How Easily We Become What We Hate

Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane (left) and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, John Doar (right) of the Justice Department, escorting James Meredith to class at Ole Miss.

Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane (left) and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, John Doar (right) of the Justice Department, escorting James Meredith to class at Ole Miss.

I know it’s not as simple as all of that.  I know that there are nuances to the transformation; distinctions spurred by current events, gradations brought about by fear.  Yet, when I read what’s happening at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, where African-American students are boldly asking for POC-only spaces and POC-only housing, I can’t help but wonder exactly what they see is different from the manner that they’re acting and the way whites discriminated against blacks in the past.    

I ask myself, what if the tides were turned and white college student residents only wanted white roommates, what would happen?  What would happen is there would be a huge outcry of discrimination and a challenge laid down about a fear of integration. How quickly we respond to and resent the broad “thug” brush painted on us by others and yet so hastily do the same with the “redneck” stroke.  Both are nothing more than ugly, assumed caricatures of the real people that other real people are too afraid to go out and mingle with.  Frankly, I’m surprised that those who should be so enlightened-they are after all going to an institution of higher learning-are willing to avoid such new experiences that would possibly assist in their personal and professional growth.

Except like I said, it’s not that easy.  In today’s climate where you never know who the next mass shooter will be, some prudence in deciding who goes to sleep in the same room with you and vice versa isn’t a decision to be made lightly.  So I understand the concern.  Still, college is about opening up new avenues of discovery, learning new things and most importantly, forming new associations.  In today’s business world, we call it networking but it’s simply good old-fashioned friendship.  Personally, I think it’s a college or university’s duty to integrate and in doing so, forge that social change that we won’t do on our own.  Also, I think students should consider those that went before them; people like James Meredith.

On October 1, 1962 and a day after the Ole Miss Riot of 62, federal marshals escorted James Meredith on his first day of class at the university. It was no easy road; not for him nor for the marshals and troops who were there to protect him.  In the violent riot that preceded his entry that saw the military being shot at by civilians, of the total 166 US Marshals assigned, one third of them were injured during the disturbance.   Likewise 40 National Guardsmen were also wounded and three people killed, including a French Journalist.

Living in the dorm, Meredith was harassed both night and day.  First person accounts tell of students in the floor above bouncing basketballs over his room all night long.  He was ostracized in the Dining Hall.  Students would refuse to eat with him or socialize; if he sat down where they were, they would get up and leave.  Yet, he persevered and in August of 1963, graduated with a degree in political science.  His was the first step.

Today, in the here and now, are we to forget the hardship, the wounded or the lives lost during what was proclaimed “…a major victory against white supremacy…and a devastating blow to the white massive resistance to the civil rights movement”?  Are we to forget the students who followed hopefully and cautiously in his footsteps?  To seek to what is basically segregate ourselves does nothing to honor those who’ve sacrificed before us.

Besides, segregation is easy, too easy and college should be difficult because acquiring knowledge is oftentimes difficult.  At the very least, universities should seek to mold students into the types of citizens we want to have in all walks of our lives.  And let’s face it, life is not a segregated deal; life is integrated and citizens should appreciate and respect that.  It’s best students learn it before they set out into that big incorporated world.  We’re seeing today what happens when people don’t.

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