People can’t figure out what to make of this Mississippi “Two Minute Warning” billboard

Donald Trump and his surrogates can babble on and on all they want about how their campaign and administration isn’t driven by white supremacy, but all the evidence speaks to the contrary. The sorts of people and ideas that are coming forward to celebrate Trump’s victory mean business when it comes to “making America great again” and dragging all of our civil rights back a few decades. The fact that people’s first thoughts when seeing this billboard in Mississippi with “Two Minute Warning” and “make America great again” on it was, “Shit, that’s racist,” speaks to how serious the situation is right now.

“Two Minute Warning,” in case you aren’t up on American photography, is an image by Spider Martin that shows Alabama state troopers just before they attacked the peaceful 1965 Selma march with tear gas and batons. It’s an iconic image of black people marching for their civil rights and being beaten back by white men in power. It’s an event known as “Bloody Sunday.” So when you put “make America great again” over that image, what are you trying to say?

People in Pearl, Mississippi are all doing a collective shrug. The mayor of Pearl and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant managed to get it taken down this week, but residents are still of on the fence about it.

One resident told WMC, a local NBC affiliate, “I don’t really know what to think. It’s definitely offensive, but it’s their right at the same time. And that’s what we as people need to understand: That everyone is entitled to their First Amendment.” Why do I have a sinking feeling that we are going to get really sick and tired of hearing white people defend hate speech in the coming four years?

The billboard was put up by For Freedoms, and this is one of many other billboards the organization put up across the nation, using iconic imagery to draw attention to issues like gun control and campaign finance. It’s a super PAC run by artists, so the mission is complex.

And in other news… #censorship? #pearl #mississippi #makeamericagreatagain #forfreedoms

A photo posted by For Freedoms (@forfreedoms) on

Maybe the billboard seems offensive because it’s hitting a little too close to home right now. Steve Bannon, a white supremacist, is the chief advisor to the president, and there are people saluting Trump with Nazi gestures. So we aren’t very far away from batons and tear gas when it comes to anyone who opposes the administration. Maybe the billboard needs a little more context — because it could also mean that what makes America great is protesting Trump and his gross friends taking over the White House.

Or it could mean that America was great when state troopers were allowed to beat black people for no reason. Trump did win Mississippi with 82 percent of the vote, so there are likely people driving by saluting and “heiling” that billboard. (I know not everyone in Mississippi is a Nazi sympathizer or blatantly racist, but the majority of the state voted for someone who is.)

There is another version of the billboard that reads, “in order to form a more perfect union,” which makes it much more clear that the designers want people to think about the role of protest and not cheer for police brutality.

Getting people to think about complex issues is a good cause. Censorship certainly isn’t the answer, and maybe the billboard deserved to stay up, but knowing some people might be driving by and thinking it’s an endorsement of some “great” American past isn’t worth it right now.