In the wake of disrespect shown to one of the University of Mississippi’s most notable symbols of unity, the effort to make the incident into a “teachable moment” may be missing something.
Two males reportedly looped a noose and a defunct Georgia flag, dominated by the Confederate battle flag, over the statue of James Meredith. The lone eyewitness reportedly also heard the two boys/men using racist epithets.
Meredith, of course, was the man who broke the color barrier at Ole Miss despite deadly riots at his enrollment and ongoing hostility throughout his matriculation.
As usual in any racially charged situation, people scurried to counter the sullying of the university’s reputation.
Administrators denounced the words and actions of the offenders and declared their views have no place at the university.
Students of every color gathered, sharing “never again” vows in words, symbols and embraces.
Social media posts have often reflected the same sentiments, with students, alumni, friends and even folks with no ties to the university expressing solidarity with Ole Miss’ efforts to eradicate racism on the campus.
Law enforcement people vow to catch the perpetrators, even offering the threat of federal hate crime prosecution to make the lesson stick.
The stupidity and meanness of the noose and flag are inarguable, but the value of the reactions deserves examination.
For one, charging these degenerates with a federal hate crime may prove the university’s outrage, but it also might give those charged a legal and media forum to claim their act is constitutionally protected political expression. As much as the university may value diversity and respect, the idea of defending the rights of disagreeable people ostensibly also is one of its values.
For another, a more reserved response may actually generate less incentive for such behaviors to be repeated.
In my high school, one nerdy instructor who was a master of his subject matter consistently reacted with open frustration and amusing anger to interruptions. Mischief makers took great pleasure in getting this teacher’s goat, because he made it so eminently gettable. Meanwhile, wiser educators learned to ignore or quickly deflect the attention-seeking behaviors.
Handholding and speeches and vows may be a perfectly appropriate response to some offenses. Criminal charges, too, sometimes.
But outrageous people often feed on the outrage of others.
In such a case, restraint on the part of the well-intended may send the loudest message.
It’s worth considering, anyway.
Contact Daily Journal reporter Errol Castens at (662) 816-1282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.