To commemorate the Association of Black Psychologists' designation of April as Black Mental Health Month, the topic today is: Are the black people in Mississippi who voted to keep the Confederate symbol on their state flag insane?

In Issaquena County, for instance, with a 63 percent black population, the vote in last week's special election was 349 to 304 in favor of the old state flag. In neighboring Sharkey County, with a 69 percent black majority, the vote was 868 for the old and only 816 for the new.

Sounds crazy to me.

Deborah Dennard, a Mississippi NAACP official, explained the black vote, including low turnout, which was, in effect, a vote for the status quo:

"Black people are so forgiving," she said, "and so willing to look for the good in people, that I think they just thought white people would [go to the polls] and do the right thing."

That's not forgiving; that's naive.

The old flag, it should be noted, includes the St. Andrew's Cross with 13 stars representing the 11 states of the old Confederacy plus two others that the secessionists had hoped to win. More than a symbol of treason, however, the flag represents racists sentiments; the stars are laid on blue bars that are outlined in white -- a color chosen by Confederate designers to symbolize racial purity and white supremacy.

As such, it became the preferred banner of white terrorists who continued to lynch, burn and bomb black people long after the Civil War was over.

During the war, the flag was used to rally the troops in violent defense of the Confederate constitution, which specially prohibited the Confederate Congress from passing any law "denying or impairing the right of property and negro slaves."

To have descendants of slaves among those rallying around such a flag brings to mind Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who notes in his book "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed" that racism produces perverse responses.

"For the oppressed, at a certain point in their existential experience, to be is not to resemble the oppressor, but to be under him, to depend on him," Freire writes.

Consider a remark in the Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson, Miss., newspaper, from a black 20-year-old:

"I didn't vote because there was no reason for it because they have had the flag for generations. There is no use in us voting. I think everybody is comfortable with the old flag instead of the new one."

Gary Henderson, mayor of Rolling Fork, in Sharkey County, saw it similarly.

"I think for a lot of people this flag decision wasn't a really big issue," he told the Clarion-Ledger. "They have a lot of higher priorities and they are facing other problems that are more important to them. Deciding whether or not we have a cross or some stars on a flag is not one of the graver issues that people are struggling with every day."

Obviously, not much thought was given to the connection between such symbols and those everyday struggles. For symbols, as black psychologist Na'im Akbar has noted, can shackle the mind as surely as balls and chains do the legs.

Why else do so many of us still act like slaves?

Obviously, black Mississippi needs help. To that end, NAACP officials are considering an economic boycott of the state. Such a threat has been effective in getting similarly offensive materials removed from government sites in other southern states, Virginia and South Carolina being the most recent.

Still, a cursory reading of public school history texts -- up north as well as down south -- reveal glaring omissions about the role of slavery in the Civil War, to say nothing of the roots of racism in America.

"When I think about the flag, I think about the Ku Klux Klan and when they came along here burning crosses in my yard -- they had that flag," recalled Unita Blackwell, the black mayor of Mayersville, the Issaquena County seat. "Most of these young people never saw that, and those of us who are old know that. The elders need to transfer the education process."

No doubt an economic boycott would hurt Mississippi. But only the truth will bring down the flag in black folks' minds.

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com