We interrupt this blog for a post about a political mishap gone terribly wrong. Last week, Mississippi Senator and run-off candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith was recorded joking about attending a “public hanging”. I have never heard this Southern colloquialism before, but that is what the candidate claims she used when she said of a donor,
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
There are some strange southernisms out there. This must be one of them for the words to roll off her tongue so effortlessly. When you use a colloquialism, you probably don’t think about its origin or how it might be interpreted. It wasn’t until confronted by a confused New Englander that I thought about what “fixing to” meant. I was “fixing to” go to the grocery store.
I am willing to give her a wide benefit of the doubt here. I believe it is entirely possible that Cindy Hyde-Smith never thought her comment had anything to do with Mississippi’s horrifying history of lynching. Perhaps the phrase conjured images of old Western towns or 17th century England for Senator Hyde-Smith.
However, after the video went viral on social media, I know the Senator understood how her words were interpreted. This is not about snowflake liberals getting offended by politically incorrect language. The history of lynchings in the South is a painful and shameful scar. Earlier this year the National Memorial for Peace and Justice was opened in the hometown of Montgomery, AL to document the thousands of African-Americans who were killed by lynching. I have not yet visited, but plan to do so at Christmas.
Senator Hyde-Smith had an opportunity to explain that her words in no way connotated these painful murders and apologize for her misstep. She could have shown leadership by pointing to her state’s dark history and stating an intention to bring Mississippians together for a brighter future. There is no shame in apologizing if she had no ill-intent in her comment.
Instead, the Senator doubled down, issuing a statement that “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” At the press conference with the Governor, she refused to make any other comment, referring only to her watered-down, useless statement.
Remarkably, Governor Bryant went on to accuse African-American women who made the painful decision to have abortions of genocide. No matter your position on abortion, that is an abhorrent characterization of women. This kind of language deserves no place in America.
Not sure who looked worse here, Mississippi Gov Phil Bryant or Senate candidate Cindy Hyde Smith. Either way, this might be the most impressive — and by that, I mean the worst — pivot ever. pic.twitter.com/4Ck5AJnyA7
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) November 14, 2018
If you are less familiar with the racial history of the Jim Crow south, I recommend you watch the movie Mississippi Burning. We should not avoid our past but seek to grow from it. I have family and friends from the great state of Mississippi, and I have spent more time there in recent years. The words of Cindy Hyde-Smith and her failure to take responsibility for them (even if she meant no harm) do not represent the Mississippi I know.
No one said it better than the iconic Nina Simone …