Stephen M. Monroe on "Heritage and Hate" in Southern University TraditionsHistorians in the News
tags: Southern history, Confederacy, colleges and universities
The images depicted in Heritage and Hate: Old South Rhetoric at Southern Universities (University of Alabama Press) will make one recoil.
There are photographs of Ku Klux Klan imagery in yearbooks of Southern colleges and universities -- from the early 20th century. There is a photograph from the University of Mississippi in 1949 -- a large group of white students in blackface. But the author notes that “modern incidents of blackface are not outliers or racist innovations but parts of a continuum of Confederate rhetoric on these campuses.”
The author is Stephen M. Monroe, chair and assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. He focuses on the University of Mississippi and the University of Missouri at Columbia, which in 2015 experienced a series of racial incidents when Black students demonstrated during a homecoming parade. The Black students were shouted down by white students who used a cheer for Mizzou to do so. One of the themes Monroe explores is that seemingly non-racial traditions and cheers can be used to advance racist goals and become racist. For example, he has a chapter on the Hotty Toddy, a cheer at the University of Mississippi, that had been used, among other things, to protest the integration of the university in 1962.
Monroe responded via email to questions about his book.
Q: Why focus on Southern universities?
A: I focus on predominantly white institutions across the U.S. South because they are so powerful, influential, and complicated. These are social, cultural, and intellectual hubs that often improve lives and enhance the region. But they are also sites of conflict and division. They are multiracial institutions struggling with words and symbols rooted in a racist past. They are conservative institutions full of progressive people. They are research institutions producing new, beneficial knowledge while also preserving quite a few old, damaging traditions. As a scholar of rhetoric, I am fascinated by arguments and contestations. Higher education (particularly in the U.S. South) is a fertile field.
Q: Was it painful to discover the racist images and history about the University of Mississippi, your home institution?
A: Yes, it is painful and discomforting to see and hear racism. But I am a white scholar who has always felt nurtured within predominantly white institutions. My discomfort is zilch compared to the real pain long endured by colleagues and students of color. For this book, I took part of my charge from Asao Inoue's 2019 speech at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. White scholars need to dwell in our discomfort. We need to listen, search, try. Silence is safe, but it does no good.
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