We watched the streets of downtown Jackson flood with protesters in early June in what was the largest Mississippi civil rights demonstration since the 1960s. We sat on the House and Senate floors in late June as lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag that had flown for 126 years. We’ve covered the toppling of Confederate statues, and we’ve written about several officials who were fired or reprimanded for publicly making racist comments.
We continue to cover the lasting political effects of this national reckoning on racism, and it’s clear that this 2020 election cycle is like no other in American history.
Generations of Mississippians and Americans have been having difficult, raw conversations about race, but our most powerful politicians have largely ignored them. This year, thanks to the organizing and pleas of millions of ordinary citizens, leaders across the nation have finally been forced to grapple with racism. But too few candidates for office in Mississippi are having to do the same. Frankly, we don’t think that’s acceptable. What we’ve heard is just not enough.
As journalists, we’re watchdogs of our government and the political leaders who run it. We ask tough questions, challenge the status quo and boost the voices of those most marginalized by the systems elected officials built and perpetuate. We are the public’s eyes and ears in the hallways they cannot enter, and we are, as Joseph Pulitzer once put it, never afraid “to attack wrong.”
As journalists in Mississippi, the Blackest state in the nation with such a sordid, violent history of racism, we have a particularly heavy responsibility to report on how racism and racist ideologies continue to hurt so many of our neighbors. We also take seriously our responsibility to show readers how hidden systemic racism continues to harm and hold back Mississippians of color.
We’ve done a lot of soul-searching the past few weeks about what our role should be in this moment, in this nation, in this state. We’ve taken a hard look at ourselves and our own practices, and we’ve diligently worked to answer the question: What more can we do to inform, heal, and help Mississippi?
Our short answer to that question: We think you deserve more from us, and we’re doing something to change that. This moment in American history demands more of us all. Mississippi desperately needs a deeper, more direct conversation about race. It simply cannot wait any longer.
Beginning today, we will share our platform with Mississippians to write essays about race. These pieces will be opinionated, raw and at times jarring, and we hope they will inspire crucial conversations. We will publish writers of various backgrounds and political viewpoints, though we will never publish hatred or inaccuracy. The first essay of this series is written by Kiese Laymon, a Jackson native and best-selling author who is regarded as one of the most prominent writers on race in America.
Since we launched Mississippi Today in March 2016, we’ve focused our energies on providing fact-based reporting and analysis on government and politics that you can’t find anywhere else. You’ve never seen a single op-ed or opinion piece on our website, though we’ve strived to connect you, through our reporting, with Mississippians you may not otherwise know in hopes you might be moved to tackle the issues that we struggle with as a state. Indeed, civic engagement has always been at the very heart of what we do.
We’ve heard criticism that our reporting-only strategy is too passive. And to be completely transparent, it’s hard to disagree with that right now, particularly as we scrutinize this reckoning on race. But with this series of essays, we believe we can do a little more for you while staying true to our mission of civic engagement.
None of this will change the focus of our newsroom reporters and the fact-based journalism you’ve come to expect of Mississippi Today. We’ll be sure to clearly delineate our staff reporting from the perspectives we choose to share.
Reading these essays will not always be easy or pleasant. They may make you uncomfortable, and you may disagree with much of what we publish. That’s OK. As we turn this page, we’ll closely consider the words of Ibram X. Kendi, the author, professor and historian who wrote, “The heartbeat of racism is denial.” We just want you to think with us, and we want you to talk with us and with each other. This is all about the exchange we will have together, about trying to reach a better and more honest Mississippi.
Lastly, we’ve been especially moved by the words of John Lewis, the late congressman who worked hard in Mississippi and across the South for equality for Black voters, when he spoke in 2016 about how journalists could stand to borrow his personal mantra: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
“You must not give up. You must hold on. Tell the truth. Report the truth. Disturb the order of things. Find a way to get in the way and make a little noise with your pens, your pencils, your cameras,” Lewis said.
That’s just what we plan to do in the critical days to come. And, as ever, we want to know what you think.
Let’s take care of each other and never be afraid to attack wrong.
Adam Ganucheau, Editor-in-Chief
Kayleigh Skinner, Managing Editor