January 18, 2021 10:06:18 AM
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the one day each year when white conservatives, particularly in Mississippi, seem vaguely aware of Black people in general and King in particular, at least in any positive, affirming way.
Throughout the day, you'll see the white conservative politicians who wield virtually all of the power in this state wax semi-poetic and superficially sincere in their praise of King, his mission and his legacy.
This year, in particular, these same politicians will make these proclamations with self-congratulatory zeal, having allowed a change in our state flag, a change more driven by commercial implications than by any sort of moral reckoning. They feel mighty proud of themselves right now.
To be honest, I don't know why they even bother to mention MLK Jr.
After all, a tree is judged by its fruit, and you don't have to look too closely to observe the inconsistencies between what these people say today and what they have done and continue to do today.
Today is MLK Jr. Day across the nation. In Mississippi, it's also Robert E. Lee Day.
Each year, Rep. Kabir Karriem of Columbus introduces a bill to separate the two state holidays. Each year, the legislation never sees the light of day, left to die in committee by conservative Republican committee chairs. House Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann have the clout to push it through, but have shown no interest.
What this tells us is that MLK Jr. Day is for Black folks and Robert E. Lee Day is for white folks.
MLK Jr. Day is Toss a Dog a Bone Day, mainly because the federal government demands it.
We're just supposed to ignore the incongruity of celebrating the nation's great civil rights leader with the man who led an armed conflict to suppress equal rights on the same day, I guess. Both sides of the story, I guess.
So, they'll quote MLK Jr. today and ignore his message on all the others.
Their favorite MLK Jr. quote, perhaps the only quote they have committed to memory, is: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
I've often thought about why so many white conservatives love this quote so much. I think it's because it requires nothing of them since they are generally suspect of Black people's character in the first place, especially poor Black people.
If Black people suffer, it's because of a character defect rather than systemic racism, their thinking goes. It's the weary old bootstraps argument.
But there are other quotes from MLK Jr. you will never hear from their lips.
"All lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter," he said.
Today in Mississippi, we have serious issues with education, access to health care, poverty -- all of which are far more pronounced in our Black communities.
Yet our leaders stubbornly refused to properly fund education or expand Medicaid to tens of thousands of working men and women. Expanding Medicaid hasn't even come up for serious discussion in the Legislature. It's completely dismissed.
That's why you won't hear any of these politicians repeat another quote from King: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."
No, all we'll hear from these people today are empty tributes to "the content of character" blah, blah, blah.
Sounding brass, tinkling cymbals. It's meaningless. No, it's worse than meaningless. It's insulting.
The policies of the people who run our state are more consistent with Robert E. Lee than MLK, Jr.
So really, whose Day is it, Mississippi?
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
1. Leonard Pitts Jr.: Dr. Seuss has not been 'canceled' NATIONAL COLUMNS
3. Other Editors: A better way to entice business NATIONAL COLUMNS
4. Cartoonist View: 3/5/21 NATIONAL COLUMNS