I wouldn’t say that I’ve always been racist.
It’s more of something I inherited. There’s no particular point that it started, but over the years, my surroundings introduced me to the idea that skin color could determine the character of a person, even in slight ways.
Maybe it was my mostly white community and the way it talked about the inner-city schools, sports teams and children as if they were holding us back. Perhaps it was the way I was taught, not by word but by action, to move a little faster past the black men on the street, the way I was taught fear. Maybe I contributed to these problems for others by teaching others the things I was taught.
It was almost certainly related to the way racist jokes, comments and conversations from older family members were constant, even if uncomfortable, throughout my childhood.
Though I didn’t participate in this sort of explicit racism myself, the implicit biases had taken root before I finished elementary school.
This is not a legacy I’m proud of. If I could entirely erase the biases and their origins, I would.
Strangely, though, the best way to work toward erasing these prejudices in myself and others is to speak openly about them. I have to contemplate my past to change my future.
At this university, we have the same choice. The riots and violence that accompanied integration 55 years ago this week are not proud parts of our history, nor are the greater traditions that lead to such hatred. The best way to change their effects on our current situation, though, is to bring them to light. We need to collectively contemplate the injustices of the past.
As we reflect on this deeply troubled past, we should note the progress we have made between then and now. Just as I celebrate shedding the explicit racial comments and attitudes from previous generations, we should be proud of the steps our school has taken to make more people feel welcome in the University of Mississippi family.
Students of color are a vital part of our family that add friendships, insights, love and ideas and have countless other positive impacts on the university. We should celebrate integration as a giant leap forward in our history and consider our indebtedness to those first black students who endured hardship to make this family what it is today.
In celebrating the progress we have made, we should ask how we can continue it ourselves.
When I realized that implicit racism had become part of my daily life, it was my responsibility to eliminate it in any way possible. I worked to get educated on racism, and marginalized people were gracious enough to teach me how to be a better ally of all people, including those of color. I had conversations about race and stopped trying to hide the legacy of implicit racism I was carrying.
It was in this confession that I found a way to begin working through these problems in myself. I’m far from perfect today, but I believe I’m making progress.
We should also be making progress as a university. So, to my university family, I ask you to consider what our campus, through individuals or institution, is carrying from its past — a past we are not proud of, but one we are responsible for facing instead of running from.
We are responsible for reflecting on the legacy of our history and what part it plays on our campus.
We are responsible for looking deep within ourselves to find and destroy bias, prejudice or racism wherever we find it.
We are responsible for listening to those who are marginalized by the system, trusting them and making appropriate changes to make our college more just.
We are responsible for the legacy students will reflect on in the next 55 years. May we leave this school better than we found it.
Daniel Payne is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.