A statement from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, June 5, 2020:
We are not quite halfway through 2020, and already it is a year marked by a global pandemic with no clear end in sight, widespread economic instability, and mass uprisings in response to the death of yet another black person at the hands of police, a travesty that exposes the ways racism and structural inequality continue to deny justice in America. To list these truths is to point out the obvious.
What may be less immediately clear is that as students of the South, we are particularly well positioned to examine these events and use our training and knowledge to build the South, the nation, and the world in which we want to live. We are not passive recorders of the life around us; we are agents in its creation. The inexcusable injustices that currently define it demand better of us as citizens. At a campus that has historically served as a lightning rod for racial unrest, in a state that has sown and grown racism only more obviously than other places, we at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture commit to not letting Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others lynched in America die in vain.
We ask that Southern Studies faculty, staff, and students—current and former alike—think seriously about ways in which we might become agents of change, using our training across the disciplines of sociology, cultural anthropology, history, politics, geography, literature, religion, economics, and documentary method to challenge the ideas behind prejudice and systemic social inequality, most immediately those that make particular sectors of American society targets of racial violence and grossly inadequate healthcare. We study the patterns of privilege and access that consistently elevate some Americans over others, and we study the history of racism in America so that we can recognize the multiple levels on which it afflicts this nation still. Our challenge—to ourselves and to you—is that we not be satisfied with study alone. This is, was, or will be your campus, your state, your nation, and your world—who will you be in it? We encourage people of power and privilege to listen more, to observe closely, to read widely, and to take responsibility for their own re-education. In particular, we encourage white Americans too easily satisfied by assertions that racism plays no role in their own thinking to think again.
The Center for the Study of Southern Culture reaffirms our commitment to make research and candid discourse about all of these issues an ongoing part of our common life as a community and to partner with departments and divisions across campus with similar goals. We welcome all students to our classrooms and our events with the understanding that there is an urgency to our inquiry that means we cannot satisfy ourselves with any superficial “Souths.” We affirm the resolutions of the Associated Student Body, the Faculty Senate, and the Staff Council to move the Confederate statue from the Circle to our on-campus Civil War-era cemetery. This is but one step the University of Mississippi can take in proclaiming that it will be shaped more by the present and the future than by the past.
How, in the face of the compounding crises of 2020, can we do any less? Join us in studying the South and, by doing so, understanding better the nation. We have missed you over the last three months. Get to work wherever you are, and meet us back in Oxford.
The Center for the Study of Southern Culture