The past two weeks have been a painful, but necessary, period of self-examination in our nation. The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, along with other recent unjustified killings of black citizens, has promoted protests throughout the nation, many of which have led to mindless acts of destruction and violence.
The discussion has expanded beyond police brutality inflicted on black citizens to the broader realization of the true nature of race relations in our society.
There has never been a time when black Americans did not claim, justly and with certainty, our nation is plagued with systemic racism. Yet now, even white people who have steadfastly claimed instances of racial oppression are an unfortunate aberration are beginning to find that view untenable. The evidence is just too powerful to ignore.
It has been said that no one is born a racist. But more and more, fair-minded white Americans are beginning to realize that we are born INTO racism — a culture built on white privilege, an understood code that doesn’t have to be spoken to be taught.
This unpleasant truth is something more and more white Americans are beginning to acknowledge, which should be an important step toward real progress.
When we listen to black citizens who are speaking out, we hear calls for white citizens to join with them, to be an ally in a just cause.
But one must wonder, given the indisputable truths we see all around us, how much confidence our black citizens can have in our latest vows of support from the white community.
What is needed is more “show” and less “say.”
This is especially true in our state.
A good first step would be for our Legislature to pass a law to change our current state flag, which is adorned with the Confederate flag in its canton.
It is, quite literally, the least we can do.
In a state that has its own special Memorial Day for the Confederacy, celebrates Confederate Heritage Month, operates under a Jim Crow-era state constitution, holds sacred monuments to the Confederacy from one end of the state to the other and not only has a state holiday to honor Robert E. Lee, but observes it on the same day as the federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day (hardly a coincidence), it’s understandable if our black citizens put little stock in any claims of opposition to racism.
All of those things exist because — in a state where the black population is 38 percent — whites in overwhelming numbers have supported them, either directly through the vote or indirectly through the people we send to Jackson to write our laws. The power to change rests in the hands of the white population of our state. White legislators have an overwhelming supermajority in both chambers. If the flag is not removed, it is because those white legislators choose not to remove it.
We have long advocated for the removal of our racially-demeaning state flag.
It is always the right time to do the right thing, as Martin Luther King Jr. noted long ago.
And there is no better time to remove our state flag than today, as a show of faith to our black citizens and evidence that our renewed sense of commitment to racial justice is no longer mere hollow words of appeasement.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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