I cried the other night. Not the great racking sobs of freedom, but the silent, gentle tears of momentary disbelief. The tears of progress that I had, unknowingly, been waiting to shed. The tears of promised inclusion so long delayed.
Mississippi, MISSISSIPPI! has removed the stars and bars from its state flag. A flag that has waved for more than 100 years. A flag that proudly, obstinately said to every African American, “You do not belong. You are NOT included!” It was a message none of us misunderstood.
Mississippi has long been the standard bearer for the unreconstructed South. A state that for so many years has proudly displayed its clear contempt for African Americans’ very existence. A state well known for one shining truth – that black lives did not matter. Not. AT. ALL!
Mississippi has CHANGED its flag!
And so, I cried. I cried for those who have died brutal deaths where there was no camera to record their passing. I cried for those who have lived and died in fear and pain — for Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner – the deaths we knew of and the deaths we didn’t.
And then when my tears began to abate, I felt grateful and cleansed. Grateful for the years upon unrelenting years it took to fight and push and argue against an implacable mindset that finally gave in to change – to humanity. This new flag – new perspective – begins to include not only black Mississippians into the fold, but other African Americans as well.
And though I know, I KNOW that as a nation we are not yet where we need to be. I also know we must celebrate our victories – large and small. And we must continue to move forward.
So, what does moving forward look like? Well, we will have to:
- Begin and/or continue to have uncomfortable conversations about race and difference.
- Push ourselves to see the nation’s difficult, and generally untold, past and recognize the impact of that past on our future.
- Demand ourselves and our institutions to purge biased thinking and privilege and truly embrace the promise of inclusion and equality.
- And, finally, we must allow ourselves to grow in ways we could not previously imagine.
Mississippi is changing, and it beckons us to change ourselves.