TIME Race

Dear White Mississippi Politicians: It’s Our State, Too

The Confederate flag and Mississippi's state flag that contains it are inescapable symbols of the subjugation of black Southerners

Former Mississippi Governor and supporter of the White Citizens’ Council Haley Barbour recently assured us in no unclear terms that he was not offended by the Confederate flag, nor its place in the upper lefthand corner of the state flag of Mississippi. Barbour did not offer his perspective on whether or not the flag should remain standing at state capitols, but did suggest that the people of Mississippi should be the one to decide its flag’s fate. I agree with Barbour that this is a conversation Mississippians must have — but the opinions of white Mississippians for whom the racism the flag represents has negligible or zero effect should not take precedence. Whether or not Barbour finds the Confederate flag offensive, it is an inescapable symbol of white subjugation of black Americans.

In elementary school they taught us to salute the flag of Mississippi. It is almost like pledging allegiance to the American flag, but weightier, more intimate; it comes with an investment of your personal faith. With pride in Mississippi’s history and achievements, my eight-year-old self was urged to look with confidence toward the state’s future, and I was cool with that — until they tried to make my mama do it, too, at a school assembly. She kept her seat, and yanked me down. So did all of the other black parents to their black kids in attendance. This made it so that only half of the gymnasium in which the assembly was held stood to salute the flag of Mississippi, and the sovereign state for which it stands.

There is more than one way to teach gravity to a second grader.

Without knowing what a saltire was and without knowing what the Confederacy was, I knew what a nigger was, and that I was one. This is the way that Mississippi makes youthfulness a farce. Children are born into the rigidity of the systems that keep us so orderly, in ways that a stranger from a heathen state might mistake for good behavior. This is especially true for black children, who are threatened with things like whippings with tree branches or a call to the police when we misbehave, who are taught to be especially good around the parents of white friends, who might punish each other for bad grammar.

To be black and young and conscious in the state of Mississippi is to sit daily in the sauna of honeysuckle-scented air with a weariness you’ve more or less felt since you were in a stroller, and way before. You’ve weathered the centuries of racism that have molded your environment, and you perspire in the hottest heat of social injustice, and of the subtropical climate, and you dare to love it here. You have to. You agree with James Meredith, that Mississippi is yours, and that one must love what is his. More than that, you have to accept that it is yours, and that you have the right to love it, and thus hold it accountable. You have to affirm your place within it, no matter how much weeping and moaning and teeth-gnashing is required, because otherwise you would have nothing, and you have every right to having your existence honored in the place you have no choice but to call your home.

What white racist Southerners don’t realize is that black people exist as more than barriers to meaningful engagement with the world around them. They forget that the South belongs to black people, too, and that our ancestors matter as much as yours; that the pride that they assign to the Confederacy is not more valid, more worthy of remembrance, than the shame and the evil inflicted upon those black ancestors whose enslavement and blood gave marble and brick and wealth to the fantasy of the Old South.

Because blackness is the South, in foundation, and in future. And blackness can no longer be an inconvenient sidebar to the carefully whitewashed perception of the South. Mississippi Senator and Tea Party supporter Chris McDaniel claimed that the arguments for removing the flag are steeped in political correctness; that the massacre in South Carolina should not be used to “promote a political agenda.” What McDaniel and others fail to realize is that the Confederate flag in itself promotes a political agenda: one of racism and black oppression, one with which Dylann Roof sympathized, and one that he wielded in order to cause the deaths of nine innocent people, solely because they were black.

To object to the symbolism that so long has stood in silent accordance with the erasure of blackness is not about political correctness or hurt feelings; it is about enabling continued violence against black people in a country that has failed to protect us.

But we are here. This place is ours, too.

TIME Race

Harriet Tubman On the $20 Bill Is Chump Change

American abolitionist Harriet Tubman (1820 - 1913) escaped slavery and went on to lead the Underground Railroad.
North Wind Picture Archives/AP

Sierra Mannie is a writer based in Mississippi.

Black women have served and suffered in America for hundreds of years—putting one on a $20 feels like a weak pat on the back

When I read that an appeal for Harriet Tubman’s image to grace the front of the U.S. $20 bill would soon land on the Secretary of the Treasury’s desk, I was, to say the least, underwhelmed.

Earlier this year the group Women on 20s launched a poll asking who people would rather see on a $20 bill instead of seventh president Andrew Jackson. Harriet Tubman won. As a black woman and a feminist (and as someone who once played Harriet Tubman in her second-grade class play), I am painfully aware of the major impact that representation — or a lack thereof — has on the reflection of societal progress of underprivileged groups. Recalling the social media whirlpool of anguish after Michelle Obama’s jubilant, self-affirming speech of black womanhood at BET’s Black Girls Rock event last month — cries of reverse racism and even a #metoo hashtag that proclaimed #whitegirlsrock — it’s obvious that America is past-due for getting over its centuries of misogynoir.

But Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill is chump change.

It’s not that I don’t want to see her on my money, but there is a bitter irony to putting a black woman on a $20 bill when America makes it nearly impossible for black women to see Andrew Jackson’s face there in the first place.

Black women — from slaves to First Ladies — have served and suffered for as long as we have existed in this country, in every imaginable way. But despite the centuries of black female triumph as we toil through merely living in this unfriendly nation, built on our backs, the rest of the world gets to pick and choose whether or not we’re worthy of acknowledgement. We are either muted, the unseen, or blaring, painful to the senses. And the strident force in blocking us out is pervasive. Black men killed by the police get widespread media attention, for better or worse; we cannot say the same of the very many women brutalized or killed by law enforcement, or of the black trans women murdered at alarming rates. The leech of poverty, existing at the crossroads of capitalism and racism, disproportionately affects women of all races, but especially black people.

All of these small calamities are residual evils of the institution of slavery that Harriet Tubman risked her life, for decades, to try to dismantle. Black women need representation, but Harriet Tubman on a twenty feels like commiseration, a pat-on-the-back apology for being black — and that’s if she makes it there. If she does, it would always be a reminder (whenever $20 graces my presence, at least) that I deserve so much more “justice.”

Sierra Mannie is a writer based in Mississippi.

Read next: Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

A Young Southern Woman Remembers the Fear and Shame of Being Whooped

Adrian Peterson
Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images Adrian Peterson

Sierra Mannie is a writer based in Mississippi.

The difference between a spanking and child abuse has nothing to do with race

I’m grown, but I’m not grown grown.

Maybe my decent credit score is proof the downy feathers of my childhood have somehow molted to reveal adult plumage patterned with W2s and check stubs and old text messages from men, but relative financial independence doesn’t make me feel like someone who’s planted her foot firmly at the adult’s table of the Thanksgiving dinner of life. As a twenty-one-year-old Southerner, I still teeter on this cusp of age-affirmed identity — full-breasted and home trained and French 75’d down, absolutely, but not yet a veteran of childhood. My mama doesn’t care what the hell FICA says, how grown I think I am. Like many black mothers might say, she could still whoop me — and that’s a promise.

Twenty-one years is a long enough time, I think, for me to be able to find that language humorous, tell myself that I now take value and wisdom from those past threats of bodily harm. Living in my own apartment, I am detached from the poking straws of the nest that nurtured me and the methods like corporal punishment that were used to prepare me to live outside of it. Spankings in my household weren’t perceived as brutalizations or assault. Neither were they administered as such. For bad behavior or disobedience, spanking was righteous judgment, swiftly executed, but the memory of the pain, not an explanation of my wrong-doing, kept me obedient.

And I wonder, in light of the news of Adrian Peterson beating his son so badly that even the child’s testicles were bruised, whether or not the pride that accompanies Southerners when it comes to withstanding beatings as children, this conviction that we are all somehow better people because of it, is rooted in some puerile sense of belonging, as if children must be hazed into their Southern identity in order to truly respect some arbitrary societal order. The pictures of Peterson’s son make one wince, and the dismissal of his obvious abuse by those of us who claim that our regional background makes us experts in the social growth of children is troublesome.

Because I understand parents who choose corporal punishment as a means of training their children and that that choice isn’t always a malicious one, though I might wince in regional camaraderie with other Southerners as we recall selecting our own switches, what I remember most looking at Adrian Peterson’s son is the humiliation of being hit. The pain is intense, but your sore ass heals, eventually; the confusion at being physically punished sans communication from people who might not be equipped with the tools to communicate their reasons for hitting you in the first place lingers. I don’t remember being a little girl who sometimes did bad things that were met with matching punishments by authority figures — my recollection of those times only yank forward misery, with fear of asking questions and fighting back because I wasn’t grown enough to do so.

So, at 21, I’m not grown enough now to know what’s best for those who navigate the landscape for raising children in a constantly socially-shifting world. Maybe I, like Charles Barkley claims, will swell the ranks of Southern black parents who whip their kids if I’m ever a mother myself, but hopefully with critical self-examination and that past shame in mind, I can figure out for myself if it’s actually worth it.

 

Sierra Mannie is a senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Ole Miss

Dear Ole Miss: Minorities Are Done Being Haunted by Confederate Ghosts

Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.
Rolls Press—Getty Images Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.

Clinging to nostalgia will only hold back everyone at our university

It was my second semester of Ancient Greek class at the University of Mississippi when I finally raised my hand and asked.

“The statue on the Circle, of the Confederate soldier,” I began earnestly — I was still excited about learning new things — “has a Greek inscription on the side. Could you translate it for us?”

The answer came the next time class met. It was an elegiac couplet by the Greek poet Simonides, engraved first on a monument to the Spartan dead of the Battle of Thermopylae, presented to us by The Histories of Herodotus. My professor had taken the time to copy the inscription on individual slips of paper for all of us to keep, then read it aloud, the Greek consonants somersaulting over his lips, before he offered us one of its numerous English translations.

“‘Foreigner, go tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their commands,’” he said. “Quite a sentiment to put on a Confederate statue.”

It took half an hour of research that night for me to realize how much of an understatement that was. The voice of the poor dead Spartans begs you to return to their loved ones the news that they didn’t tap out for nothing. That they died defending Sparta, Spartan ideals, and Spartan soil from foreign invasion — their glory in defeat is forever memorialized with that epitaph. The Spartans were heroes. According to the statue that thrusts its imposing figure over the Circle, the Confederate dead of Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, are, too.

Unfortunately, Ole Miss can’t seem to make up its mind about who its heroes are, or, at least, how much to value them. The statue of the Confederate soldier stands within a section of campus designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark due to the riots that accompanied the enrollment of James Meredith, the university’s first black student, 52 years ago next month. Just a few hundred feet away stands a statue of Mr. Meredith. It is made of bronze, and, for now, it is free of nooses and Georgia flags.

It is not for me to decide whether or not Confederate soldiers deserve glory, but I do know that it is not the responsibility of an educational institution and its students to maintain the last bastion of the Confederacy, or to stand as a symbol of the “Old South,” a period of assumed refinement and class that would maybe seem more romantic if it hadn’t all been built on the backs of slaves. Ole Miss has spent too long marinating in such an idyll, willfully and disappointingly ignorant of the antebellum period and its shame, and claiming that those who are not blind on purpose are traitors whose criticism should not be heard; but, as another professor of mine claims, nostalgia is about forgetting, not remembering. Selective memory and a painful lack of racial consciousness, however, are for the enjoyment of the privileged only. Minority students have no opportunity to forget, and it is irresponsible to tell them they have no voice to criticize aspects of a place that cheerfully romanticizes a society that would have enslaved them. As it stands, white privilege is a horrible litmus test for the acidity of racism. White students must no longer talk only to other white people about racism, or accept the myth that racism does not exist and that talking about racism is somehow worse than racism itself.

I teared up when I read the letter from Chancellor Dan Jones that detailed his action plan for the continued diversification of the university, which includes creation of a vice chancellor position for diversity and inclusion, the establishment of a Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, and the cultivation of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden to give Black Greek Letter Organizations a permanent physical fixture on campus. Chancellor Jones also calls for not using the school’s nickname within an academic context; though referring to the university as “Ole Miss” is unlikely to change soon (I continue to use it when I’m not speaking about academics, simply because it’s much shorter), the nickname has paternalistic origins.

His leadership reflects the acknowledgement of the university’s — whatever you choose to call it — much- and long-needed diversity measures. The action plan inconveniences literally no one, but has received criticism from people who feel as if a tradition is being snatched away from them—people who view their own contrarian rather than constructive opinions above the offense they undeniably incur. One Ole Miss student (who is not from Mississippi) who objected to these changes wrote in an open letter to Chancellor Jones that she felt that “one of easiest forms of diversity a campus can attain is by attracting students from other states.” Out-of-state-ism is real, y’all.

Luckily, out-of-state tuition is not a recognized form of discrimination. Neither is it a “problem” unique to the university the way that romanticizing racist traditions is. The fact of the matter is that this plan of action is not an indictment of students for choosing to attend Ole Miss, ­for joining Greek organizations, or for being white; rather, it is a call for awareness of the discriminatory climate of campus. Reactionary students who will never be subject to racial slurs when they’re walking on campus in broad daylight, who were never afraid that their skin color would subject them to violence in a place where they’re supposed to be protected, who didn’t experience terror the night a noose appeared around the Meredith statue, shout their perceived victimhood so loudly that those whose lives would benefit most from the action plan cannot be heard.

Those who truly love Ole Miss push forward for necessary change, leadership, and inclusiveness for all who wish to be educated here; it is laughable to act as if impeding progress is somehow healthy for the university’s continued success. For Ole Miss to grow and rightfully be the flagship university for the state of Mississippi, its students must not only support this plan of action, but also allow those whose experiences are germane to the issues to lead the conversation.

 

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.

TIME sexuality

Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture

You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. There is a clear line between appreciation and appropriation

I need some of you to cut it the hell out. Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best “Shanequa from around the way” voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.

Let me explain.

Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).

And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption. But here’s the shade — the non-black people who get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness will never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black. Though I suppose there’s some thrill in this “rolling with the homies” philosophy some adopt, white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

Nothing about whiteness will get a white person in trouble the way blackness can get a black person shot down in his tracks. These are just facts. It’s not entirely the fault of white people. It’s not as if you can help being born white in America, any more than I can help being born black in America.

The truth is that America is a country that operates on systems of racism in which we all participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, to our benefit or to our detriment, and that system allows white people to succeed. This system also creates barriers so that minorities, such as black people, have a much harder time being able to do things like vote and get houses and not have to deal with racists and stuff. You know. Casual.

But while you’re gasping at the heat and the steam of the strong truth tea I just spilled,what’s even worse about all of this, if you thought things could get even crappier, is the fact that all of this is exponentially worse for black women. A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women’s advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain.

At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.

In all of the ways that your gender and race give you so much, in those exact same ways, our gender and race work against our prosperity. To claim that you’re a minority woman just for the sake of laughs, and to say that the things allowed her or the things enjoyed by her are done better by you isn’t cute or funny. First of all, it’s aggravating as hell. Second, it’s damaging and perpetuating of yet another set of aggressions against us.

All of this being said, you should not have to stop liking the things you like. This is not an attempt to try to suck the fun out of your life. Appreciating a culture and appropriating one are very, very different things, with a much thicker line than some people think, if you use all of the three seconds it takes to be considerate before you open your mouth. If you love some of the same things that some black women love, by all means, you and your black girlfriends go ahead and rock the hell out. Regardless of what our privileges and lack of privileges are, regardless of the laws and rhetoric that have attempted to divide us, we are equal, even though we aren’t the same, and that is okay. Claiming our identity for what’s sweet without ever having to taste its sour is not. Breathing fire behind ugly stereotypes that reduce black females to loud caricatures for you to emulate isn’t, either.

So, you aren’t a strong black woman, or a ghetto girl, or any of that other foolery that some of you with trash Vine accounts try to be. It’s okay. You don’t have to be. No one asked you to be. You weren’t ever meant to be. What you can be, however, is part of the solution.

Check your privilege. Try to strengthen the people around you.

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the Opinion section of the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, where this article originally appeared.

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