TIME Ole Miss

Dear Ole Miss: Minorities Are Done Being Haunted by Confederate Ghosts

Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.
Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962. Rolls Press—Getty Images

Clinging to nostalgia will only hold back everyone at our university

It was my second semester of Ancient Greek class at the University of Mississippi when I finally raised my hand and asked.

“The statue on the Circle, of the Confederate soldier,” I began earnestly — I was still excited about learning new things — “has a Greek inscription on the side. Could you translate it for us?”

The answer came the next time class met. It was an elegiac couplet by the Greek poet Simonides, engraved first on a monument to the Spartan dead of the Battle of Thermopylae, presented to us by The Histories of Herodotus. My professor had taken the time to copy the inscription on individual slips of paper for all of us to keep, then read it aloud, the Greek consonants somersaulting over his lips, before he offered us one of its numerous English translations.

“‘Foreigner, go tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their commands,’” he said. “Quite a sentiment to put on a Confederate statue.”

It took half an hour of research that night for me to realize how much of an understatement that was. The voice of the poor dead Spartans begs you to return to their loved ones the news that they didn’t tap out for nothing. That they died defending Sparta, Spartan ideals, and Spartan soil from foreign invasion — their glory in defeat is forever memorialized with that epitaph. The Spartans were heroes. According to the statue that thrusts its imposing figure over the Circle, the Confederate dead of Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, are, too.

Unfortunately, Ole Miss can’t seem to make up its mind about who its heroes are, or, at least, how much to value them. The statue of the Confederate soldier stands within a section of campus designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark due to the riots that accompanied the enrollment of James Meredith, the university’s first black student, 52 years ago next month. Just a few hundred feet away stands a statue of Mr. Meredith. It is made of bronze, and, for now, it is free of nooses and Georgia flags.

It is not for me to decide whether or not Confederate soldiers deserve glory, but I do know that it is not the responsibility of an educational institution and its students to maintain the last bastion of the Confederacy, or to stand as a symbol of the “Old South,” a period of assumed refinement and class that would maybe seem more romantic if it hadn’t all been built on the backs of slaves. Ole Miss has spent too long marinating in such an idyll, willfully and disappointingly ignorant of the antebellum period and its shame, and claiming that those who are not blind on purpose are traitors whose criticism should not be heard; but, as another professor of mine claims, nostalgia is about forgetting, not remembering. Selective memory and a painful lack of racial consciousness, however, are for the enjoyment of the privileged only. Minority students have no opportunity to forget, and it is irresponsible to tell them they have no voice to criticize aspects of a place that cheerfully romanticizes a society that would have enslaved them. As it stands, white privilege is a horrible litmus test for the acidity of racism. White students must no longer talk only to other white people about racism, or accept the myth that racism does not exist and that talking about racism is somehow worse than racism itself.

I teared up when I read the letter from Chancellor Dan Jones that detailed his action plan for the continued diversification of the university, which includes creation of a vice chancellor position for diversity and inclusion, the establishment of a Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, and the cultivation of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden to give Black Greek Letter Organizations a permanent physical fixture on campus. Chancellor Jones also calls for not using the school’s nickname within an academic context; though referring to the university as “Ole Miss” is unlikely to change soon (I continue to use it when I’m not speaking about academics, simply because it’s much shorter), the nickname has paternalistic origins.

His leadership reflects the acknowledgement of the university’s — whatever you choose to call it — much- and long-needed diversity measures. The action plan inconveniences literally no one, but has received criticism from people who feel as if a tradition is being snatched away from them—people who view their own contrarian rather than constructive opinions above the offense they undeniably incur. One Ole Miss student (who is not from Mississippi) who objected to these changes wrote in an open letter to Chancellor Jones that she felt that “one of easiest forms of diversity a campus can attain is by attracting students from other states.” Out-of-state-ism is real, y’all.

Luckily, out-of-state tuition is not a recognized form of discrimination. Neither is it a “problem” unique to the university the way that romanticizing racist traditions is. The fact of the matter is that this plan of action is not an indictment of students for choosing to attend Ole Miss, ­for joining Greek organizations, or for being white; rather, it is a call for awareness of the discriminatory climate of campus. Reactionary students who will never be subject to racial slurs when they’re walking on campus in broad daylight, who were never afraid that their skin color would subject them to violence in a place where they’re supposed to be protected, who didn’t experience terror the night a noose appeared around the Meredith statue, shout their perceived victimhood so loudly that those whose lives would benefit most from the action plan cannot be heard.

Those who truly love Ole Miss push forward for necessary change, leadership, and inclusiveness for all who wish to be educated here; it is laughable to act as if impeding progress is somehow healthy for the university’s continued success. For Ole Miss to grow and rightfully be the flagship university for the state of Mississippi, its students must not only support this plan of action, but also allow those whose experiences are germane to the issues to lead the conversation.

 

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.

TIME sexuality

Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture

You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. There is a clear line between appreciation and appropriation

I need some of you to cut it the hell out. Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best “Shanequa from around the way” voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.

Let me explain.

Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).

And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption. But here’s the shade — the non-black people who get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness will never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black. Though I suppose there’s some thrill in this “rolling with the homies” philosophy some adopt, white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

Nothing about whiteness will get a white person in trouble the way blackness can get a black person shot down in his tracks. These are just facts. It’s not entirely the fault of white people. It’s not as if you can help being born white in America, any more than I can help being born black in America.

The truth is that America is a country that operates on systems of racism in which we all participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, to our benefit or to our detriment, and that system allows white people to succeed. This system also creates barriers so that minorities, such as black people, have a much harder time being able to do things like vote and get houses and not have to deal with racists and stuff. You know. Casual.

But while you’re gasping at the heat and the steam of the strong truth tea I just spilled,what’s even worse about all of this, if you thought things could get even crappier, is the fact that all of this is exponentially worse for black women. A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women’s advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain.

At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.

In all of the ways that your gender and race give you so much, in those exact same ways, our gender and race work against our prosperity. To claim that you’re a minority woman just for the sake of laughs, and to say that the things allowed her or the things enjoyed by her are done better by you isn’t cute or funny. First of all, it’s aggravating as hell. Second, it’s damaging and perpetuating of yet another set of aggressions against us.

All of this being said, you should not have to stop liking the things you like. This is not an attempt to try to suck the fun out of your life. Appreciating a culture and appropriating one are very, very different things, with a much thicker line than some people think, if you use all of the three seconds it takes to be considerate before you open your mouth. If you love some of the same things that some black women love, by all means, you and your black girlfriends go ahead and rock the hell out. Regardless of what our privileges and lack of privileges are, regardless of the laws and rhetoric that have attempted to divide us, we are equal, even though we aren’t the same, and that is okay. Claiming our identity for what’s sweet without ever having to taste its sour is not. Breathing fire behind ugly stereotypes that reduce black females to loud caricatures for you to emulate isn’t, either.

So, you aren’t a strong black woman, or a ghetto girl, or any of that other foolery that some of you with trash Vine accounts try to be. It’s okay. You don’t have to be. No one asked you to be. You weren’t ever meant to be. What you can be, however, is part of the solution.

Check your privilege. Try to strengthen the people around you.

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the Opinion section of the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, where this article originally appeared.

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