Last week, the day after the JFPs first Race, Religion &
Society panel discussion, I looked at two e-mails within a couple
hours of each other. The first, from a white man in Brandon with a subject
line of just Donna Ladd, opened by dressing me down for devoting
so much ink to young Emmett Tills life and death.
This is not to say that his heinous crime should not be punished,
remembered and publicized, but Emmett Till the child did nothing worthy
of being lionized. By all accounts he was just a typical, smart-aleck
kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is to say that there are
many more issues that JFP could and should cover, the gentleman
The second e-mail came from a young black woman who attended the panel,
making suggestions for future discussions. At the bottom, though, she
shared a criticism of my work from a black friend of hers. She told me
that friend is offended by the JFP because we give white
racists space in your paper. She continued, They appreciate
what JFP is trying to accomplish but they probably feel your
baby steps are too conservative to the point that its offensive
to associate with the JFP.
Now, I dont share both these quotes with you in some facile attempt
to show that both sides complain about the JFP, so we
must be doing something right! Ill leave that cliché
to daily columnists. And I dont think the two sides
are particularly equalpersonally, Im less sympathetic to the
man who just sees little Till as a smart-aleck kid, rather
than a symbol of the evil that too many Mississippians rationalized for
too long. And I certainly get the concern that baby steps,
when youre confronted with major social and racial justice concerns,
are not enough. Back during the 1960s, I like to hope that I would not
have been one of the way-too-many newspaper editors who said, well, lets
just allow integration to happen in its own time.
No. One day in the back of the bus was too many. The present is the only
time to make our society better.
The question is how to get there. And thats why Im sharing
these e-mails with youa readership that is amazingly diverse, and
are used to reading that white mans sentiment in places like The
Northside Sun and the womans in The Jackson Advocatetwo weeklies
that are gerrymandered into certain communities and neighborhoods. I say
that were in this together, so bring it on. Lets tango.
I believe, and how, that we take the higher ground, so to speak, by talking,
sharing, eating together, socializing, worshipping and praying together.
And the truth is, the white folks who think that the JFP only cares about
race issuesa preposterous statement if you actually read the papershould
know that there are at least some black people who think we are afraid
to promote real efforts at social evolution and justice. The paper proves
them wrong as well.
I believe, and how, that our biggest problem in Mississippi (and the country,
but Im focused on the homeland here) is that too many people do
not listen to, nor try to understand, what other people are feeling. That
applies to issues of race, ethnicity, economic background, religion andplease
dont forgetage. We might work together and lunch together.
But we dont really share our stories, our fears, our concerns. And
certainly very few of us worship or pray alongside people who are very
different from us. That is, we are sharing our most spiritual, raw, vulnerable
moments with people a whole lot like us.
To me, that is what a discussion of Americans most segregated
hour is about. Martin Luther King Jr.s phrase about 11 a.m.
Sunday morning is a symbol of missed opportunity to know and love thy
neighbor, to understand, to help, to share the bonds of spirituality and
family with people whose culture is inextricably intertwined with our
own. Everyone should be able to worship, or not worship, wherever and
however they want; however, the fact that people of similar beliefs separate
themselves during many of their most selfless hours is a portent of the
work yet to be done.
About 80 peoplefrom Mr. James Meredith to a group of Christian students
from Seattlecame to Mikhails Northgate Sunday before last
on short notice to view Kent Moorheads documentary about two Oxford,
Miss., churches that had tried, and essentially failed, at racial reconciliation.
The Most Segregated Hour takes a direct look at the fears
and hesitations of the two racesfrom blacks frustrations that
they will not be heard to whites fears of being uncomfortable
in such discussions.
Our first Race, Religion & Society meet was not exactly
comfortable, but it was heartwarming to watch people of all ages, various
races and religions (including Jews and Muslims a bit miffed that the
first panel was Christian-focused; wait, I told them) show
up ready to say things that arent often said in mixed company. The
film prepared us, as did the snacks provided by Mikhails and the
Crossroads Film Society. More chairs had to be brought in, and my job
was to try to make sure that all of the audience members got a chance
Some amazing things were said, but what was most important to me was that
the conversation happened at all. Religion is a vital component of our
country, and it seems to be used more often to bludgeon than as an instrument
of lovewhich I believe is at the heart of any authentic religious
experience. Its all about love. Spreading love. Feeling love. Using
love to help people who need it, people whose circumstances have been
less fortunate than our own. I decided after the 2004 presidential electionamid
all the hatred being spewed in the name of religion, and often delivered
through appeals to bigotrythat the JFP needed to host these community
conversations that deal in some way with the intersection of race, religion
Then, this year, when I heard the absurd political furor about Happy
Holidays vs. Merry Christmas, I knew it was time to
jam, yall. It was time to put aside the political kvetching, and
the excuses, and the rhetoric, and the marketing slogans, and just try
to talk to each other, to see if we can find what we have in common and
better appreciate our differences. I truly believe that if we can do that,
we will quickly discover just how meaningless and stupid an argument about
the words "happy holidays" in a Wal-Mart ad really is.
© 2005 The Jackson Free Press