Steve Earle & the Dukes, in collaboration with the Southern Poverty Law Center, have written & released a beautiful and moving song telling Mississippi “It’s Time.” Beyond writing a great tune, Earle has also done something he’d probably be too humble to admit. Through a work of art, he has contributed to moral leadership. He has creatively called Mississippi officials to change a policy. He leans heavily and justifiably on a number of Southern and Mississippi values. He’s right. Mr. Earle & the Dukes, thank you.
I’m working on a book called A Culture of Justice. It’s about the cultural conditions necessary for justice. It’s also about the cultural forces that can lead to oppression and its maintenance or to justice and its preservation. When journalists started reporting to the world with photos of the injustices in the American South, southerners were shamed. The rest of the world was also appalled and demanded change and the observance of the law.
When it comes to Mississippi, some folks are right when they say that just changing a flag alone won’t change much. However, the things that need to change are impeded by attitudes and moral injuries that prevent progress. I wrote elsewhere about “What a Flag Has to Do with Justice.” In short, it can do harm, even if indirectly or in a roundabout way, in its contribution to the maintenance of an unjust culture.
The wonderful thing about culture and its artifacts, however, is that they also include solutions. Earle’s song is a great example of a way to show pride in one’s family and home, while recognizing the mistakes from society’s past. The song is complex. It weaves in norms and sounds that many Mississippians love, even if they were painful in their own ways too. To understand Earle, you have to recognize that he’s trying to reach people in Mississippi and wants reasonably to be proud of what we should be and not of what he shouldn’t be.
I find the video moving and brilliant. I hope you’ll share it widely and tell our public officials: “it’s time.”