Ole Miss’s diversity problem

Any discussion of diversity is rooted in the historical meanings of symbols, words, and ideas.  Nowhere is the history of the Civil War more keenly felt than on the beautiful historic campus of the University of Mississippi, where the mascot has been until recent years “Colonel Reb.”  Is it racial insensitivity or just as mascot, beloved by many alumni?  These things matter, as we’ll discuss.  Read more about it in today’s Times. But this kind of history, although seemingly harmless to some, is part of a general historical revisionism of the Civil Rights Era, as argued by the distinguished columnist Leonard Pitts.

It is the social and political equivalent of an extreme makeover. The thinking seems to be: when history collides with cherished self image, change history.
Something very similar seems to be afoot with regard to a related event much closer to us in time: the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s.
Just a few months ago, we saw conservative activist Glenn Beck claim ownership of that movement, in defiance of historical memory. “… We were the people that did it in the first place!” he cried.

Joining Beck are other figures, such as the current governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour! According to Pitts,

It was, he said, “my generation, who went to integrated schools. I went to integrated college — never thought twice about it.”
Barber is 62. In the Mississippi of his youth, he legally could not have gone to integrated schools.

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16 Responses to “Ole Miss’s diversity problem”

  1. Olivia Wiley Says:

    The mascot should most definitely be changed. It’s completely insensitive to not only African Americans, but just the United States in general. Many people do cry, “oh, slavery! That was over a century ago!” However, with the whole Jim Crow era, it was only around 50 or 60 years ago (blacks were not physically enlaved, but mentally, politically, and economically). I’ve noticed that Americans (US) tend to forget things very quickly. This is an excellent example.

    While we’re on this topic, might we discuss our school song? The Eyes of Texas and the tune it’s sung to is that of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. That song is often referenced to slavery. Yes…many other immigrants worked very hard on connecting our country (and even played a pivotal roll in the union winning over the confederacy during the civil war). But…while we suggest that Ole Miss change their mascot, might we suggest that we change the tune that our school song is sung to? Of course, that would never happen. Texas is too arrogant and full of pride. The underlying message in our song is too subtle, while Ole Miss’s is too blatant.

    Hopefully I’ll one day be able to figure this all out.

    • Megan Strickland Says:

      Actually, Olivia, if you research the Texas fight song, it’s called “Texas Taps”. Military taps is actually the background for our fight song, so the claim that it is in any way offensive is rather ludicrous.
      Furthermore, while slavery was a key issue in the Civil War, the fact that Northern companies embargoed British cloth coming to the South for $4 per bolt and charged the southern states $6 per bolt. I am proud of my “Johnny Reb” ancestors who fought for the cause to bring economic fairness to the South and who DID NOT own slaves or indulge slavery. They believed in a cause and fought for it.
      For this reason, I don’t believe Colonel Reb should have been banned. Symbols change over time. What once was a broken cross used to symbolize Anti-Christianity is now the peace sign. No one at Old Miss today has been enslaved and saying that Colonel Reb was purporting slavery is looking at history from only one lens, and trying to erase it in order to appear politically correct.

      • Megan Strickland Says:

        Furthermore, when reading about the ingenuity, determination and general scrapiness of the South in the Civil War, shouldn’t the school be glad to have such a mascot that represents perserverance against all odds? Most of America thought the Civil War would be over by Christmas, and instead the South wouldn’t give in. I would be proud to have such a symbol to represent me, in spite of its imperfections.

      • Megan Strickland Says:

        Upon further research, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” is one of our school songs but not our fight song. I apologize. However, the fact that enslaved African Americans have, through their folk songs, inspired a fight song 100s of years later shows their lasting contribution to American society. Why should Texas be ashamed of that?

      • Olivia Wiley Says:

        Hey Megan, I said that The Eyes of Texas and the tune it’s sung to is like that of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad which is often referenced to slavery. My key word there is “often”. So there are other interpretations.

        I never said it was the fight song. I believe I just called it our school song (which I guess because I didn’t really specify which one, but you can conclude it was the fight song. However, I said it was called “The Eyes of Texas”).

        Discussions over the Civil War is still an ongoing debate. I’d rather not go into further depth primarily because I’m not an expert in that area.

        Because we are from different backgrounds, I just think it’s hard for you to understand where I’m coming from, and vice versa.

        We’re allowed to to agree to disagree and I’d rather just leave it at that. Thanks for you’re input Megan!

  2. Allison Brown Says:

    The problem I see with changing a school mascot or even the school song is that you are trying to erase history. Yes, although the Civil War and Jim Crow era was very wrong for many Americans, it is still a part of what shaped our history. You can’t just undo things that may have happened in the past. You are forgetting the point of learning about what happened in our country’s history. We are supposed to look back at what got us to the point we are in today and figure out ways to avoid past mistakes again. But as far as traditon goes, you should never change that. You are thinking too much behind the psychology of what the mascot represents rather than just school tradition. Those days have come and gone, and many people have changed. If you were to take away the Eyes of Texas, you are taking away a long running tradition. How does that make us arrogant? Why shouldn’t be be full of pride in our school? It’s HISTORY!!! I would also like to say in no way am I racist at all, but if everyone is supposed to be treated equal, why is there so much sensitivity towards other races and ethnicities? History is history, and if Ole Miss was able to keep their mascot, the students and alumni should know that their mascot shouldn’t reflect the 1950s views many Americans held, but now know that their mascot is a part of their tradition and history, and know that they should be proud that we have been able to look past our mistakes and march on to a better and brighter future together and equally!

    • Olivia Wiley Says:

      @Allison: I understand that the history is important, and you’re right, it shouldn’t be erased. Nobody is pretending it didn’t exist. We’re trying to change what was deemed bad in history that still exists present, better it, so that the present will no longer be negative in any way. What you seem to be saying to me is like, “even though black face performance was a typical source of entertainment in cartoons like Bugs Bunny and in theaters in the past, it should still remain because it’s part of our history”. I know you don’t believe that, but that’s what I compare it to.

      I love our school song, I never said to change the words (which should be the most important?); but I suggested that we might change the tune–the melody.

      • Olivia Wiley Says:

        please ignore the typos…it has been a very long day for me. I think you’re able to comprehend what I was saying though.

        “still exists in the present”

        I’m basically saying that I think you’re saying that just because our history is there, bad or good, it should remain even after things have changed drastically solely because it is our history. I disagree.

        Thanks Allison for your comment on my response.

      • Megan Strickland Says:

        Olivia. I still don’t understand how Colonel Reb is offensive. For instance, both of my grandmothers are full blood Native Americans. However, I don’t feel the least bit indignant at the fact that we have Apaches, the Fighting Sioux, or other mascots aimed at Native Americans. In fact I’m proud. The fact that our heritage is so fierce to represent a fighting force is an honor. This is coming from a racial group that was treated exceedingly worse than African Americans and almost brought to extinction at the hands of the Anglos. I am confused? Should I be more offended?

      • Olivia Wiley Says:

        “his is coming from a racial group that was treated EXCEEDINGLY WORSE than African Americans and almost brought to extinction at the hands of the Anglos.”

        I don’t think that’s necessarily fair to say…to basically understate the treatment of African Americans.

        It’s all about your perception. I can not speak on behalf of all African Americans, only mine. This blog asked for my opinion, and I gave.

        Colonel Reb is symbolic to masters of a slave plantations. It might help if you researched more in depth about what all took part in that specific person’s role.

        Is it good to have a plantation owner represent strength and power? That’s where I find it offensive.

        Once again…this is my opinion and something I personally believe.

      • Olivia Wiley Says:

        Edit.

        “Colonel Reb is symbolic to masters of almost all slave plantations.”

        “I can not speak on behalf of all African Americans, only myself.”

      • Megan Strickalnd Says:

        Colonel Reb is not symbolic to all of the South any more than the radical views of Malcolm X are symbolic of all African Americans. As for the Native American thing, I’m just trying to show that many minorities are not as sensitive to topics though they DID suffer just as muchh or more and are generally not written about in history. My grandmother was proud that her school mascot was the Apache (even though ironically she was Choctaw) because it was a reference to her heritage! I’m just trying to throw opposing views out there to show that not everything has to be a racial issue. Some things are just a part of history. I’m glad my ancestors, Hispanic, Anglo, Native American, and African American played their part. Because my background is very diverse, I view America as a melting pot. You can’t throw away one part of the pot simply becuase it offends another. I enjoy debating you Olivia. Your comments are well thought out even if I don’t always agree with them. 🙂

  3. Hugh Brady Says:

    @Olivia: Could you please cite a source for your claim that the tune “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” “is often referenced to slavery” and can you explain that statement more fully?

    • Olivia Wiley Says:

      @Hugh: I said it is often referenced to slavery, so it is also referred to other things depending on one’s own interpretation. Some refer it to irish immigrants, others to blacks who also played a crucial part in the development of our railroads. I don’t necessarily have a source to cite for you because it is something I’ve learned only in my previous history classes and from my own african heritage. However, you can analyze this parts of the song to interpret. I don’t have the full context for you, but you’re more than welcome to find that and interpret it yourself and let me know what you feel the meaning could be:

      “…all the livelong day.” long hours, hard labor

      “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen, I know.” Dinah is sometimes interpreted as either a Mammy or just a cook.

      Other versions of this song were also performed in “black-face”, which was VERY popular. That is something I learned from my history professor who is receiving his Phd in African American History.

      “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen, I know” Raping was something that was done quite often to slaves. Especially those who worked in the house.

      This, however is the more modern version…there is an older version that actually says, N——.

      I hope this answers your question, if not, please say so.

      • Olivia Wiley Says:

        ugh, I’m sorry. I’m exhausted. Please ignore the typos. My last quote was supposed to be, “Someone’s makin’ love to Dinah, someone’s making love I know.”

        Sorry!

  4. Olivia Wiley Says:

    @Hugh: I said it is often referenced to slavery, so it is also referred to other things depending on one’s own interpretation. Some refer it to irish immigrants, others to blacks who also played a crucial part in the development of our railroads. I don’t necessarily have a source to cite for you because it is something I’ve learned only in my previous history classes and from my own african heritage. However, you can analyze this parts of the song to interpret. I don’t have the full context for you, but you’re more than welcome to find that and interpret it yourself and let me know what you feel the meaning could be:

    “…all the livelong day.” long hours, hard labor

    “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen, I know.” Dinah is sometimes interpreted as either a Mammy or just a cook.

    Other versions of this song were also performed in “black-face”, which was VERY popular. That is something I learned from my history professor who is receiving his Phd in African American History.

    “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen, I know” Raping was something that was done quite often to slaves. Especially those who worked in the house.

    This, however is the more modern version…there is an older version that actually says, N——.

    I hope this answers your question, if not, please say so.

    @Allison: I understand that the history is important, and you’re right, it shouldn’t be erased. Nobody is pretending it didn’t exist. We’re trying to change what was deemed bad in history that still exists present, better it, so that the present will no longer be negative in any way. What you seem to be saying to me is like, “even though black face performance was a typical source of entertainment in cartoons like Bugs Bunny and in theaters in the past, it should still remain because it’s part of our history”. I know you don’t believe that, but that’s what I compare it to.

    I love our school song, I never said to change the words (which should be the most important?); but I suggested that we might change the tune.

    Thanks for the feedback guys.

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