June 20, 2020 9:31:06 PM
Harry Sanders, I do not owe you this letter. You aren't owed my attention or my time. If anyone owes anyone anything, America and her racism owes me. She has exploited black people for well over four centuries, but the debt she owes -- the death and the violence she has caused us -- is incalculable.
Instead, I write you out of pity for your willful ignorance. George Floyd's murder has led to a moment of reckoning. Some have asked tough questions about the plight of black people, including how far we've come and how far we need to go. Others have wrestled with their internal convictions and examined how they've fallen short in valuing and protecting black life. And then there are citizens like you, who not only fail to reckon with your racism but also espouse anachronistic views that are dangerous and wicked.
At a Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting concerning the relocation of a Confederate statue, you mustered up the audacity to say, "Slaves became dependent, and the dependency is still there."
This is an incendiary statement, explicit racism couched in historical ignorance, from an official who has taken an oath to represent all citizens of Lowndes County. It should go without saying that slaves did not depend on white slave owners. White slave owners depended on my ancestors' skilled labor and used beatings, rape and family separation to enslave them. America continues to depend on black and brown labor, especially in the South where the workforce is majority black in many places.
But that aside, the irony of your statement is that it's an intended consequence of erecting Confederate statues. After Reconstruction, the Daughters of the Confederacy erected Confederate statues across the South to glorify their ancestors. This action was part of a larger project to rewrite the South's wretched history, including transforming how American slavery is taught in schools. This leads to a harsh truth: Your status as a white, Southern elected official relies on a revisionist history. So, which of us is truly dependent?
But I do not only blame you or the Daughters of the Confederacy. You are a symptom of a larger ill.
When The Commercial Dispatch ran my column about defunding the police, which I stand by, Kathy Reed of Lowndes County, a white moderate, penned a letter condemning its publication. White moderates, like Kathy, are just as much to blame. They would rather prioritize their comfortability and willful ignorance over our freedom and equality. Kathy didn't respond to the merits of my argument for re-prioritizing funding from policing to community groups. Kathy wasn't compelled to write a letter to the editor when the life of George Floyd was kneed out of him, or when the Attorney General dismissed the case against Officer Boykin without an explanation. It was only when The Dispatch dared to cover racism and police brutality that she felt motivated to write. How dare her local paper give a voice to an opinion about racism and police that is different from hers?
Her fear that unauthorized force will replace authorized force is analogous to the fear that white slave owners had when slaves advocated for their emancipation. A person only fears a world with fewer police, when she believes the status quo protects her more. And white people's protection cannot come at the expense of black lives.
Why did I also address Kathy in an open letter to you? Because though she is a white moderate, her perspective, like yours, is an extension of her white privilege and fear. Kathy, like you, has refused to engage with well-substantiated truths. It is what Governor Tate Reeves continues to do. It is what Mississippi continues to do.
Racism makes you less loving and less caring, Harry. It holds the heart and the human spirit hostage. Mississippi is still burning. And she will burn until people like you stop lighting a match to her soul.
Justin Brooks is a native of Starkville and a second-year law student at UC Berkeley.
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