This week, my home state of Mississippi finally removed its flag. The state flag was emblazoned with a shrine to the Confederacy, a battle lost over 150 years ago. Mississippi is last in so many races. This one is no different. And although I want to smile and rejoice for my home, I can’t. I can’t bring myself to celebrate elected officials doing what should have been done years ago.
I grew up my entire life under that piece of fabric. Seeing it and often knowing that it saw me too. It saw me when I walked into a grocery store, when I walked through an alley from Chic-Fil-A, and when I got pulled over. It saw me. We knew each other all too well. And as much as I wish it did not become a part of who I am, it did.
Confederate Veteran and Governor John Marshall Stone signed into law the bill creating the former Mississippi State Flag in 1894 during Reconstruction. Since I was old enough to understand that moment until now, the ethos of who I am and what Mississippi is to me constantly trampolines between outside perceptions and what I know to be true.
When I think of home, I see the beauty of Black people and blackness. I taste the most amazing food—collard greens, cornbread, tea cakes. I hear the blues. I resonate with and love that Mississippi. But I also know the perceptions of Mississippi. And I must reckon with the fact that some of those perceptions may also be reality. When I think of the murder of Domonique Clayton, a 32-year-old Black woman shot by a white police officer, I see those perceptions developing into reality right before my eyes. That image is enhanced when thinking of the life and struggle of Curtis Flowers, a Black man tried six different times in the state for a crime he did not commit.
But these experiences are not that different from the lives of other Black people across the nation. Dominique Clayton was much like Breonna Taylor, another Black woman slain in her sleep by police officers who illegally entered her home and shot her to death. Just last year, filmmaker Ava Duvernay brought the story of the Exonerated Five to light in the Netflix docuseries, ‘When They See Us’. Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana—young Black boys falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park served a collective 41 years in prison.
And there it was, again. That flag and symbol standing firm and resilient, seeing us all. The act of taking down the flag, removing monuments, and renaming buildings is a small but appreciated first step. I say that because the power of those symbols and monuments is embedded in the very fabric of America. America is just a mediocre cis-gender white-man who doesn’t love himself and blames all of his problems on women of color, immigrants, and queer people instead of truly facing and investigating the one facet of himself that has hurt us all—his complicity in white supremacy.
Since living in Boston, I’ve come to realize that there this is a distinct disassociation from racism from those living in the northern United States, made especially clear when discussing racism in the South—as if states up North did not benefit from, enslave, and treat Black people as second-class citizens as well. Racism is racism.
And there it is again, in that damn flag.
Since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, protests around the world are pushing one of America’s truest narratives to the forefront by remembering the lives of Sandra Bland, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and many others. Folks whose lives were taken senselessly with no retribution or restoration. No justice. Watching the peaceful protests in every state and on multiple continents makes me feel seen by something other than that flag. But then I see the documented onslaught on police brutality against peaceful demonstrators– innocent people being shot with rubber bullets, pushed to the ground, even tear-gassed and beaten for no reason.
My Mississippi is just putting a little make-up over some of the boldest and harsh blemishes on the face of the nation. Mississippi is doing what it can to make the nation feel better when it looks at itself in the mirror. Beautifying the outside monsters while the ones on the inside run rapid. That makes me wonder what America sees looking at herself in the mirror.
The only thing I see is that flag.
Terrence Johnson is the producer/co-host of the digital series, ‘Keep It Social’. The Mississippi native currently lives in Boston and enjoys food, culture, music, and good people.