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Mississippi’s election results are troubling

If the recent runoff for a seat in the U.S. Senate in the state of Mississippi is any indication, race continues to be a volatile issue in this country. The fact that Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won the campaign, after making racially charged statements that should have sent black voters running to the polls, also speaks of how difficult it is to get people to vote. These are two separate issues, each troubling.

Hyde-Smith was seen as a shoo-in for the senate seat in what is a very red state. But after she was videotaped making a racially insensitive — make that racially abhorrent — statement to a supporter, the election came into question. 

So, what did she say? Hyde-Smith said, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” 

She defended her words, explaining that it was merely an “exaggerated expression of regard.” 

We’re sure it wasn’t such to the many Mississippians who recall all too vividly the fight for civil rights and the Jim Crow laws following Reconstruction. Mississippi, deep in the South, had more public lynchings than any other state since that time — and no amount of spin could make words like the ones uttered by Hyde-Smith OK. When, tell us, is it alright to joke about public hangings? Simple. Never.

But what should have been considered a death knell in her campaign instead did little to keep her from winning with a margin of roughly 8 percent. For that the blame falls in part on the shoulders of those who never made it to the ballot box. It also, of course, falls onto those who remain blind to the blatant racism lurking beneath the senator-elect’s words. 

Do we really live in a country that can ignore its all-too-recent history of violence and hate?

Hyde-Smith’s opponent, Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman and agriculture secretary, is black. The differences between the two couldn’t have seemed more stark. Yet Espy lost. 

Yes, Mississippi is strongly Republican. But can’t most Republicans acknowledge when someone makes a misstep? And, in this case, it’s a pattern of wrongdoing. After all, Hyde-Smith also posted a caption of a photo of her touring the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis stating, “Mississippi history at its best!” 

We’d like to argue that point. It wasn’t “its best” for the estimated 6 to 7 million black slaves who were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, according to www.history.com. It wasn’t “its best” for the families bought and sold by plantation owners. It wasn’t “its best” for those killed, lynched, terrorized because of the color of their skin. In fact, Jefferson Davis brings up memories of some of this country’s darkest days. It was a terrible period in history, one the South should be working to reverse, not with racists like Hyde-Smith but with men like Espy. 

That she has so many sympathizers in today’s world is disturbing. Yes, we’re miles away from Mississippi, but the troubling sentiments stretch from state to state. Today’s treatment of black and brown people isn’t as far removed from the Deep South’s history as we would like to think. The acceptance of language from “the good ol’ days” persists. Injustice, inequality — they continue. Only by taking a stand against victories like Hyde-Smith’s will those inequities have a chance of being righted. 

There’s not a lot we New Yorkers can do about election results in Mississippi. We get that. But there is a philosophy of equality that we can promote, and pass down from one generation to the next. The implications of election results like the ones last week mustn’t go without mention — regardless of where one lives. It’s only by speaking out about such important issues that we can hope to resolve them.