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The Book Thief
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
On Gold Mountain
Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
City of Tranquil Light: A Novel
The Distant Land of My Father
The Paris Wife
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Fall of Giants
World Without End
A Stolen Life
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
The Pillars of the Earth
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
The Road
Trials of the Earth: The Autobiography of Mary Hamilton
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
Cutting for Stone

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Entries in Mississippi (1)


mark of racism

Our family tailgated in front of the Lyceum in 2008.I was 10 years old. The air in the grove hung around me as thick as cotton. My eyes must have been the size of cotton bolls. They read the sign painted on a white sheet and hefted by a rotund man dressed in a suit and tie. It read: “hell, John, I’ll tote that flag.” 

I had been to Ole Miss campus before surely, but this was the first trip my memory would register. I tagged along with my good friend Rachel Paris. Her family would later have the chapel on campus named for them. 

On that weekend, I visited the Chi Omega house where Rachel’s big sister lived. I remember the smell of hot rollers and shampoo as the beautiful girls prepped for the big game. Seven years later, I would spend my junior and senior years living there in one of those rooms.

We tailgated in front of the Lyceum circa 1846. This icon of Ole Miss was the first building to constitute the university. In 1861the entire student body joined the confederate army. Later the Lyceum served as a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers. The bodies of 250 soldiers lay buried a few feet away from where we picnicked. 

The confederate soldier greets visitors. The Lyceum is behind it but hard to see because of the trees.

And as my feet stood firm on this ground - this battleground - I took in the history as it played out in front of me. My mind tried to process the words and the red-faced adults fueled by anger and bourbon. 

My heart had already pledged allegiance to the flag of Ole Miss, to the concept of this institution, to the nostalgia that transcends words. The adults with me, one of whom had a jewish heritage, explained to me that an African American cheerleader had refused to carry the confederate flag. 

Yesterday I went to the movies with my two younger sons and my husband. As our Honda traveled through Franklin, Tennessee (yet another historic battlefield); we explained racism to them. Then we watched it on the big screen as “42” chronicled the legend of Jackie Robinson. For most of the movie a lump lodged in my throat. Finally tears slid down my face as Jackie lost it after yet another barrage of insults accompanied his turn at bat. 

In one scene a 10 year old boy watches the game with his father. His big eyes reflect the bewilderment of the rage around him. This poignantly portrays the birth of racism in a soul. The boy begins to copy the adults and scream out to Jackie. Then he watches as his hero, Pee Wee Reese, walks over to first base and puts his arm around Jackie. Which adult will the boy emulate as he matures? 

Racism leaves its marks on lives. The mark is as deadly as the bloodstains on the floor of the Lyceum. As I write these words, I feel scared. Putting my thoughts and my experiences of racism on paper feels like handling explosives. Shame still laces through me. What could a 46-year-old white woman have to say about racism?

A few weeks ago I read the thoughts of an African American pastor on his blog. He wrote about the recent uproar at Ole Miss. The Colonel Rebel retired and the Black Bear took his place on the sideline. My own reaction to this event belies the work still to be done in my heart. When I read about the shift, I hung my head low. A black bear. Really? 

Pastor Loritts called me out. He wrote:

Down the street from Memphis sits Ole Miss. Recently, a bit of a ruckus took place there over the issue of their mascot, and the Rebel Flag. In the middle of the “storm” I happened to be playing golf with an alumnus of the school, who’s a raving fan who also happens to be white. Dumbfounded he exhaled, “I don’t see what the big deal is, it’s just a name, a flag.” It’s no surprise that he doesn’t have any meaningful relationships with the other either. He just sees things from his side of the tracks, and has never bothered to get into the skin of the Other. If he did, he would see the big deal, because to the descendants of slaves that flag incites anger and hurt.

The mark of racism on my life looks like loneliness. I don’t have friends who are African American. My church is mostly vanilla. The elementary and middle schools my children attend are not diverse. And my life is less because of this. I want more.

I would like to get into the skin of the other. Ole Miss still holds my allegiance. My hope is that we can grow and become people willing to get into the skin of the other.