On Sept. 29, The Daily Mississippian published an opinion piece titled, “Society does not owe you anything” by Hannah Newsom. From a UM alumna and former opinion columnist for The Daily Mississippian: This piece was an embarrassment.
Let’s first look at the denial of systemic discrimination: racism, sexism, ableism, etc. in this piece. “(Owning America’s past) is based on the assumption that America was structured to ensure minorities would have a systemic disadvantage. This narrative is not only untrue, but it is harmful to everyone.” This statement belies a deep ignorance about our country’s history.
Our Constitution saw enslaved peoples as three-fifths of a human being. The South fought to hold on to their right to continue enslaving people. Mississippi’s secession document stated, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” and almost 59 years to the day before this piece was published, a battle was waged to deny James Meredith entrance to the university. Our country has worked to ensure that white people retain positions of power, from voter suppression efforts to redlining. These efforts have real-world consequences, including persistent racial wealth gaps, health disparities and police violence against Black people.
The piece also calls out Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts as “discrimination toward any student who is deemed privileged by current societal standards.” Learning to be inclusive and celebrating our diversity is not discrimination. Discrimination is being denied entrance to a sorority because of your race. Discrimination is not getting a job interview because of how your name is spelled. As such, “even at Ole Miss,” DEI trainings are only a small step in ensuring people feel accepted, no matter their identity — not a personal attack on you or your whiteness.
I did, however, agree with one of the article’s arguments: “No one person has the right to be successful, especially when their success comes from stealing other people’s things.” Let’s start with the land stolen from Native Americans. We can then talk about the stolen labor and bodies of enslaved peoples and end with the stolen artifacts we see in almost every museum. Every day, white people like me continue to benefit from centuries of oppression and abuse committed by our country against marginalized individuals. I expect this was unintentional, but this statement makes a strong case for reparations.
As an aspiring Elementary school teacher, the author is undoubtedly aware of the responsibility that she will one day have to encourage and uplift the young minds in her classroom, to help them begin to navigate the large, complicated world around them. As a Ph.D. student in Education Policy, I know education can play a powerful role in the pursuit of happiness the author notes that she believes in, but if our teachers turn a blind eye to racism and the systemic challenges many of their students will face, the education system will continue to perpetuate the abuses of the past.
Supporters of Hannah’s article might instinctively want to reject my thoughts outright. But, I encourage everyone to think about the ways in which privilege affords some people things that others are denied. Take a campus slavery tour from the University’s Slavery Research Group. Read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum and of course, feel free to reach out!
Whether or not I change your mind, I feel a responsibility to speak out as a white woman, a member of a community too often willing to throw our Black and Brown sisters under the bus for a chance at maintaining power. I hope other white women will join me in calling out racism and pushing for a world in which denying racism and privilege is at the very least socially unacceptable.
Christine Dickason is an alumna of the University of Mississippi from Collierville, TN. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Education Policy at Vanderbilt University.