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Commentary: Post-Election Student Protests Highlight Racist America

Ibram H. RogersIbram H. Rogers

While millions of Americans partied on election night, celebrating President Barack Obama’s re-election, several hundred students protested in anger.

These students have been written off in the last week by many Americans as fanatics. They have been mocked and ridiculed as crazy. But are they?  Or are they merely highlighting a racist America?

Within hours of Obama’s re-election, about 40 students rallied outside of the Minority Student Union at Hampden-Sydney College, a tiny, private, all-male school near Richmond, Va. They tossed racial slurs, bottles and threats of physical violence and set off fireworks. To these protestors, the Minority Student Union embodied blackness, Obama embodied blackness, and thus they protested against blackness on their campus.

Down further south that night, about 30 or 40 students gathered to protest Obama’s re-election at the University of Mississippi. Within 20 minutes, the crowd swelled to 400 as word rapidly spread of the “riot” through social media. Students chanted political slogans, yelled racial slurs, and one student may have burned a picture of an Obama campaign sign. Two students were ultimately arrested.

This incident occurred just after the 50th anniversary of the riot that welcomed James Meredith when he desegregated Ole Miss in 1962. Reacting to this post-election protest, a 79-year-old Meredith told a local Mississippi television station that it was “nonsense and foolishness.”

Fifty years ago, many Americans considered it foolish that the National Guard had to walk Meredith to class. But the rioting made sense to many Americans who recognized the pervasiveness of racism in the South.

It seems to me these public protesters last week highlighted what was occurring in private, what would have occurred in public 50 years ago. The Ole Miss riot last week is similar to the riot there fifty years ago. It demonstrated the pervasiveness of racism whether Americans these days want to recognize it as such or not. I wonder how many students sat in their dorm rooms tossing around racial slurs and racial threats? I wonder how many people sat in their homes privately protesting the re-election of a Black man?

As of Sunday, Americans in 18 states have petitioned the Obama administration for secession from the union. The “death of America” chants have become louder in print and over the airwaves during the last week.

But I am sure these petitioners and chanters would declare they are not racist, America’s not racist. Just like the California woman who posted a racial slur and assassination threat election night on Facebook claimed the next day, “I’m not racist and I’m not crazy. Just simply stating my opinion.!!!”

The students, the petitions, the legions of bloggers and pundits, the millions of Americans who are in funeral mode right now are too stating their opinions — their racist opinions.

America is and has always been divided — divided by race. It is not President Obama’s job to bridge the divide. That is our job. First though, we have to be honest about what is dividing America. We have to be honest about why millions of people refused to vote for President Obama. We have to be honest about racism.

Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of Africana Studies at University at Albany — SUNY. He is the author of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972.

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