Petition to Amend or Retract Mississippi Governor’s Proclamation

The University of Mississippi’s Critical Race Studies Group, for which I am currently co-chair, has created a petition through demanding our Governor, Phil Bryant, amend or retract his proclamation that April 2016 be Confederate Heritage Month. You can click the above link to sign and share the petition. Below is the full text:

On February 10th, 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared the month of April 2016 ‘Confederate Heritage Month.’ Governor Bryant has issued similar proclamations in the past, yet this year carries special significance. The murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist with an affinity for Confederate imagery led to protests and calls for the removal of Confederate iconography from public spaces across the nation. In addition, Bryant’s proclamation preceded the Mississippi Legislature’s failure to act upon nineteen different bills proposing a change to the stage flag. It remains the only state flag in the US that bears the Confederate battle flag in its emblem.

In his proclamation, Governor Bryant declares that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities that lie before us.”

The 1861 Mississippi Declaration of Secession stated plainly “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” In spite of this, Governor Bryant’s proclamation makes no mention of the millions of enslaved men, women, and children who suffered and died in captivity, or the Confederate cause to keep them in bondage. As citizens of this State, we ask that Governor Bryant clarify what specifically about our nation’s past he intends that we reflect on; what insight is to be gained from the error of owning other human beings and, in turn, fighting for that right; and to make clear the specific mistakes and successes of the Confederacy, so that we can not only come to a fuller understanding of our shared heritage, but learn from it.

Therefore, whereas the history of the Confederacy consisted of the victimization of state enslaved men, women, and children of African descent in the four-year period of 1861-1865; and

Whereas the influence of the Confederacy allowed the continuation of the victimization of millions of black Americans within Mississippi and elsewhere following their emancipation in 1865; including state-sponsored denial of economic, educational, health, and socio-political rights; and

Whereas Confederate Heritage Month, Confederate Memorial Day, and other commemorative events surrounding the Confederacy and its legacy risk the perpetuation of false values and narratives without well-defined grounds, goals, or necessities for such proclamations;

Now, Therefore, we, as citizens of Mississippi, and friends across the world, call upon Mississippi’s elected officials to recognize the pain and suffering of its enslaved population, and honor their survival; while also recognizing the continued effects of this dreadful past on our present. We call upon Governor Bryant and other elected officials to make good on their claims of civic enlightenment through economic and political support for statewide efforts to tell richer and more factually accurate narratives of our state history, through social science public education, creative arts programs, and cross-racial dialogues. We insist that only a deliberate and intentional reckoning with this shameful legacy of injustice will carry us through to a better tomorrow. Until that reckoning, we reject the validity of Governor Bryant’s proclamation, and call upon Governor Bryant to either (1) clarify his intentions or (2) retract it entirely.


The University of Mississippi Critical Race Studies Group and The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation


Reflections on the James Meredith Symbolic Lynching

Yesterday I was interviewed by the student-run campus broadcast channel, NewsWatch 99. The focus of their story was the one-year anniversary of the symbolic lynching of the James Meredith statue that took place last spring on the University of Mississippi campus.

The clip is short, so I feel the need to elaborate a bit on my comments. I was asked whether I thought the campus reacted at all to the incident when it happened. Though the video doesn’t show this, I responded by saying there was a very strong reaction to the incident by most of the members of this campus community. Many students, faculty, and staff were outraged, and expressed this in private conversations, and in some public forums. However, what I also stated was that the response was far from collective or sustained. Furthermore, what I tried to articulate in the interview is that the “loud” reaction to extreme acts of racism, like the symbolic lynching of the Meredith statue, are rarely situated within the context of an environment where more mundane forms of racism are commonplace. Instead, we treat those incidents as anomalies, as the products of a few “bad apples” in an otherwise “good bunch.” This seems to be fairly common in many other social settings. We, as a society, tend to distance ourselves from the most extreme bigots, racists, and acts of intolerance because they don’t fit with our general ideals about civility and community. However, in doing so, we also perpetuate a culture that does tolerate everyday, microassaults and microaggressions toward people of color. When I stated that our campus policies are ‘missing the boat’, I was referring to policies (like the formation of a Bias Incident Response Team) that, in an attempt to respond strongly against such extreme acts of intolerance, ignore that these extreme acts are the least common instances of racism on our campus.

Watch on YouTube: Changes Since the Meredith Incident

Origins: From ‘Intercultural Education’ to ‘Diversity and Inclusion’

One of my current research projects investigates competing meanings of diversity and inclusion within contemporary institutions of higher education. One component of this project is a historical examination of the discursive formation of ‘diversity and inclusion’. In their widely-cited article in the American Sociological Review, “Diversity in Everyday Discourse: The cultural ambiguities and consequences of happy talk,” sociologists Joyce Bell and Douglass Hartmann make two interesting observations that peaked my initial interest in the historical questions for this project. First, they claim that, to date, no scholar has produced an exhaustive account of when diversity first emerged in American discourse. Second, they claim that diversity discourse may be the first racial project of the 21st century (2007: 910).

Let me make it clear here, I think the world of Bell and Hartmann’s research, and the Mosaic Project more generally. However, when reading that article I was skeptical of both of those terms. In some of my earlier work, I’ve argued for an approach to social and cultural history that moves away from linear progression from one epoch or episode to the next. Instead, I argue that social and cultural history often unfolds through what Walter Mignolo (1995) describes as a clustering process, where clusters of social history overlap with one another, shaping emergent clusters, and our memories of prior ones. What I’ve found in many of the sociological writings on diversity/inclusion in higher education is this taken-for-granted assumption that diversity discourse emerged from both civil rights legislation and post-civil rights discourse in the 1960s and 1970s as more colleges and universities established cultural centers, academic programs, and student organizations centered on celebrating the achievements of historically marginalized populations. I just wasn’t convinced this was the beginning of modern day efforts to achieve ‘diversity and inclusion’.

I began by trying to move backwards from some of the values held by advocates of the contemporary ‘diversity and inclusion’ initiatives in higher education, and trying to identify any historical overlaps. I came across a brilliant, but largely neglected, piece of scholarship by the historian Nicholas Montalto entitled, A History of the Intercultural Educational Movement, 1924-1941 (New York: Garland, 1982). Though Montalto does not connect the dots between the intercultural education movement of the interwar period, and the movement toward diversity and inclusion within higher education in the post-civil rights era. However, in reading through his work, and the work of a few others, I’ve come to recognize a major ‘clustering’ between the inter-war period and the post-civil rights period concerning the discursive elements of intercultural education and diversity/inclusion. My goal for several upcoming posts in this blog is to flesh out some of these findings as I prepare the historical write-up of my research project.


Below are just some small pieces of the larger narrative I’m writing on the relationship between contemporary discourses of diversity and the discourse of the intercultural education movement from the inter-war period. I welcome feedback!

“A part of the emphasis on the model of diversity that posits diversity as a celebration of multiple cultures arose from the coopting of psychological theories of identity and self-esteem in the early 20th century. At the time, it was widely believed that an individual’s self esteem was dependent upon the status of their membership group. Rejection of that group, then, was believed to be the cause of self-hatred. Social workers employing these psychological frameworks began to argue that the way to solve the ‘second generation problem was to raise the status of the immigrant group through public recognition and praise of immigrant cultures for their unique contributions…

The Commission on First Generation Americans, established in 1925 to study the second-generation problem, issued its final report in 1930. In it, the authors recommended the formation of clubs along nationality lines for second generation persons “wherever there is lack of security, manifested either by intense nationality concern in the first generation or by blatant, extreme, and noisy disregard for nationality in the second generation…

Much of the diversity educational framework that is employed today harkens back to the early multicultural and intercultural education programs advocated by Rachel Davis DuBois in the 1920s and 1930s. Partnering with major teacher-training colleges and universities, the American Association of University Women, the New Jersey Race Relations Survey Committee, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews, DuBois designed assemblies and courses marked by a strong international focus, immediate antecedents in the pacifist movement, and a strong concern to change the attitudes of the majority rather than alter the self-concept of racial and ethnic minorities…

By the mid 1930s, national interest in ethnic diversity was intensive and widespread. The new commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, was carrying out plans to revitalize tribal arts, language, and culture through reservation schools. In Pittsburgh, one of the first efforts in higher education to incorporate diversity education was taking place at the University of Pittsburgh. There, seventeen Nationality Rooms in the University’s ‘Cathedral of Learning’ had opened, with the intention to use these spaces as classrooms where regular use would produce a “building up [of] respect for the historic traditions” of the major groups residing in the city. In 1935, spurred by its imminent merger with the Service Bureau, the widely-reputable Progressive Education Association passed a resolution for intercultural education stating, “there is no more important or appropriate task for this association…not only for the education of our thirty million new Americans and other minority groups, but also for the enlightenment of the children of the old Americans whose ignorance of other cultures is an equally great menace to our community life.”In December of that same year, the PEA Board of Directors voted to establish a “Committee on Intercultural Education” – marking the first time the term ‘intercultural education’ entered the education profession’s lexicon…

In the late 1930s through the early 1940s, the American Jewish Committee underwent a major transformation in how they thought about combatting anti-Semitism through educational programming. This transformation was due, in large part, to a growing body of evidence in the social sciences that suggested spikes in anti-Semitism were closely correlated with economic downturns and increases in anti-democratic behaviors. Increasingly, it became less popular to back programming centered on educating the general public on Jewish culture and history. Instead, it was argued by members of the AJC that anti-Semitism could only be extinguished by championing democracy more generally. The task of intercultural education, for the AJC, became one where open-mindedness, critical thinking, respect for the individual, and equality of opportunity were to be encouraged. Their commissioning of the now famous Studies in Prejudice series, of which the widely-read and cited The Authoritarian Personality was the first volume, was the apex of their new approach to “sterilizing the soil” from which anti-Semitism and group prejudice grew…”