How Campus Racism Is a Postelection Reality

Given recent cases at Ole Miss and Towson U, Obama's win still rankles some young voters.

Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images
Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images

(The Root) — The recent re-election of President Barack Obama has been met with a variety of reactions. Because of the large turnout of young people, women and people of color, the prevailing thought has been that America is officially moving beyond its racist past, embracing change and the need to recognize the value that these groups bring to the landscape. In some ways, the election reflects a “kumbaya” moment, in which people with shared histories and experiences came together so that their voices were heard, promoting the idea of unity, harmony and togetherness.

While this is an idealized response to the election, the reality is more complicated. The desire to focus on the positive and highlight the interconnectedness of diverse groups of people and their willingness to come together in pursuit of equality is admirable. However, any attempt to downplay the racist rhetoric and behavior that have followed the nation’s first black president since day 1 in office is problematic.

Announcing that we now really must live in a postracial society because of the re-election of one black man to the nation’s highest office is as irrational as ignoring the proliferation of hate speech and actions aimed squarely at President Obama. And even as many have been celebrating his historic win and assuming that youth voters don’t see race, high-profile incidents on college campuses demonstrate the opposite.

You may recall the response to President Obama’s re-election at Hampden-Sydney College, a small all-men’s college in Virginia, where opponents shouted racial slurs, threw bottles and set off fireworks outside the Minority Student Union just hours after President Obama’s re-election. Some even threatened bodily harm to members of the union. What’s so surprising about this incident?

In 2009, shortly after Obama’s presidential win, Hampden-Sydney welcomed its first black president, Christopher Howard, in the college’s then-230-year history. Howard, who was just 40 years old, had also been a Rhodes scholar and president of his class at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He received his Ph.D. from Oxford, is a Harvard MBA and was a vice president at General Electric.

How sad is it that a school that saw fit to finally hire a black man as president has students who are so small-minded that they cannot imagine a black man as president of the United States? Hampden-Sydney students have the opportunity to experience on a micro level what the rest of us are experiencing on a macro level, and this is what some choose to do with it?

A similar incident was reported at Ole Miss, where racial epithets were shouted after the announcement that President Obama had been re-elected. The Daily Mississippian student newspaper reported that hundreds of students “exchanged racial epithets and violent, politicized chants” as the nation learned that President Obama had beaten former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.