Saturday, November 14, 2009

Perception is Reality: A Personal Realization

Through issue of controversy, the University of Mississippi has lost one of its game day traditions. Because of a recent incident where the Ole Miss Football student section has begun chanting the phrase “the South will rise again,” during the song “From Dixie with Love,” the UM administration has removed the Pride of the South Marching Band's performance of the song in the Grove, during the university’s pre-game and at other athletic events.

The song is a medley comprised from the tunes “Dixie” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As a powerfully written fusion and reconciliation of two historical songs representing both the confederacy and union, “From Dixie with Love” has been a tradition at athletic events for over 30 years.

The chant “The South will rise again,” is a phenomenon yelled during the last five years at football games. A harmful phrase, referencing negative stereotypes, it has raised concern in hurting UM recruitment. The phrase is ironically chanted during the battle hymn in place of the lyrics “His truth is marching on.”

Although I have restrained my personal point of view regarding most of the dilemmas concerning this controversy, I have come to find great concern against pro-chant supporter’s arguments for their continued use of the phrase. Both pro-chant rebuttals are seemingly twisted viewpoints I take offense to as a journalist and Public Relations practitioner.

Their initial argument is the claim that the administration is impugning upon their First Amendment right. At no point has the University of Mississippi banned the use of saying “The South will rise again,” nor have they reprimanded or expelled any student for continuing to say the chant at athletic events. Just as the students chanting have the right to say what they wish, the institution reserves the right to take away what triggers the phrase.

The First Amendment ensures us the freedom to speak our minds as individuals and as a people. But with common sense, we as people must always ask ourselves whether the right to say something makes what we say right.

The pro-chant’s second argument is not far from this question. Their following point is that they do not “personally” believe the phrase is offensive. Even if this is their individual and collective viewpoint, it does not change the fact that they are the minority and that the chant does has negative connotations associated with it. This dispute clashes with two core principles of Public Relations and logic: perception is reality, which is a cornerstone of PR, and (yes, as Spock would say) the needs of the many will always out-weigh the needs of the few or the one.

Simply stated, The MAJORITY of the people perceive “the South will rise again” chant as a negative influence; therefore, it is harmful.

Beyond this infallible logic are the facts that the only groups and individuals that have aligned themselves with the phrase are racist, white supremacists such as the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, The Mississippi Council of Conservative Citizens, and Richard Barrett. There is also video footage in the UM J.D. Williams Library showing segregationists jeering James Meredith, the school’s first black student, in 1962 as they singing “Glory, glory segregation, the South will rise again.”

Whether the song can be reinstated and the chant disbanded when it returns is uncertain. Only the future will tell the outcome. But there is one constant to remember from this situation, Perception IS Reality… Always!

Additional Resources:
* The Facebook Group to save "From Dixie with Love"
* An Article from the Red Cup Rebellion blog
* Chancellor Dan Jones letter to the Ole Miss Community

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