Why the Symbolic Lynching at Ole Miss Matters

Today's guest post was written by tonya thames taylor.

The most recent transgression at the University of Mississippi, affectionately called "Ole Miss," proves, as President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy learned during the early 1960's, that Mississippi serves as a litmus test, which measures the progress of relationships between American whites and nonwhites.

Mississippi may not be burning, but it certainly continues to smolder with the same embers of hate that blister their way into the 21st century. The latest brand was left by three white provocateurs, all under 21, who recently perpetrated a calculated, spectacle lynching of a memorial honoring Ole Miss's desegregation, which occurred in 1962 amid rioting that left two dead.

Likewise, these same odious cinders continue to smolder in America. Our national crime is promoting the legacy of second-class citizenship of nonwhites, as their rights and liberties are abridged when they are confronted by whites who believe they are entitled to police their behaviors.

The account of three miscreants at Ole Miss is yet another example of a common practice of ordinary white citizens policing nonwhites in America.

I should know: I am an American. I earned my graduate degrees from Ole Miss. I wrote my dissertation about lynching. I daily walked along picturesque campus drives named "Confederate" and "Rebel." I frequently studied in areas near the Confederate statue, cemetery, and stain-glass window. The invocation of the spirit of the Confederacy conveyed that while I was at Ole Miss, I was not meant to be of Ole Miss.

Former Mississippi governor and state Senator James K. Vardarman's name graces an Ole Miss building that housed my first academic office. He said that a black person is a "lazy, lying, lustful animal, which no conceivable amount of training can transform into a tolerable citizen."

The abundant Confederate memorabilia reflected in flags and a mascot, personified in a doppelganger of Colonel Sanders, nicknamed "Colonel Reb," challenged the claims of a fully integrated Ole Miss. By 2009, economic expediency played a vital role in the retiring of the symbols that venerated the false romantic valor of the Confederacy.

America and Ole Miss have worked diligently to move beyond the past and dwell in the promises of their creeds. However, the crisis that America faces is the fact that these efforts are maligned by the treasonous acts of a few. Apologists sanction these few traitors. This bloc believes that citizenship rights associated with nonwhites, are negotiable and white citizenship is sovereign over all others. These are normally the people who exploit fear and promise national security in domestic policies.

The oft-repeated historical practice of regionalizing hate makes dormant the public conscience that the message of unfettered citizenship in America is not falling on deaf ears, but hostile ones.

This is an American crisis. An aggressive, unprovoked stop-and-frisk by a deli employee in New York City of Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker sends a message that inclusion is contingent upon the interpretations and whims of whites.

The surveillance, pursuit, and eventual shooting of a teen-ager, Trayvon Martin, along with the reprimand and eventual confrontation, which led to the shooting of another teen, Jordan Davis, serve as evidence to the idea that nonwhites, particularly blacks, are expected to be subject to such whims

The Thursday after the Ole Miss disturbance, nine white New Jersey high school male wrestlers created and posed with a dummy hanging from a noose to exemplify school spirit.

Like Mississippi, America cannot take refuge in selective amnesia, because its documented nonwhite policing practices are too deeply embedded in the culture.

Some Americans fail to grasp that white America and its claims to honor a republic is on trial in the eyes of many nonwhites and others in non-Western countries. Furthermore, some fail to respect a singular request of the justice system by many nonwhite citizens: execute the law to punish all classes of criminals indiscriminately.

Regardless to how many participated in the lynching of an inanimate object at Ole Miss, the inalienable rights to life and liberty are not subject to strangulation.

Until we associate liberty, that inalienable right that no one can divest from another, with citizenship enjoyed by nonwhites in any state, America will continue to be undermined and held back by the spirit of treason that has long existed in its loins.

tonya thames taylor is an associate professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA and is writing a book on lynching. Follow her on twitter @tonyathames.