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Monday April 23, 2001

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Mississippi: Kickin' and screamin'

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By Laura Winsky

A good motto to always hold dear to your heart is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Mississippians seem to follow this creed, and they demonstrated this last Tuesday when they voted to retain their 107-year-old state flag.

The problem is that the flag is indeed broken. Very broken. If one looks closely, it's torn with bullet holes and splattered with blood, reminding us of the slavery it represents. It's broken because it's a Confederate flag.

Wednesday, the day after the vote, the NAACP raised the threat of an economic boycott against Mississippi to drag it "kicking and screaming into the 21st century," said state NAACP official Deborah Denard.

But Mississippi would argue that it is a unique state in the 21st century. It has the privilege, now that South Carolina took down its flag, of being one of a kind. Being citizens of the only state left to prominently display the confederate symbol, 65 percent of Mississippians "are proud of their families, their state and its rich history," said William Faggert, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The question, of course, is just which part of the Confederate history should be commemorated on the Mississippi state flag? Should the flag represent the time when nearly three-fourths of all white Mississippians owned slaves? Should we memorialize the time when raping, flogging and having picnics at a lynching were standard fare?

Should the people of Mississippi honor a symbol that declares that racism still plagues Mississippi as it has for the last 200 years?

Someone needs to politely tell the Sons of Confederate Veterans that the rest of the world needs a better explanation for why racism needs to be celebrated as it waves and billows atop the state capital.

It's unfair for us Arizonans to waggle our finger and say, "Bad Mississippi, bad." It wasn't all that long ago that Arizona made the ridiculous mistake of rejecting Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a recognized state holiday. At that time, the rest of the country reacted appropriately. First, there was shock, then humor as the country laughed at our backward ways and then economic sanctions.

That's right. The country was ready to place an embargo on the state that cost us millions. Don't remember? In the mid '90s, the NFL was ready to snatch the game out of Phoenix at the last minute and place it more appropriately (i.e. anywhere but here).

We agreed to honor Martin Luther King Jr. at our Super Bowl, so they ended up keeping the event at Sun Devil Stadium. We lucked out, for it would have been millions in lost revenues had we been forced to pull the event completely.

Arizona should have been hit worse, but we promised to fix the error of our ways as rapidly as we could. Now it's Mississippi's turn. Professor Julian Kunnie, current director of Africana Studies here at the UA, says, "The NAACP and other civil-rights organizations would have strong grounds if they responded with a national call for a boycott of the state of Mississippi."

True, a boycott would hurt a state that already falls well below the national picture of wealth, but a boycott would bring recognition to a problem that needs attention.

According to Kunnie, "The tragedy is that there is little sense of remorse or repentance on the part of these people," for they are "determined to impose and celebrate their perverted sense of history."

"These people," referred to above, are the descendants of slave masters. There is no escape from this.

But they should feel guilty about the decisions they make today. As Kunnie said, "Slavery is not dead ... it lives enwrapped in the Mississippi flag in 2001."