Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ole Miss: Talk about a bad venue

Am I the only person who thinks that having the first presidential debate in Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) is a really bad idea?
1. There better be major security there, in case some crazy cracker tries to harm Obama. I'm serious.
2. Why Ole Miss? Why belabor the point? Why not a neutral place?
Ole Miss just brings out the very sore and unspoken truth that according to some polls, many people are not ready to vote for a Black president. Ole Miss is too charged a place, and in my opinion distracts from the debate. It is one of those grand, sentimental gestures that just ring false and that serve no one, except perhaps the racists and the Republicans who want to make these elections exclusively about race.
Besides, it's not like Ole Miss is a bastion of equality:

By many measures, Ole Miss has indeed emerged from the racial dark ages. Since Mr. Khayat was appointed chancellor 13 years ago, black enrollment, long suppressed by fear, has increased to 14 percent, from 5.8 percent in 1995 (though Mississippi is nearly 40 percent black). The Confederate battle flag is no longer ubiquitous at football games. (Because the chancellor banned it and got death threats for it) In 2006, the many Civil War memorials on campus were joined by a monument to Mr. Meredith and integration. A Federal Express executive, Rose Flenorl, will become the first black president of the alumni association in November. Social integration, once rarely addressed, has become a hot topic among student leaders.

Those same students are quick to point out that the university still has far to go. At football games, many black students remain seated when the band plays Dixie and fans chant “The South will rise again.” A white fraternity still holds an annual Old South party where escorts in Rebel uniforms and women in hoop skirts mingle at a plantation.

Black students are viewed as having virtually no chance of being elected to honorary positions like homecoming queen or Miss Ole Miss. What many white students think of as hallowed tradition, blacks find an unwelcoming affront.

So this stupid choice makes the school and the South and the States look better than they are. But I cannot imagine Obama refusing to appear there. Imagine the uproar.


  1. Andrew1:17 AM

    As a native Mississippian and a graduate of Ole Miss, I have to say that perhaps you should have researched your assertions pertaining to the debate. In fact, Ole Miss was chosen as a site--the news story I found was dated November 19, 2007--long before Barack Obama was even considered the major contender. In your article, you make several close-minded remarks stereotyping the University and Mississippi in general. Perhaps your opinion may be changed if you ever visited our state, interacted with the people, and simply did not hold on to outdated generalizations. I invite you to read about the outstanding strides the University has made in recent years. The media will, without doubt, flood everyone with the issue of race and Ole Miss. Yes, those times were a bad part of history, yet we have dealt with those issues and have moved forward to a new time. James Meredith himself is more concerned with real issues (HIV/AIDS awareness in a walk to Ole Miss) instead of this outdated racist perception of the south. I think you should visit the debate website debate.olemiss.edu to get an idea of maybe why Ole Miss was selected. Dozens of new classes were created, debate curriculum was put into place in local schools K-12, and the community has organized countless activities truly dictating our role as the "Hospitality State." By saying such things as Barack Obama may be shot, you are simply revealing your very own preconceived prejudice.

  2. Dear Andrew:
    Thanks for your very thoughtful response. I talk out of my ass frequently in this blog and indeed I did not know that Ole Miss was chosen for the first debate long before Obama became the Democratic presidential candidate.
    However, I have actually been to your lovely state twice, both times to Oxford and neighboring Taylor, and I've also been to Jackson and Greenville. In fact, I even spent a few hours visiting your alma mater. I loved Mississippi. I loved the fried catfish and the hush puppies and the people and the stories they tell. I loved that it doesn't look like anywhere else in the United States. Our friends there made us feel right at home.
    In fact, after the shock and terror of September 11 here in NY, it crossed my mind to move to Oxford, a place that seemed to be light years away from terror, in a distant, laid back galaxy no terrorist would ever bother with.
    So I have interacted with warm, charming Mississippians. But I must say, one thing that struck me when I was there is that they and their friends were all white. I didn't get to meet a lot of black people. In fact I had to ask about their whereabouts.
    Yes, the South has changed. There are no lynchings anymore. There is no more enforced segregation, although perhaps the segregation of the mind is still firmly in place, good intentions notwithstanding.
    That a school needs to institute a program for race reconciliation among young students is pretty telling to me. When you consider the fact that only 14% of Mississippi Blacks go to Ole Miss out of a total population of 40%, it is evident that not all is hunky dory.
    My prejudice is indeed informed by historic events: footage of bombed Black churches, of people wearing white sheets and burning crosses, of Black students being attacked on their first day of classes, my own mother telling me she boarded a bus as a teenager and innocently sat in the back until someone moved her to a seat in the front, by the heroic resolve of those, Black and white, who fought to end the ignominy of the South.
    More recently, my prejudice is informed by elected officials of neighboring states using words like "uppity"and "boy" when referring to the presidential candidate, and by the very article about Ole Miss I was commenting on.
    So I don't think my prejudice is unwarranted. A lot has changed but I'm sure there still is huge room for improvement.

  3. andrew8:44 PM

    Thanks for you response. I'm glad you have been there and even embraced some of the more interesting aspects of the culture (Talor and catfish). I agree some things still need to be worked on, but I'm glad you acknowledge the strides we have made. You are welcome to come back any time.