An open letter to Henry’s friends:
Or maybe you’re not Henry’s friends. Friends would’ve sent Henry home, or at least shut him up, on Saturday night, when he shouted “nigger” off the bridge near the Ford Center at some people below. Instead, you all said, “Henry!” and stifled laughs. Meaning, of course, that if others aren’t around to hear it, such language is OK.
Some of you were worried. Not because Henry is walking around an American university in 2012 yelling such a toxic word like a cheer, but because, as one of you whispered, still amused, Henry might get you killed.
Never mind that there were probably ten of you, holding beer bottles, a few of which shattered on the sidewalk. Nobody was going to confront you.
I have a wish: That, at Ole Miss, you all grow up. This doesn’t mean bouncing around campus and town until you graduate with friends who are all like you. Taking the same classes, shouting over the same music at parties, breaking countless identical beer bottles, then carting your diplomas to the same towns—to, you know, be adults. That’s not growing up.
Growing up isn’t any more difficult than that; it’s just different. It involves two steps: first, interact with people who aren’t anything like you, and absorb their perspectives, however different they are from yours. This means—well, come on, Friends of Henry; you know what it means. And if you make that effort genuinely, you’ll be preparing yourself to grow up for real.
The second step will be evident when, later, you say that your friend Henry once shouted a hateful, hurtful word across campus, and you laughed.
That’s when each of you will say, I hope, that you became your own man when you told Henry and your friends that you didn’t find the word funny anymore.
Writer and member of the Oxford community.
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