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Post-election Racial Tensions Reach Campus

This story was written by Meryl Dakin, The Student Printz

Episodes of verbal and physical abuse surfaced the day after the election, stemming from Barack Obama's victory Nov. 4.

Obama supporter Maria Newman, senior photojournalism major from Petal, said she heard the phrase "paint the White House black" from a few black students on campus.

"There was a girl yelling about how it was 'God's will,'" Newman said. "She said, 'I believe God came down and said, Barack! Gather your people!' I wanted to scream 'I'm his people too! He's half white.'"

Newman said she is especially disheartened by the recent events because she feels that they undermine Obama's message.

"Obama is about unity; he is two races united in one," she said. "Racism is against all he stands for, so the black people who are making racist comments about white people obviously missed Obama's message altogether."

"Just because I'm white doesn't mean I voted for McCain," said Kaycie Hall, junior English and French major from Jackson.

Hall, an ardent Obama supporter, said she was walking to class last Wednesday when a black male stopped her and demanded to know who she'd voted for. He then made vulgar remarks about McCain, insinuating Hall had supported him, she said.

"I guess he made an assumption about who I voted for because I'm white," she said. "I just felt shocked by it. It surprised me and I wasn't expecting that sort of thing to happen."

Were Southern Miss's incidents of racial tension merely isolated events or did they point to a new wave of racial profiling on college campuses across the south?

Stephen Cherry, professor of sociology at USM, says there's nothing to panic about.

"I think this is one of those issues, because race is involved, any time one incident occurs everyone wants to rally around and say 'is this a big deal?'" Cherry said. "If the entire campus exploded into a giant race riot then we can start talking about something, but I don't think it's helpful to just start discussing those incidents."

Cherry believes the blame rests on both sides.

"If you have a few radicals on one side of the fence leading up to the election it's only natural that you would see some sort of radical reaction after the election by a few," Cherry said.

Cherry also discussed some of the statistics from the exit polls. He said that 54 percent of the people who thought race was a big issue voted for Obama, while 46 percent voted for McCain, indicating that Obama's race helped him win the election.

These results are similar to those extracted from a USM survey of 100 and 200 level political science classes in which 94 percent of black students said they supported Obama.

With such an imbalance of support among black people, the question of priority came up: did a vote for Obama reflect support for his policy or his pigment?

Cherry said that although the data isn't available to answer that question, focusing on the racial category is inconsequential. He added that while many blacks may have recognized a "mutual identity" with Obama as far as race, Obama won in several demographics.

"It's a little misleading to say African Americans are voting for him because he's black," Cherry said. "You've had other black candidates like Alan Keyes. What's different with Obama is that he was actually able to mobilize people."

But racism isn't dead, Cherry warned.

"A lot of the editorials that came out after the election made these broad, sweeping generalizations as if racism is going to disappear, everything's better, and that's not the truth," Cherry said.