The recent racist events on our campus have fueled a familiar narrative about this university. To someone reading about the incidents in The New York Times, L.A. Times or on CNN, it may seem like The University of Mississippi is trapped in some kind of time warp where the battles of the civil rights movement are still being fought and Jim Crow is alive and kicking. This narrative portrays our university as an institution steeped in a history of bigotry, struggling unsuccessfully to move beyond racism and closed-mindedness.
Of course, university officials and many students reject this narrative. They argue that these events have been perpetrated by a small faction of individuals who are in direct opposition to the values of The University of Mississippi. As Chancellor Jones has said, “Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue — courage, knowledge, opportunity and perseverance.”
The reality is that both of these narratives are partially true. Over the past couple decades, university and ASB officials have made conscious decisions — removing Colonel Reb, banning the Confederate flag at football games, etc. — in order to move the university beyond its shameful past. On the other hand, as in events such as the protests following the 2012 presidential elections, “The Laramie Project” incident and the Meredith statue incident, our past continues to rear its ugly head.
In response to the most recent incident, university officials have condemned the perpetrators’ actions and there is no doubt that the punishment will be harsh and well-deserved. But let’s imagine for a moment what would happen if the university had simply ignored these incidents.
What if the university police had simply removed the noose and Confederate battle emblem from the statue and no student ever saw it? What if university officials, upon hearing about the desecration, had simply swept the incident under the proverbial rug and moved on to other business?
In this scenario there would be no media uproar and people in New York and Los Angeles would not be reading about racism in Mississippi again. Of course, this would be a completely unjust manner of handling the incident. The perpetrators would have avoided punishment and would continue to attend classes as if nothing had happened, and the rest of the student body would be unaware that this type of public racism could actually exist.
The above scenario may seem absolutely ridiculous, but I would argue that it occurs on a smaller scale every day. Every time we hear a racist joke or the N-word and simply say nothing, we are perpetuating a line of thinking that, after festering long enough, leads to the type of public racism we saw last week.
If we have such an uproar every time an act of public racism occurs, why do we continue to allow private racism? I am asking this question because it is one I had to ask myself while reading about another incident that occurred at The Retreat apartment complexes last week, when a group of white students threw an alcoholic beverage on a black student and called her the N-word.
Growing up in Mississippi I have heard more racial slurs, mostly whispered under someone’s breath, than I care to recount. Shamefully, I have often said nothing or pretended not to hear anything.
To all of those students who are angry that people outside of our state view our university as a racist institution because of public incidents of racism, you do have a role in changing those perceptions. If we stop accepting private racism, we may avoid the next incident of public racism.
Orion Wilcox is a senior economics major from Bay St. Louis.