When Cindy Hyde-Smith made the statement that she would attend a “public hanging,” her words should have been universally condemned. Not only should her opponent, Mike Espy have denounced her statements, but her divisive remarks should have been denounced by everyone, regardless of political affiliation.
There was a time when it wasn’t too much to ask that our political leaders not use incendiary and racially suggestive undertones and that they treat all with respect and dignity. In this age of Donald Trump, there’s a degenerative tone of discourse that is beginning to be normalized.
Every time someone like Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant steps forward to defend heinous comments like these, we are destabilizing all of the progress that has been made since the Civil Rights movement.
Ms. Hyde-Smith’s comments have inflamed our nation for one simple fact: it’s because we expect more. We know that our elected representatives and officials have to be better than this. Her comments have no place in acceptable public dialogue.
There may be some of you who are wondering: are we doing the right thing by holding our officials to the highest level of accountability?
Emphatically, yes! This is what we have to do with everyone, not just Ms. Hyde-Smith. We have to hold everyone accountable for what they say and what they do. I often write about how we, the people, must demand a seat at the table with our political leaders, and how we must oust those who don’t do the will of the people. This is important, because make no mistake: whomever we elect in positions of political leadership represents all of the people – whether you voted for them or not.
This is why our political leaders must be held to the standard of adequately representing the people.
If Ms. Hyde-Smith had made a racially charged comment about Jews, I would say the same thing. If she had made an off-color offensive comment about the LGBT community, I would still say the same thing.
It’s not okay to offend the people that you work for. Every political leader is (supposed to be) the servant of the people. How can you serve us if you refuse to recognize us?
These were Ms. Hyde-Smith’s words: “In a comment on Nov. 2nd, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”
To Ms. Hyde-Smith, I ask a simple question: What are the positive connotations associated with public hangings (lynchings)?
The definition of “connotation” is: an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning.
What positive feelings are associated with public lynchings in Mississippi? Ms. Hyde-Smith, feel free to provide examples of these positive feelings that you speak of, because that’s not the reality that I and other African-Americans see.
The words that you used have evoked horrible imagery of a terrible time in our history, where black people were terrorized and oppressed. If you have any examples of a time when this was not negative, then it should be easy to find; because there are many examples to choose from since Mississippi has the most documented hangings of any state in the union.
Do you see why these reprehensible words cannot be accepted? If we refuse to hold people accountable for what they say, then I fear that we are going to get to the point where we won’t hold people accountable for what they do.
We’ve been there before. There have been dark times in the history of our state and our nation where evil acts were committed against innocent citizens without fear of consequence. We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged back to the past that we have been fighting so hard to escape.
What does it say about us as a state, if we allow this type of divisive and hateful language to overtake our politics?
Photo Credit: Cindy Hyde-Smith
Duvalier Malone is an author, motivational speaker, community activist and CEO of Duvalier Malone Enterprises, a global consulting firm. He lives in Washington D.C.