The images represented in Legacy and hate: old southern rhetoric in southern universities (University of Alabama Press) will take a step back.
There are photographs of images of the Ku Klux Klan in the directories of colleges and universities in the South – from the beginning of the 20th century. There is a photograph of the University of Mississippi in 1949 – a large group of white blackface students. But the author notes that “modern blackface incidents are not outliers or racist innovations but are part of a continuum of Confederate rhetoric on these campuses.”
The author is Stephen M. Monroe, president and assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. It focuses on the University of Mississippi and the University of Missouri at Columbia, which in 2015 saw a series of racial incidents when black students protested in a return parade. Black students were yelled at by white students who encouraged Mizzou to do so. One of the themes explored by Monroe is that seemingly non-racial traditions and cheers can be used to advance racist goals and become racist. For example, it has a chapter on Hotty Toddy, an acclaim at the University of Mississippi that had been used, among other things, to protest against the university’s integration in 1962.
Monroe responded by email to questions about her book.
Q: Why focus on universities in the South?
A: I focus on the predominantly white institutions in the southern United States because they are so powerful, influential, and complicated. These are social, cultural and intellectual poles that often improve life and beautify the region. But they are also places of conflict and division. They are multiracial institutions grappling with words and symbols rooted in a racist past. They are conservative institutions full of progressives. They are research institutes which produce beneficial new knowledge while preserving a number of old and harmful traditions. As a specialist in rhetoric, I am fascinated by arguments and disputes. Higher education (especially in the southern United States) is a fertile field.
Q: Was it painful to discover the racist images and history of the University of Mississippi, your home institution?
A: Yes, it is painful and uncomfortable to see and hear racism. But I’m a white scholar who always felt nurtured in predominantly white institutions. My discomfort is nothing compared to the real pain long endured by my colleagues and students of color. For this book, I took part of my load from Speech by Asao Inoue 2019 at the College Composition and Communication Conference. White scholars need to inhabit our discomfort. We must listen, seek, try. Silence is certain, but it is of no use.
Q: What’s wrong with the Hotty Toddy?
A: I am devoting a chapter to unraveling the Hotty Toddy, which is a very important linguistic practice in my university community. It’s essentially an absurd school cheer that over the decades has grown too loaded with ideational and emotional meaning. The Hotty Toddy is often used in a very positive and joyful way, at soccer games and wedding receptions. But it has also been used periodically by white students and stakeholders as a racist mockery. I have found similar examples at Mizzou and the University of Alabama. These are times when seemingly harmless or neutral speech invokes terrible historical associations and creates damage. I see parallels in recent arguments over the fight song “The Eyes of Texas” at the University of Texas at Austin. Cheering and fighting songs can indicate complex and conflicting meanings. Certain racist potentialities can be hidden in plain sight for very long periods of time.
Q: At Mizzou, where do you see “legacy and hate”?
A: Anyone who believes that the words and symbols of the Old South no longer matter – that they are ancient, harmless history – should test their theory against the events of Mizzou from 2010 to 2016. Rhetorical Conflicts and Missteps administration during this period had profound and material consequences. consequences for the great flagship university of Missouri. In this story I find lessons about leadership, language, and the huge risks of not listening to students.
Q: How can colleges best respond?
A: I see reason for hope, and I devote the last section of the book to highlighting some good things that are happening at the University of Mississippi and other universities in the South. They are projects of reconciliation, contextualization, engaged scholarship and public history. Professors, chairs, deans, provosts and presidents can all play a role. Just as certain languages and symbols divide people along racial lines and increase discord, other languages and symbols do beneficial work and strengthen equality. We must be prepared to break with harmful traditions. Often our students push us in better directions. We have to move with them, keeping in mind that words and symbols are not “just rhetoric” as the cliché says. These are very powerful rhetorics that shape culture, history and thought. Every argument leaves a legacy, especially on our campuses.