Conversation: Evette Jones

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EDITOR’S NOTE – Below is the fifth of our six-part Series entitled Conversation: Questions & Perspectives in 2020. Winters Media & Publishing Inc. asked six black community leaders to share their points of view in the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter debate and how it relates to Coweta County. Today, our Q&A is with Evette Jones.

Evette Jones’ career has spanned more than 29 years with USDA Rural Development. She is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and is the president of the Troup-Coweta Alumnae Chapter. She is currently serving in her third term on the Board of Directors for the Newnan Cultural Arts Commission (NCAC), Mrs. Jones spearheaded the “Jazz In The Park” series.

1. When you walk into a grocery store and see “Aunt Jemima” pancake mix or “Uncle Ben’s” rice, what are your thoughts?

Personally, as I’ve noted the updates that have been made to the Aunt Jemima packaging over the years, it clearly spoke to the need to change the negative imagery that I associated with the product.  For me it was a depiction of slavery and servitude.  Yet, my view of Uncle Ben’s was totally different as the visual image always appeared to me to be of a gentleman who is very regal and stately.

2. How do you respond to the typical white person saying “well, if they (a black person) had just done what they police told them to, none of this (arrest, beating, etc.) would have happened to them”

Unfortunately this would be a very easy argument to refute.  My response would be to ask them to consider incidents such as George Floyd where he compiled yet died due to Officer Chauvin kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds despite his pleas or Breonna Taylor who was asleep in her bed when officers forcibly entered her residence with a “no-knock” warrant.  There is a history of cases where black people have complied with all commands given by officers and still they paid with their life.

3. Along those same lines, have you ever had an experience with law enforcement that raised concerns for you?

Yes, as I’ve had one of my family members who was sentenced to serve time in prison despite not having any previous incidents with the law enforcement and then watching the same judge only issue a fine to a white male for the same crime.  The disparate treatment was blatant and a clear abuse of power yet it did not change the outcome.  Many people of color and their families witness these moments of injustice yet no actions are ever taken by the justice system to hold those who are to uphold the law accountable.

4. What should be done with the Confederate Battle Flag? Should it be retired to museums? Should it be banned from public events? Essentially, where does it belong and not belong?

The Confederate Battle Flag truly holds different meanings for many people.  Yet it is often used to symbolize hatred.  It is because of this symbolism that I believe that the flag should be displayed in a museum rather than in public venues.

5. Do you see that flag as a symbol of hate speech or a relic of past history for Southern pride?

In my opinion, the Confederate Battle Flag encompasses all of these attributes.  Although I grew up with many people that donned it as a sign of Southern pride, it was far more often used as a symbol of hatred.  This usage of the flag by many groups and organizations affiliated with white supremacy solidified my belief that it is an inherent sign of disdain and hatred for people of color or anyone who does not agree with the white power stance.

6. What should be done with Confederate statutes of Civil War generals and heroes in public places?

This has been a prominent topic of discussion over the past few weeks.  As I listened to many debates on this one thing has truly resonated with me and it is the fact that the United States of America is the only country that has statutes that honors individuals or events associated with failure, tyranny, and villainy.  No other country elevates those who knowingly committed acts of treason against them.  Allow the readings of history books to tell the stories of these individuals but the memorials should be dismantled and removed.

7. What about the Confederate statues in downtown Newnan?

Even in downtown Newnan, they should be removed.

8. Pop groups Lady Antebellum and The Dixie Chicks are now calling themselves Lady A and The Chicks. Dixie Beer is changing its name, along with many other product names like Aunt Jemima. Where does it stop? What about black coffee or brownies or Cracker Barrel or White Castle? When does this end?

It ends when equity exists for all people.  Social consciousness displayed by a group or company is a step in the right direction yet it does not mean we have reached the finish line.  There is much work to be done to ensure that every person regardless of color receives the same treatment under the law.

9. A lot of people watching the protests on television cannot grasp why blacks would riot in their own neighborhoods, destroy black businesses or businesses that hire primarily black employees. What is your response?

There is no excuse for rioting or any act which leads to destruction.  Yet, peaceful protests are often infiltrated by those who are working to change the narrative.  It is infuriating to see the positive intent of peaceful protestors derailed by the outlandish behavior of rioters and looters.  It is irresponsible to destroy any businesses but especially those located in underserved communities that were established to assist in the creation of economic growth for the black community.

10. Most parents have “the talks” – drugs and sex. It seems black parents/relatives also have to have another talk with their teenagers living in a white world. How does that go?

The conversation in my home was intentional and direct.  I’m responsible for being engaged in the work of my community to make it better.  I was taught to be an upstanding citizen and always do what is right.  This meant respecting my elders and those in authority including law enforcement.  Yet, there is no conversation that can prepare a person for this moment we are currently in.  How do you teach someone to not be afraid when they see people that look like them killed simply because they exist?  There are truly no words that any black parent/relative can share to ensure them that they won’t be killed even when they comply.

11. So what is correct in responding to race? Is it “black,” “Black,” “African-American,” or “people of color”?

All of these terms are appropriate.

12. What is one main thing you wished white people understood about race in America?

 Racism exists and until we address it head on it will be continually perpetuated.

13. What is the most significant thing white people can do to improve their part of race relations?

Stop acting as if racism is just a “black people problem”.  The paradigm regarding race relations can only shift when everyone comes to the table to have the hard conversations, develop a plan of action, strategize, and mobilize.

14. Should we focus on being “colorblind” or acknowledge and celebrate our various “colors” as a part of our makeup?

To focus on being “colorblinded” is an unrealistic and dismissive point of view.  We must learn to respect one another as we are all unique creations of God and, as in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., – judge a person not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

15. Every parent has problems with their kids’ choice of music. But how do we deal with certain mainstream Rap music that glorifies gangs, cop killing, degrading of women and more than enough of the N- and other similar derogatory words?

These derogatory traits exist in a number of music genres, yet it is most disappointing when it is a part of the music associated with my culture.  Personally, I do not use the N- word in any manner as I was always taught it referred to any person with a lack of character and of poor moral value.  To me, it is inappropriate and derogatory when used by anyone.  As a black woman, I choose to never disrespect myself or my people by using the term.  As a consumer, we all deal with mainstream music that does not support our values and views by not purchasing, downloading, or listening to it.

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