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Fraternity Ouster Not the Whole Answer to Racism, Says University Professor

A national fraternity dumped one of its University of Mississippi members for dancing like a cartoon monkey in front of a Black woman at a recent protest, but critics say we’ll need more than penalties to confront decades of fossilized racism.


Last week, a mostly white cluster of university counter protestors heckled a small, multi-racial group protesting Israel’s genocidal behavior in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. One video, captured by Mississippi Free Press freelance writer Stacey Spiehler, shows the ousted student, James Pearson Staples, whooping and dancing like an ape in front of a Black female protestor. Other students could be seen grasping their genitals.


“As part of that community, Phi Delta Theta recognizes that freedom of expression is part of the collegiate experience; however, the Fraternity is committed to upholding its principles as a private membership organization,” the association announced. “After reviewing the incident, it was determined that the individual’s behavior was unacceptable. The action in question was offensive, outside the bounds of this discourse, and contradictory to our values.”


The university claims it is also conducting an investigation of events that day. However, the burden should lie on more than just one university with a very complicated history of racism. Dr. Rhonda A. Matthews, a Pennsylvania Western University professor and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) specialist, said the student and others proven to have displayed racist behavior should be quickly ousted from the university to save the facility’s reputation. But she added that stopping at punitive measures was a huge mistake, and that whacking bigot moles was likely to do little but run racist behavior underground. It would do nothing to close the persistent chasm between some white people and the targets of their fear.



Trained to be Terrified


“People under 30 are still acting like this because they’re working very hard at it,” said Matthews. “Most people under 30 are far more liberal and far more educated about the issues than older people. We have a demonstration of this in these anti-war nationwide protests everywhere. The essence of these protests on campuses across the country are because people under 30 are saying ‘we don’t care what you say, we’re watching (genocide) with our own eyes, and we expect better of our government.’ This is very much like 1968.”


“The vast majority of the kids who exhibit these behaviors are people who grew up without any meaningful relationships with people of color."

However, young adults like Staples are still dancing like monkeys in 2024 because they, like many privileged white Americans, grow up in wealthy, isolated islands where everybody looks the same and believes the same things.


“It’s socialization,” said Matthews. “The vast majority of the kids who exhibit these behaviors are people who grew up without any meaningful relationships with people of color or with LGBTQ communities. They’re literally isolated. And there is a class-based component to this. Not only are they isolated because they’re white, they’re also isolated because they’re upper middle-class white and can afford the isolation.”


Staples’ hometown of Plano Texas is 55% white, 22% Asian, 15% Hispanic and 10% Black. The median income is a comfortable $105,000, with a poverty rate of less than 7%. Plano’s influx of non-white residents is a recent change. The white population was nearly 80% in 2000, suggesting white residents are fleeing to emerging new exurbs and converted farmland sprawl as nonwhite professionals move into Plano. White residents who linger may even look around and interpret the influx of fresh faces as an “invasion” or “an attack” of otherness as homogeneity melts around them. It would not be the first known act of racism or violence amid a community’s demographic evolution. Rankin County, Mississippi—home of notorious murderers Deryl Paul Dedmon, John Aaron Rice, and Dylan Wade Butler—was facing similar demographic pressure from new Black and brown residents at the time Dedmon, Rice and Butler drove over a Black Jackson resident in what was declared by prosecutors to be a race crime in 2012.


More than 10 years later, Dedmon’s first cousin, Christian Dedmon, became one of six former Rankin County law enforcement officers who pleaded guilty to sexually and physically abusing Rankin County Black residents Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Parker last year.


Alienation fosters fear and resentment. It’s also sparking violence and ruining lives, including the lives of budding racists like Staples and his friends, who could find their resumes complicated by future Google searches. Matthews says one way to combat the damage is to properly fund k-12 education, “so it can deliver extraordinary education” needed to contain the damage.



End the Isolation


A further pie-in-the-sky option is to obliterate America’s insidious white islands, but that is now impossible thanks to centuries of deliberate real estate machinations and school funding policies that hollow-out older central city schools. School district lines in the U.S. remain a longstanding instrument for segregation thanks to the landmark 1974 case Milliken v. Bradley, which determined that school district borders could be used to financially segregate Black students from white students, despite Justice Thurgood Marshall, warning that the decision would perpetuate de facto segregation by not pressing wealthy white suburbs to share school spaces with inner city Black students.


"Colonel Reb" was the official mascot of the University of Mississippi's "Ole Miss Rebels" collegiate athletic teams before its recent decommission.

Matthews said without exposure to new cultures and people, many students develop a lifetime of trepidation that takes endless hours of reprogramming to alleviate. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs at colleges and universities (and jobs) reverse some of the damage by uncovering centuries of racist behavior and abuse that many Americans would rather deny, from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to closing the border to Jews fleeing the Nazi scourge, the deliberate exclusion of Black soldiers from the successful G.I. Bill program, and vicious acts of state-sanctioned violence and bloodletting upon Black U.S. citizens.


It takes months, even years, to show certain “white island” minds how a system can be so well designed to keep them from knowing George Floyd was not a one-off style event. The problem is that DEI initiatives are being halted by politicians, many of whom are from white island style communities.


“Not halted—reversed,” says Matthews. “They are trying to delete and reverse DEI program’s effects. All you have to do is pay attention to what’s happening, and it’s easy to see. You don’t have to be a DEI expert to see what’s happening.”


The Associated Press determined Republicans lawmakers proposed roughly 50 bills in 20 states attacking diversity and inclusion initiatives in 2024 alone. Mississippi state auditor Shad White released a 2023 report slamming state universities like Ole Miss for “spending millions on DEI,” apparently because white fraternity members no longer whoop like apes in front of Black people.


White had little to say about the antics of Staples and his hooting cohorts, but he did praise his group of counter protesters for intimidating anti-war activists.


“Ole Miss students singing the Star-Spangled Banner to the pro-Hamas protestors is the best marketing video for the university since Lane Kiffin threw that clipboard in the air on a 90-yard bomb,” White tweeted.


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