College gun photo showed huge lack of perspective
Micah 6:8 asks,
“... what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
One wonders where, in the hearts and minds of the Ole Miss students who posed with rifles before the Emmett Till Historical Marker and posted the photograph online or among the many who applauded with “likes,” there was an understanding of justice, kindness or humility.
While recognizing youthful indiscretion, suggesting that the murder of minorities — that killing people of color as if game — can be condoned shocks the conscience: We, as the citizens of a supposedly civilized society, must respond should educational and political leaders act spinelessly where resoluteness is mandated.
As people agonize over an absence of an appropriate ethical, moral and religious framework to inhibit hatefulness, where the bankruptcy began must be examined: To what extent do the failures reflect familial, fraternity or institutional cultures?
Hopefully the students’ families did not create dynamics encouraging their offspring to pose with rifles before an historical marker commemorating an African-American adolescent’s lynching in cold blood. Perhaps their parents are upstanding and the children rebelled against the parents’ decency. It would be nice to think that, as in Merle Haggard’s 1968 classic,
“No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried;
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading, I denied;
That leaves only me to blame 'cause Mama tried.”
Otherwise the families need significant religious and psychological counseling.
While the Kappa Alpha Fraternity venerates the Old South, its Ole Miss Chapter and national organization definitively demonstrated that the behavior contravenes KA’s values. I have known innumerable KAs throughout my life, and what occurred does not reflect their principles. I have heard from KAs and their family members, who are exceedingly upset by what occurred. I believe them and question whether the Greek system is at fault.
The institution’s response is lacking: The interim chancellor’s message said what should have been stated, but words and actions can diverge. If the offenders remain students in good standing, the relevant rules are inadequate. The failure to take firm action occasioned outrage in many quarters and rightly so.
Unfortunately rules cannot be created spontaneously. If the institution’s code of conduct turns a blind eye to racism, its rules must be rewritten. Opportunity for repentance and rehabilitation is warranted as exemplary.
The incident did not occur in a vacuum: Mississippi has allowed endless violence toward and the murder of people of color. Without examining excesses during slavery — which would take years if not decades — Redemption reversed freedom found during Reconstruction. Lynchings and other acts of intimidation roiled the state to such an extent that no one will ever know the exact details. Among the innumerable murders in Mississippi after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, intended to deter African-Americans from advocating for equal rights and protection, were those of Rev. George Lee, Lamar Smith, Emmett Till, Mack Charles Parker, Herbert Lee, Cpl. Romans Ducksworth, Jr., Paul Guihard, Medgar Evers, Louis Allen, Henry Dee, Charles Moore, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Vernon Dahmer, Ben Chester White, Wharlest Jackson and Benjamin Brown — during 12 years alone. The state was deservedly condemned for allowing an atmosphere of animosity towards African-Americans and the advancement of civil rights for all of its citizens.
The recent incident raises questions whether evolving standards of conduct are respected as necessary and appropriate or whether Mississippi should remain recognized as a place of indecency.
It is appalling that those who perpetrated the recent outrage graduated from high school indifferent to excesses which ought not repeatedly reveal their ugly face. Germans underwent de-Nazification after World War II and, similarly, Southerners must recognize, take responsibility for, and make amends for what should never have been allowed on Southern soil.
Residual effects of our history plague our body politic, although many people wish otherwise. Evidence of William Faulkner’s observation, in Requiem for a Nun, that “The past is never dead. It's not even past,” resurfaces.
The immediate issue is not one of access to education, electoral franchise, or employment opportunity but of public safety and basic human respect. Proper parameters should be established by the candidates for election in November and by educational institutions at all levels throughout Mississippi. If leaders are unwilling to provide leadership, citizens of conscience need to speak out forcefully, favoring civil rights and human rights, in public and private institutions.
Jeremiah 4:2 is fitting conclusion that
“... if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives!’
in truth, in justice, and in uprightness,
then nations shall be blessed by him,
and by him they shall boast.”
Jay Wiener is a Northsider.