At each Laurel City Council meeting, the floor is opened up for any resident to voice his or her opinion on anything from decriminalizing marijuana in the city to the poor condition of the roads to the poor condition of the poor.
Council members listen, but never take action on those concerns. It gives the people a chance to voice their opinions, a hallmark of any democratic body.
Those who attend council meetings regularly know there are a few who will use the citizens’ forum at every occasion. While some of their concerns are outlandish, we all should appreciate the fact that they get up there and voice those concerns. At least they are trying to be a part of local governance.
On Friday, one of those City Council regulars voiced her displeasure with statues erected at the roundabout in downtown. In her eyes — and, Faye Jackson said, the eyes of many others in the community — the artwork came across as a racist symbol in a city with a history of being friendly to racists.
Jackson was the only person to attend the meeting to voice concerns over the statues, while two other residents spoke on behalf of the artist and the artwork, which depicts three figures holding tools in various poses. The artist, Laurel’s Jason Kimes, has had his work featured in cities much larger than ours. For a city that loves art — just walk to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art to see one of the greatest collections of artwork in any city — the statues were another addition to that ever-evolving artistic landscape.
The statues are still standing — and we all should be happy about that, because this really wasn’t about statues at all, but seeing racial overtones in every facet of everyday life. We have deep respect for Jackson for standing up for what she believes. But we cannot agree with seeing the world through “racism glasses,” where everything on every street corner can be viewed in terms of race and bigotry. It poisons the mind and the soul to think like that and also takes away from the divisions real racists sow in our community.
Make no mistake, in Jones County there are pockets where racism is alive and well — and that is not just whites against blacks, but vice versa. It is a sad commentary that in 2019 there are still such terrible racial divisions. But seeing everything in a “race-first” stance also does nothing to further the dialogue to acceptance.
The line in Mark Thornton’s story from that meeting that stuck with us the most is that Kimes wanted to sit down with Jackson to listen to the concerns — and we imagine Jackson will listen to Kimes’ interpretation of the artwork as well. Maybe both sides’ eyes will be opened just a little wider. Conversations are good.
We urge Kimes to not let this one incident dissuade him from continuing to display his art in Laurel. The statues add a little more flavor to a downtown that continues to undergo an amazing renaissance. We urge Jackson to continue to voice her opinions at City Council meetings, too. Her voice should be heard as well.
We just wish the notion of seeing everything in the prism of racism would somehow come to an end.
OK, maybe we are just dreamers on that last one. But we can hope, can’t we?