see Emmett Till. I see us raising other people’s children and having their children or ability to have children being taken away. I see us being raped. I see us being denied generational wealth. I see us being asked to fight for a country that will sit on our necks for no reason. I see someone not wise enough to realize what they are doing. I see people who don’t care that they force trauma on some of the people they come across. I see that many of the people who do not look like me want to see their lives uplifted at others’ expense. I see a threat to “not get out of line.”
That Confederate flag should have come down a long time ago.
It’s finally coming down.
“I don’t have words to make the uncomfortable person feel great. I’m not concerned about that at the moment.”
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I was once told by a significant and influential individual (who shall remain nameless), “The best thing Mississippi has to offer is an export, and that’s its people.”
That cut deep.
I didn’t quite get that statement until I left Mississippi for school in Boston. Then I started to realize the degree of the bubble the state currently has. Until it entirely moves on from lingering on with the negative things that make it the place it is now, I doubt the aggressions that you’ll find in the rest of the country will ever get addressed.
The flag is an excellent place to start during the “Black Lives Matter” Movement. However, let’s not stop there. Addressing the education system, health care rights protections, environmental and climate justice, criminal and prison reform, and economic opportunity are essential to starting the path of leveling the playing field.
I want the people of the state that makes up the highest percentage of African Americans per capita in the country to get the actual, trauma-free, loving, entrepreneurial, legislative, and equality experience I’ve personally seen eluded. I don’t have words to make the uncomfortable person feel great. I’m not concerned about that at the moment. Your comfort zone has to be distorted to see the results of injustice in a system where we all have a role to play. If you are seeing things that affect the country and are now realizing, This doesn’t seem that great of a way to have to go through life,” then it is good that you have had that epiphany.
“My concern, though, is to those many kids who don’t have that system. That are stuck. That feel trapped.”
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Even in my school experiences, I felt lost when interacting with my teachers. I remember once being accused of plagiarism in an English course in high school because the teacher couldn’t imagine that I was able to write something so coherent and well written. And even after I denied the accusation, I was not given a grade that reflected my actual work. No proof was ever shown because I had not plagiarized. My parents were educators so I was forced to spend time in books that I now know was advanced for my age. I had to do things despite Mississippi, from confront aggressive racism (such as being spat on), to the more common microaggressions (like asking to touch my hair). I felt as though I had to excel past the limitation that the state thought that I could achieve. A moment that I remember is when someone spat on my face while I was playing in the band at school. I responded by doing well enough in the band to take that person’s position because I knew that I was more qualified and I wanted to make it clear that that person’s tactics of intimidation were not going to hold me back. These are just some small examples. I can attest that this happens in other parts of the country, too. Don’t get me wrong. But with the history of this state, it cuts a little deeper sometimes in my experience versus in other states because racism hovers over you when you are in Mississippi. Still…because of an effective support system that helped me push past those things, I attended my dream school — Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA — and graduated cum laude (in 3 years). I then went on to receive my master’s degree from Tufts University.
While I certainly had challenges after leaving Mississippi, my experiences got put into perspective. I was blessed to experience what I did outside of the state, but it took a large community to say, “Hey, we should pour into him.” My concern, though, is to those many kids who don’t have that system….who are stuck…who feel trapped…who feel like they are in a state that (systematically) has its racist knee in the neck of progress.
I no longer live in Mississippi (although I frequently have to go back). “HAVE to go back” is the key phrase there.
Because I want to see the people who I know and grew up with succeed, I won’t abandon a place that scars so many. The people there have so much to offer the world and I think there’s a lot of potential for certain parts of the state (such as Jackson), but I also remember something that they teach in pre-marital counseling, which is that you probably don’t want to marry someone just for his or her potential.
Now that the flag is being removed (finally), take this opportunity to re-evaluate practices. The simple fact is that the playing field is nowhere near equal. The injustice across the country is substantial.
“The harder part is implementing policies that protect all the citizens, not just some.”
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I will say that one of the things that I’m grateful for is that Mississippi taught me the value of having injustice thrown in your face versus facing the hidden undertones of injustice in places like Boston. It’s not a silver lining for Mississippi, it’s just something that I learned. I had plenty of beautiful moments in my home state and I certainly don’t want it to seem as if the entire state is terrible and should be thrown out of the window. I am saying, however, that while there are great people of all shades there, the practice of moving on from a tradition of harming its people (even through something as easy as removing a flag) took a massive movement across the nation. And even then, it wasn’t easy.
Are there great opportunities for people out there? Absolutely. But this cannot be where we stop. This is where we start again — after slavery, Jim Crow and reconstruction, the Civil Rights era, the war on drugs and mass incarceration, and on highlighting police brutality. For better or worse, this presidency has illuminated that for many — generational wealth being continuously denied and human rights being skipped over. Pair that with a health pandemic and the constant attacks on Black and Brown bodies and you have a storm of social issues. I don’t want us to stop there.
This flag is just one step for a state with a bloody history. The harder part is implementing policies that protect all the citizens, not just some. I can finally say that I was proud of the action that my old stomping ground took (despite the circumstances). I’m calling for an investment in the very people that get left as broken. They speak a rhetoric that says, “They must do it themselves.” This is incredibly faulty at the very root of institutionalized racism, especially in a place like Mississippi. It’s incredibly hard to achieve progress when the very glimmer of hope that can show itself gets stomped out. If you’ve never heard or read of the “Mississippi Plan,” I encourage you to do so here. This highlights the extreme racist measures embedded within the state’s legislative system. We can’t let this be a moment of Kumbaya without long-lasting change. Now. On to do the work that we should have done a long time ago.
Previously published on “Equality Includes You”, a Medium publication.
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Photo credit: Protestors in front of the Mississippi Capitol (Edited by Matthew Castilla)