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Lessons from the Flag Debate and Vote

by C. Liegh McInnis
Jackson, Mississippi

What did the flag issue teach us that we did not know already ?--nothing. The flag vote went right down racial lines. So to remember the 1968 Kerner Commission Report, we are still a State and a Nation divided--separate and unequal. What it should have taught African Americans is that the days or relying on the kindness of others are over. If not Black Nationalism, then African Americans need to begin to reinvest in something that allows them to become self-sufficient and not have to hope for life and liberty from the graces of white Americas. Still, the biggest problem with the flag debate was the misinformation on both sides. There were far too many people voting on what they heard rather than what they actually knew. That is a sad commentary on the state of Mississippi education, intellect and critical thinking skills, and that is why we do not have more business relocating here. The Confederate Flag was not merely about slavery, nor was it free from the blemish of slavery. And until we deal with the complexities of slavery and racism, we will never heal as a State or a Nation. Slavery and racism in America are founded on and propelled by greed and economic exploitation. So, race and class are often inextricably tied, except when there is a need to manipulate that relationship--the need of the higher class whites to keep lower class blacks and whites separate and estranged, which is what the flag issue continues to do.

So where are we the day after the election? Rebel supporters feel good about themselves, their image and the State. White liberals feel disappointed and ashamed. Their naiveté makes them the butt of everyone else’s jokes. African Americans feel as they have always felt--separate and apart, so they will continue to mosey along as they have always done. But here is the challenge. How do we get these three groups on the same page? How do we move past this cloaked symbolism to some real substance? The winners will always say that it is time to move on. But the flag debate and vote tells us that we must move on to truly dealing with the racial divide that the flag debate and vote symbolize. Are we going to fairly address the issue of equity and equal funding for African American higher education in Ayers? Are we going to address the reality that African Americans commit only sixteen percent of the crime but constitute sixty percent of the incarceration rate? Are we going to deal with the reality that twenty to thirty percent of African American children are not exposed to college preparatory courses? The flag debate and vote merely confirmed what we already knew. We are still divided along racial lines. The question for all of us is what do we do about it. As an African American, I would urge African Americans to begin identifying ways to salvage our own communities. To white liberals and conservatives, I suggest that you do a better job integrating more "MLK" African Americans before you become overrun with a class of "Malcolm X" African Americans. As Booker T. Washington put it, "Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic." But whatever the solution, the problem is there--staring us in the face like a pimple on the face of a sixteen year old girl the night of her coming of age party.

About the author: C. Liegh McInnis is an instructor of English at Jackson State University and author of six books, including: Prose, Essays & Letters, and Scripts, Sketches and Tales of Urban Mississippi. He can be reached at Psychedelic Literature, P.O. Box 3085, Jackson, MS 39207,

Published in In Motion Magazine April 22, 2001.

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