Perhaps the most revealing comment about last week's Mississippi referendum that overwhelmingly endorsed keeping the state's 107-year-old flag with a Confederate flag design in it came from the editorial page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, which supported getting rid of the old flag, the day after Mississippians went to the polls. "The vote also exposed the limitations of a ballot referendum as a way of resolving difficult issues," the editorial intoned. "Capitol politicians made the expensive special election necessary when they refused to deal with the flag issue directly, as their counterparts in other Southern states have done."
In other words, if the results of the referendum are what we want, the people have spoken and it's a triumph of democracy; but if the results are what we don't want, it just exposes the "limitations" of letting the people have anything to say about it. Best if the people are kept muzzled all the time and only professional politicians are allowed to decide these "difficult issues."
Yet for all the blatant snobbery apparent in such reflections as the Memphis newspaper emitted, that is precisely the reaction of most members of the American ruling class to the little whiff of rebellion that Mississippi spat out. In The Washington Post black columnist William Raspberry (April 23, 2001, Page A15) whined that he had "dared harbor the (faint) hope that white voters might welcome the chance to catapult the state into modernity" by rejecting the old flag, while a Mississippi history professor named Robert S. McElvaine sputtered in The New York Times (April 21, 2001, Op-Ed Page), "Can you imagine, in the year 2001, a state actually voting to have a Confederate symbol as part of its flag?" The Mississippi vote is comprehensible to Professor McElvaine at all only because it "is actually an indication that racism in this state is growing closer to the national white norm."
This is the way all ruling classes think and feel. On the rare occasions when they deign to permit the unwashed masses to express their own views, the masses had just better regurgitate the views that the ruling class favors. It's hard for the oligarchs even to imagine that the masses might actually subscribe to ideas the ruling class doesn't favor, and if they really turn out to entertain such heresies, it can only be because of the bottomless darkness (in this case, rejection of "modernity" and "racism") in which they are immersed. Sooner or later, no matter how much the ruling class likes to mouth off about its commitment to "democracy," it will have to crack down hard on any genuine manifestation of popular will that defies its wishes and threatens its interests. So it is in Mississippi, where the local branch office of the national ruling class blundered by letting the people of the state vote at all on whether to retain a symbol of their Southern and Confederate heritage. The voters by an overwhelming majority of some 65 percent decided to keep it, contrary to what the state and national political, business, media, educational, and religious establishments demanded. It will be a cool day in June before the elites make that mistake again.
And even before all the results were in, the non-white branch of the ruling class was muttering about how it would respond to the sharp odor of democracy that wafted into its windows. "The NAACP will not give up its fight to remove from public property any and all symbols that celebrate the twisted philosophy of bigotry and hatred in this country," pronounced the NAACP's Kweisi Mfume the day after the vote. Eugene Bryant, president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, said a decision on a boycott of the state in retaliation for defying the NAACP's commands could be made by May ("Mississippi Faces Boycott Over Flag," AP, Thursday, April 19, 2001).
Mississippi voters and indeed white Southerners in other states who imagine the battle is over need to imagine again. The battle ain't even started. The significance of the Mississippi vote is that it proves that a battle is still possible, that some white Southerners at least are still willing to put up a fight and even that they can sometimes win against every lie, smear, slur, insult, bribe, and threat the ruling class can mount.
And what white Southerners in Mississippi can do white Southerners in other states can emulate. The time for explaining, defending, arguing, and debating about the merits of Southern and white symbols and their meaning is over. The time for taking back their heritage and their region is here. The same referendum on the flag that let the Southern people speak in Mississippi should now be exported to other Southern states, and we will find out once and for all whose voice and whose civilization will prevail.
COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
April 26, 2001