Shannon Nickinson: Bridge our divides, make America stronger

My America is not the same as yours.

It’s not the same America that gay and lesbian sons and daughters of the Midwest experienced.

It’s not the same America that black sons and daughters of the Deep South know.

But make no mistake, brothers and sisters. It is all our America.

We’ve had a chance for the past 10 days or so to see how our worldview has to change when the reality of another person’s life comes to the fore.

We saw our black president, raised by his white mother and grandparents, eulogize a son of the South lost at the barrel of a gun. He did in “Mother Emanuel,” one of the most storied, most resilient, most important institutions of resistance, hope and faith in our America.

He got that old-time religion in his voice. He took us to church. He sang “Amazing Grace,” and he told us that feeling bad about what happened to Clementa Pinckney and the eight other people at that prayer circle is not enough.

He said we owe it to their memories to have the difficult conversation about race, about class, about guns and the violence they cause that we tolerate in a way no other advanced nation does.

Doing so makes our America stronger.

We saw a U.S. Supreme Court justice born to Irish-Catholic parents in Sacramento, Calif., and appointed by President Ronald Reagan, make “same-sex marriage” just plain marriage.

For everyone. To be enjoyed equally. As it should have been all along, friends.

“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

He was mocked by one of his fellow justices for falling into the tropes of hippiedom. My mother, the hippie I know best, texted me as the news was breaking: “Did you see the ruling? Woohoo!” “Did not think I would see this in my lifetime!”

So now my friends Ron and Troy, and Louis and Waylon, and Amber and Bobbi, and James and Jeff, and Brandi and Jenn are just as legal in all 50 states as my husband and I are.

They make our America stronger.

We saw Pensacola’s mayor order that the Confederate flag be removed from all city displays, replaced with the state of Florida flag. We saw the Escambia County commissioners follow suit.

Because in that flag, while some see an emblem of heritage and history, many — many — see an emblem of “states’ rights” to own other human beings and to go to war to preserve that right.

Flags of the Confederacy — from the “Rebel flag” to the “Stars and Bars” — are a painful fissure, a wound we worried every day we allowed it to fly on public property. “Celebrating” heritage that was largely built on oppression and hate is nothing to be happy about.

It is a truth we white folks may not like to acknowledge, but it is true nonetheless.

Taking down that flag makes Pensacola stronger.

We also saw the only black Escambia County commissioner angrily react to being stopped by Pensacola police officers the day after those flags came down.

Video of the traffic stop, caught on the officers dashboard camera, shows Lumon May demand to know why the officer pulled him over on West Gregory Street. It shows the white female officer repeatedly ask for his ID and his vehicle registration, and tell him he faces arrest if he continues his refusal to provide them.

It also shows the moment when a reporter calls May asking to interview him about the commission’s Confederate flag debate from the previous night. It’s an interview he declines because he says he has been pulled over.

Other officers, including a supervisor, arrive on the scene, phone calls are made, the incident is recorded by bystanders with cellphones. Cooler heads seem to prevail and the stop ends.

I do not know what was in May’s mind when he was stopped.

I do not know what was in the officer’s mind when she made the stop.

But I do know that the gap between their experiences of Pensacola has to be discussed honestly if we are to reconcile them and move our community beyond the things that divide us.

Because there are divides in Pensacola, as there are in cities across this country.

Divides of race, education and social status.

Bridging them makes us stronger.

Shannon Nickinson is the editor of, a news and commentary website in Pensacola. Follow her on Twitter Column courtesy of Context Florida.       

Shannon Nickinson


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