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Mississippi can no longer afford a Confederate Memorial Day off

On Monday, Mississippi observed Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday observed by just two states, Alabama being the other.

State employees, at least the ones who haven’t lost their jobs after the latest series of state agencies cuts implemented by Gov. Phil Bryant, got the day off, as did some county and city employees around the state.

The governor, who has cut the budget, on average, every three months for the past year-and-a-half, keeps telling us we must live within our means and that in these hard economic times, there are some things we just can’t afford — education, roads/bridge repairs, mental health services, take your pick.

Let’s add one more item to the list of things Mississippi can no longer afford: Confederate Memorial Day.

The cost goes beyond that associated with providing a paid holiday for those employees who got the day off. The real cost is to Mississippi’s image beyond our state borders and the damage it does to a state economy that desperately needs an infusion of jobs.

Mississippi is 50th in the nation in both per-capita income ($21,036) and median household income ($39,680). Our state needs every positive factor we can find in trying to appeal to industries and potential residents as they consider their options. Aside from a workforce that can be guaranteed to work for low wages and a state government that must resort to bribery to lure businesses to our state, there are few real incentives.

It’s an uphill climb. It has always been an uphill climb. Our job growth rate has stalled — only a net of 800 more jobs were created in 2016 than the previous year, according to labor statistics. The national economy is prospering. Our economy is foundering.

And yet, even as we try to conjure up new reasons why companies should come here, we stubbornly cling to imagery that creates a negative perception of our state as backwards, regressive and, in the eyes of many, institutionally racist.

Relics of our past — the Confederate imagery on our state flag, the governor’s annual proclamation of April as “Confederate Heritage Month” and Monday’s “Confederate Memorial Day,” confirm the very stereotypes our state must escape. Mississippians are free to draw their own conclusion about the propriety of maintaining these traditions, of course.

But the time has far since passed that the state should give its sanction to these ideas.

The truth is pretty simple: When it comes to recruiting the industries our state so desperately needs, it doesn’t matter much what Mississippians think of these tributes to the Confederacy. What matters is what those businesses and industries think of those things. For the overwhelming majority, the Confederacy is forever and indisputably linked with the abomination of slavery.

Knowing that, no one in their right mind would insist that this sort of imagery remain a part of its brand.

We simply can’t afford it.

— The Columbus Commercial Dispatch