Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Farewell to ‘Dixie’?

29th August 2016   ·   0 Comments

When I was in college, one of my frat brothers from Mississippi and I used to debate all the time about whose home state was a more hostile climate for Blacks. He thought it was Louisiana because of David Duke, St. Bernard Parish, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee and the Confederate Monuments in New Orleans. I argued that it was Mississippi because of the murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and the three civil rights workers that inspired the film “Mississippi Burning.” Neither one of us conceded defeat.

During one of those standoffs, another friend chimed in about a restaurant in Lafayette, La. where he worked as a teen that required him and other Black teens to walk around barefoot: He said it didn’t occur to him until much later that the restaurant had a slavery theme and essentially hired the Black teens to perform the role of house servants. “When it finally hit me, all I could say was ‘Well, I’ll be damned,’” he told us. After initially being stunned, we burst into laughter and couldn’t stop laughing.

I thought about these experiences last week as the University of Mississippi also known as Ole Miss, announced that it would no longer allow its marching band to play the song “Dixie” at football games. “Dixie,” of course, is a cherished anthem among Confederate sympathizers and others who refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The playing of the song had often caused some whites in the Deep South to get misty-eyed about the good old days of slavery when Blacks were bought and sold like livestock and kept in their place.

Ole Miss has already done away with the use of Confederate battle flags and its “Rebel” mascot, in part because it prevented them from being able to recruit some Black student-athletes.

These changes have offended some at the Deep South schools where traditions run deep and rituals carry great significance. But traditions that celebrate the enslavement and oppression of an entire segment of the population needed to come to an end.

Many colleges and universities across the U.S. like Georgetown, Brown and Tulane Universities have bought, owned and sold enslaved Africans and need to address those past transgressions.

The past is always with us and the misdeeds of the past are the cornerstone of today’s racial inequities and economic injustice. But it is important to note that white supremacy is both a global and American thing, not simply a Deep South thing.

While Mississippi and Ole Miss have shown no shame in celebrating white supremacy, they are not alone. Louisiana is the prison capital of the world and New Orleans has made a name for itself as a haven for police corruption and abuse, prosecutorial misconduct and as the epicenter of white power and privilege.

While Ole Miss gets rid of “Dixie,” LSU should stop playing its “Chinese Bandits” song every time its defense makes a big play on the football field.

In 2016, some LSU fans still think it is cute or clever to equate the football team’s stingy defense with Chinese Merchants. LSU and all of the schools in the Deep South need to do away with “Old South” observances that celebrate the Confederacy and transform fraternity and sorority houses into replicas of the plantation homes seen in “Gone With The Wind,” Let us not forget that the term “Dixie” is derived from New Orleans’ based Dixie Beer.

Those of us, who call New Orleans home know that we don’t have to see Confederate flags or hear the song “Dixie” every day to know that we live in the land of Dixie. It is generally a bad idea to celebrate a tradition based on the subjugation of an entire group of people because of the color of their skin. The rise of the Tea Party, the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and efforts to undermine the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act show that old habits die hard.

America still has a long way to go to move beyond its racist past. Before it can truly call itself a democratic and just republic, it needs to implement, substantive police and judicial reforms, end abuse and discrimination among financial institutions and halt the inequitable awarding of public contracts.

And Mississippi is not the only place where Black people feel marginalized and “less American” than their white counterparts. It’s an American problem. Good for Ole Miss for taking baby steps in the right direction.

We all must understand that these efforts to remove racially and culturally offensive songs, symbols and monuments will mean very little if they aren’t followed up by conscious efforts to dismantle the system of white supremacy law by law, policy by policy and practice by practice.

We didn’t get here overnight, and the system of white supremacy won’t be dismantled overnight.

This article originally published in the August 29, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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