By Cristen Hemmins
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the day James Meredith integrated Ole Miss. I am listening to reports on NPR and MPB, and reading articles by national news sources about the event and the ways in which Ole Miss has made advancements in racial relations.
Things have certainly changed, but not anywhere near enough. The long distance we still have to go in race relations in our country, and specifically in Mississippi, is made glaringly apparent in today’s politics.
This last week was hard for a Mississippi liberal like me. I saw Republicans sharing, emailing, and tweeting a video the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh pushed of a woman claiming she’s voting for President Obama because he gave her a phone. This video confirms conservatives’ worst 47-percent fears by saying they can get something for nothing because Obama’s in office. The message is, “Here’s what Obama’s supporters really look like.” This is what I saw people on Facebook saying over and over again. And yet, they fail to see how this is a racist perspective.
I saw this report last week of a mentally ill man who killed his two teen-aged sons and wife, and then himself, out of fear of Obama winning. When one side demonizes and vilifies the other to the extent to which Obama has been, we are in danger of these things happening.
I saw an image of a note which has been found in some church Bibles and stuck on car windows, which essentially says that you either accept Jesus, or vote for Obama and reject Jesus.
And only today, I read of a man (https://www.progressive.org/meet-romney-extremist-in-virginia) working *at a Romney headquarters in Virginia* who said, “I’ll tell you what we really need to do with these illegitimate families on welfare—give all the kids up for adoption and execute the parents.”
These views epitomize a party gone out of control. They are outliers, yes, but they are TOO COMMON. And sadly, progressive people in Mississippi still fear speaking out against things like this. Not only is it acceptable to admit that you think that the “free Obama phone woman” is a norm, but it’s unacceptable to disagree. I know this for a fact, because only yesterday in church, two friends separately and kindly came up to me and thanked me for fighting the political fights I do. They both told me they agreed with me, but feared losing their jobs or being ostracized by friends if they expressed similar beliefs.
This is exactly what happened in the 50s and 60s during integration. Yesterday, UM Chancellor Dan Jones spoke at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to commemorate this year’s fiftieth anniversary, and mentioned a silent, but large group of progressive, white “integrationists” who didn’t speak up back then, for fear of retaliation. I am not equating the dangers of speaking up back then with what might happen today: no one fears being murdered for being a progressive today, while that actually happened to people who helped register voters fifty years ago. But the fear of speaking out against apparent racism is still here. This is still a problem in 2012 in Mississippi.
Bishop Duncan Gray III wrote the Prayers for the People that we read in church yesterday. His father was rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford in 1962 and was present 50 years ago for the riot. I was moved to tears by the prayer, after a week of what I had seen in politics:
For all the people in their daily life and work, remembering this day those who live with the ever-present burden of racial intolerance, and those who are in bondage to their own fear and prejudice; for our families, friends and neighbors, and for those who are alone.
For this community, the nation, and the world, remembering this day the tragic legacy of segregation through much of our history; for James Meredith, witness for justice, and the redemptive and healing work of those who have offered themselves as instruments of reconciliation; for all those who work for justice, freedom, and peace.
For the just and proper use of your creation, remembering this day those who continue to suffer because they are powerless and invisible, and the prophetic witness that gives them hope; for the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression…
Ole Miss may have its first-ever black homecoming queen this year, and I am proud and happy about it. But we still have such a very, very long way to go, as a state and a nation.
Cristen Hemmins got completely immersed in the battle to defeat Initiative 26 in MS (The Personhood Initiative) in 2011, and was interviewed live on The Rachel Maddow Show, MPB, BBC radio, and other media outlets in print and on television. Feeling completely fed up with not being represented in Mississippi state government, she’s now vice-chair of her county Democratic party, is on the State Democratic Executive Committee, and was a delegate to the 2012 DNC.
This native Mississippian is self-employed and sells ads for a few different print publications in her spare seconds of not being a political activist. Her kids are 6, 8, and 10, and she is happily married to an Englishman. They all live in an old farmhouse on the edge of Oxford and enjoy their flowers, chickens, veggies, cats, a bunny, a dog, and a guinea pig.
Contact Cristen Hemmins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @CristenHemmins