This Is BC Issue One Thousnd


History on the rerun? Ghosts of Mississippi? Mississippi burning? Magnolia State maintains its horrendously racist image? Any of these statements could be used to describe the images of the University of Mississippi at Oxford that were shown throughout the nation last weekend.

Dozens of students gathered at the university’s flagship campus last week to protest against Israel’s war in Gaza and to call for the state’s flagship university to be transparent in its potential dealings with Israel. These individuals were confronted with hundreds of counter-protesters, in contrast to the few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters.

Less than an hour after the protest began, police disbanded it - notably after counter-protesters threw items, including water bottles, at the pro-Palestinian group. Police safely evacuated the pro-Palestinian students as the largely White, male group of counter-protesters chanted: “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” “Who’s your daddy?”, “USA,” “Hit the showers,” and “Your nose is huge,” and, in one instance, a White man made monkey noises at a Black woman, all of which was roundly condemned on social media according to Mississippi Today.

On Sunday, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity responded to the protest in a statement, saying it was aware of the video that showed the actions of one counter-protester and had removed that individual, identified as J. D. Staples, from membership as of May 3. “The racist actions in the video were those of an individual and are antithetical to the values of Phi Delta Theta and the Mississippi Alpha chapter,” the statement read. My response to this highly expected, routine statement (as is likely the case among fellow cynics) is “yeah, right, whatever?!.” Please!

In response to such an odious incident, the University of Mississippi’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stated: “The behavior witnessed today was not only abhorrent but also entirely unacceptable. It is deeply disheartening to witness such blatant disregard for the principles of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner wrote, “This is a video showing anti-Blackness,” reposting Collins’ post. “This is a sitting Congressman applauding it.”

In response, the Ole Miss Associate Student Body said as part of a statement on May 3:  “Yesterday, we observed a demonstration on our campus - a place for the expression of diverse viewpoints, protected by our constitutional First Amendment Rights - yet, amidst this expression, unacceptable remarks were made that departed from our cherished values.”

In contrast, there were those who condoned and applauded such scurrilous and deplorable behavior. US Representative Mike Collins, a Republican representing parts of Georgia, shared the viral video on X saying, “Ole Miss taking care of business.” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, who himself recently declared April as Confederate Heritage Month and April 29 as Confederate Memorial Day, captioned a video of the counter-protesters singing the American national anthem with “the ‘protests’ at Ole Miss today. Watch with sound. Warms my heart. I love Mississippi!” Given his previous endorsement of racist legacies, such retrograde remarks should hardly be surprising. In response, the national organization of the NAACP requested that Congress launch an investigation into Congressman Collins based on his statements. Collins walked back his initial statements and suddenly “denounced” the antics of the students engaging in horrendous racist behavior.

In addition to brazenly demonstrating White privilege, such overtly racist commentary directly mirrors the Mississippi of yesteryear, when more than a half-century ago, in September 1962, then Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, a staunch and defiant segregationist, spoke to an all-White crowd of more than 40,000 people at the University of Mississippi football game against Kentucky. As Confederate flags waved, Barnett said: “I love Mississippi. I love her people. Our customs. I love and respect our heritage.” The next day, an insurrection took place on campus as James Meredith enrolled, becoming the first known Black student in the university’s history.

Realizing that he had stated the quiet part too loud (at least for a governor), Reeves parroted statements similar to those echoed by Joe Biden the morning of the protests. In Biden’s statements on the protests around the nation, he said: “We’ve all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles: The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

Truth be told, referring to Black Americans and people of African descent as monkeys, apes, and other primates has long, deeply etched, historical roots. From the time of our arrival to this nation, Black people were immediately and routinely characterized as subhuman. Correlations between Africans and apes without tails were common myths and legends propagated by the English in the early seventeenth century. Equating Black people with animals was commonplace. Throughout the century, a number of writers did not hesitate to imply that Africans were the descendants of apes or unknown African beasts or vice versa.

Here on American shores, similar regressive ides were commonplace as well. Founding father Thomas Jefferson (yes, that Thomas Jefferson) wrote without any degree of hesitation in “Notes on the State of Virginia that Black men were a lower species who lusted after White women. He had no qualms over expressing his deep misgivings about interracial relationships. Mind you, this is the same Jefferson who would later produce a number of children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings. Such a level of rank hypocrisy speaks for itself!

By the mid-nineteenth century, equating Blacks with animals was par for the course. Even more chilling was the fact that the ideology of Darwinism emerged into the public sphere, flaunting its troubling, disturbing, and dangerous message. In 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Though revolutionary, the book did not disregard or discredit prior scientific racial literature. On the contrary, Darwinism would become just one more weapon for eugenically-minded racists to employ in their bigoted arsenal to bolster and justify the retrograde rhetoric of White supremacy.

Such vile and negative rhetoric of equating Black people (in particular, males) to vile, animalistic, savage beasts resulted in centuries of degradation, denigration, denunciation, and downright humiliation for people of African descent. Such mistreatment manifested itself in the form of Jim Crow, chattel slavery, lynching, wanton violence, and other abominable forms of marginalization. The reductive 1915 film, Birth of a Nation, produced by D. W. Griffith, assisted in propagating this horrendous, intellectually dishonest mythology.

Indeed, well into the twentieth century, such attitudes continued to flourish during the civil rights movement when Black marchers and demonstrators were frequently referred to as monkeys, apes, baboons, and other sorts of primates by virulently violent White racists and segregationists. Oftentimes, such verbal animus was accompanied by physical violence. In fact, a favorite nickname for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. among many such mentally unhinged rabid bigots was “Martin Luther Coon.”

Jailyn R. Smith, the young woman who was the subject of attacks, made it clear that such juvenile comments referring to her as Lizzo, fat, and so on did not get to her: “The monkey gestures - and people calling me fat or Lizzo - didn’t hurt my feelings, because I know what I am. I am so confident in my Blackness. I am so confident in my size, in the way that I wear my hair, and who I am. They do not bother me. If anything, I felt pity for them for how stupidly they acted.” Smith, who is scheduled to graduate later this month, certainly demonstrated herself to be the mature, decent human being in this sordid encounter.

This incident at Ole Miss proves the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Sad but true!

BlackCommentator.com Guest

Commentator, Dr. Elwood Watson,

Historian, public speaker, and cultural

critic is a professor at East Tennessee

State University and author of the recent

book, Keepin' It Real: Essays on Race in

Contemporary America (University of

Chicago Press), which is available in

paperback and on Kindle via Amazon and

other major book retailers. Cotnact

Dr.Watson and BC.