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The South Affirms its Racist Reputation

November 11, 2012

I was going to put this story in my daily news summary, but after reading more about it, I became incensed enough to devote a full post to it. By now you are no doubt aware that Barack Obama was reelected as President. You are also no doubt aware that Barack Obama is a black man. And I’m sure you realize that, whether we like it or not, race played a part in this election (two opposing view points on that discussion here and here).

While there are legitimate reasons for concern about Obama’s reelection, no one should be comfortable with people protesting the election by getting a mob together to target the Minority Student Union and/or hurl racial slurs at Obama supporters. Yet that is exactly what happened at two southern universities.

First to Ole Miss, which has a sordid history when it comes to race. For those who are not familiar with the events of desegregation, Ole Miss was the site of a deadly showdown over racial integration in the South. James Meredith, a black man native to the state of Mississippi, attempted to enroll there in the fall of 1962. When he did so, a mob formed to block his entrance. Meredith arrived with the protection of US Marshals, but the mob still tried to resist. Chaos broke out, and at the end of the day 2 people were killed and dozens injured, leading Robert F. Kennedy to send in 31,000 National Guard troops to control order so Meredith could enroll.

We return to present-day Ole Miss to find a group of students protesting President Obama’s reelection. What started as a group of 30-40 agitators spread through social media to a group of about 400. It is somewhat difficult to see the extent of what was going on in the video below, but social media accounts confirm that racial slurs were used when referring to the President of the United States, and an Obama / Biden sign was burned in protest.

To their credit, an even larger group of students gathered the day after the initial protest to hold a peaceful demonstration in support of the President and racial unity. However, the end of that story mentions our second, potentially more disturbing, incident.

The tiny college of Hampden-Sydney, located in the similarly tiny town of Hampden Sydney, Virginia (interestingly located not far from Appomattox), was the location of another, more violent protest. A mob of about 40 students gathered outside the campus Minority Student Union shortly after President Obama’s relection was predicted by the major news networks. Their intent was clear, as they began throwing rocks and bottles, shouting racial slurs, and lighting fireworks in an apparent effort to intimidate the students inside. No physical damage was done to people or property, but there is no telling the psychological damage that could have been inflicted.

As a modifier to the above, I live in the South, I went to college in the South, and I have many friends who were born and raised in the South. I know that the vast majority of people in the South do not hold the beliefs demonstrated by the protesters in these stories. However, what troubles me most is the fact that these are college-aged individuals who should by now know better. It is a firm demonstration that the racial attitudes of the South have not been eliminated. And while a great deal of progress has been made, no sane individual can take the argument that the Confederate flag is a symbol of states’ rights as long as these kinds of incidents continue to occur. The South will rise again only after it is able to battle its own inner demons.

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