6/24/15

Revisiting Mississippi's Flag

Mississippi flag

Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel was recently quoted as saying the following on the subject of our state flag:
The price we pay to live in a free society is to occasionally be offended. A cultural or historical cleansing of all things potentially offensive will do nothing to alleviate the problems caused by racism. To pretend otherwise is a disservice to serious discourse on the subject.
Perhaps he's right. But those of us who would like to see Mississippi change the flag are not trying to avoid the opportunity to be offended. That is not what this is about at all. It isn't even about political correctness.

I will continue to defend the right of any private citizen to display the Confederate flag on his or her person or property. It does not matter that I might find the symbol offensive. The entire point of free expression is protecting the expression of ideas which some find offensive. McDaniel is correct that being offended is a small price to pay for living in a free society, and it is one which I will gladly pay. I have no interest in restricting the right of any Mississippian to display the Confederate flag or other Confederate symbols as he or she wishes.

The issue here is not about any individual Mississippian's right to free expression; it is about whether our state government should continue to promote this symbol on our behalf in the form of our state flag. Our government is tasked with representing all of us. And so the question becomes whether this is how we want them to do so.

In 2001, Mississippi voted to keep the flag. This may or may not be relevant to how the state would vote today. Public attitudes on many issues have changed significantly since 2001 (e.g., support for same-sex marriage). I'm not sure how a popular vote would come out today if one were to be held.

In the aftermath of the mass murder in South Carolina and the attention the Confederate flag has been receiving ever since, it seems to me that this is an excellent opportunity for Mississippi to do the right thing and change our flag. If we do not, this will undoubtedly continue to influence how we are perceived by the rest of the country, including businesses that might bring jobs to our state. I think it would be a mistake for us to continue paying an economic price for our stubborn refusal to recognize what this flag symbolizes to most people: a heritage of hate.

As for McDaniel's claim that changing our flag will "do nothing to alleviate the problems caused by racism," he might be right. We won't know until we try.

If you would like Mississippi to remove the Confederate symbol from our state flag, you can add your name to this petition.

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