It’s impossible to comprehend the anguish felt by the families of those killed in the racist act of terrorism committed at Emanuel AME Church last week. As a former clinical psychologist, I find myself asking myself the question, “What went so badly wrong with Dylann Roof?” Yet, there’s a much deeper and more important question to ask: “What is wrong with our society that racism, hate, and extremism can grow so easily and unchecked?” There’s a social context to Roof’s descent into racial hatred, and like almost all mass murderers and terrorists, he warned his friends before committing the act. As is typically the case, they didn’t believe him, and now it’s too late.
Events over the past few years prove the continued existence of systemic racial bias and injustice in every aspect of our culture. Many of my neighbors in Mississippi cling to a false sense of pride in the “Heritage” of the Confederate Battle Flag, which they think honors those that fought for the South. Such individuals often cling to the false belief that the Civil War was about something other than the domination/subjugation/enslavement of African-Americans. To them, I can only suggest they reread Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession. The fact that we still fly a flag that embodies the struggle of the South to maintain the institution of slavery brings great shame upon modern Mississippi. The sheer insensitivity astounds!
As a person of faith, I take it as a fundamental truth that we are all interdependent, bound together as Children of God, and ultimately responsible for each other and the world under our care. We are called as Christians to speak for the disadvantaged and the oppressed, or “the least of these”. Our silence is complicity. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This is why we as Mississippians of faith, must join together to remove the Confederate Battle Flag symbol from our public spaces. To be sure, it is a part of history, a shameful one that must be acknowledged in order to heal and reconcile with our African American sisters and brothers. We are currently building a new Museum of Mississippi History and a new Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson. It belongs there no doubt.
Will changing Mississippi’s flag, in itself, “fix” the problem? Of course it won’t! But, as our friends at Rethink Mississippi tweeted on June 18th: “Removing the Confederate emblem won't dismantle white supremacy, but keeping it on Mississippi's state flag says we don't even want to try.”
Scott Crawford, PhD lives in Jackson, Mississippi. He is a graduate of Millsaps College and the University of Southern Mississippi. Scott is an advocate for disability rights, is a photographer, and is a member of the Mississippi Chapter of MFSA.