Changing our flag is just the first step

Published 12:01 am Friday, June 26, 2015

When the Confederate battle emblem is removed from the Mississippi State flag, the easiest task of addressing racism in our state or country will be complete.

The change may not happen any time soon, even though Miss. House Speaker Phillip Gunn, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran have all expressed the belief that our current flag is better displayed in a museum than on statehouse grounds.

Although residents are gathering signatures for a petition to put the flag issue back on the ballot, nothing guarantees that the outcome will be much different from the 2001 referendum when Mississippians voted nearly 2 to 1 to keep the current flag with the Confederate emblem.

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Even still, changing the flag will be easier than addressing the more complicated issues that led Dylann Roof to kill nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

In our culture’s haste to look like we are doing something in the face of tragedy, our country may end up doing very little to address the racism that afflicts our community, state and country.

Admittedly changing the Mississippi flag is something. It is a step in the right direction. While something may be better than nothing, removing the confederate emblem will not erase bigotry from our society.

Changing the flag will not change the minds of those who use racism, on both sides, to score political points and to keep our communities and our country divided.

Changing the flag will not change the racist comments that are directed at our president.

A new flag will not alter the perception of many, including law enforcement, that a black man walking down the road deserves a second look and a white man is just out for exercise. Removing the confederate emblem will not change many people’s assumptions that a black man with a gun is dangerous, when a white man with a gun is given the benefit of the doubt.

What will bring change?

Before we are able to move past the status quo, we must be willing to be vulnerable enough to have conversations and to listen to each other. We must set aside the notion that someone has to win and someone has to lose — that one side is better than the other.

Participants in such a conversation have to be able to set aside biases and judgments to form personal relationships with those we see as being different from us.

One such group that has already started this conversation in Natchez and the rest of the state is Mission Mississippi.

Started in 1992, Mission Mississippi is an organization that seeks to foster racial reconciliation through heart-to-heart relationships. Black and white members from the community sit together and talk about their experiences focused on the Christian gospel and the goal of reconciliation.

The group meets every first Tuesday of the month at Natchez Children’s Home Services.

Many members of the local Mission Mississippi group — both black and white — say their experience is transformative. Expecting to share with others their experiences with racism, many members say they have come away learning more about themselves. Some members even say they have found forgiveness.

Changing the flag is one necessary step, but there is so much more.

Vulnerability, forgiveness, understanding and the willingness to have a conversation that is not always comfortable are just a few of things needed to address racism in our culture.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at