OPINION – This whole issue of renaming Dixie State University must, once and forever, be resolved.
A recent opinion piece published in another media outlet and written by DSU professor Danielle Larsen-Rife that has gained statewide attention has reopened the debate and, in light of the horrific killings in Charleston, S.C. and subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, must be addressed.
I understand the great pride people have in their heritage.
I understand that nobody likes to look back upon their families as having, perhaps, participated in something as abhorrent as slavery. It’s a matter of love and respect for your own personal roots, no matter how much the family has evolved socially, culturally, morally.
But, the bottom line is that this whole Dixie thing puts Southern Utah in a bad light.
There are less than 200 African-American students enrolled at DSU.
The state of Utah has an African-American population of a mere 1.27 percent, ranking it 43rd in the nation.
There are reasons for those numbers, cultural reasons, sociological reasons, embarrassing reasons.
Have the people of the state grown? Evolved?
Of course. At least to a certain extent.
Is racism still a part of the Utah makeup?
Again, of course. It is an undeniable piece of the American fabric whose seams remain frayed despite our best efforts.
That’s why it is time to settle this thing once and for all and decide on a name that does not offend.
Because we’re all supposed to be on equal footing, we’re supposed to respect the thoughts and feelings of others, we’re expected to display a certain humanity that embraces us regardless of the color of our skin, our religious or political beliefs, our lives that may vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, from door to door.
Most importantly, it should be our responsibility to honor only that which is honorable and despite the twisting and intertwining of the words “Dixie,” “Pride,” “Heritage,” there was little honor in owning slaves.
I don’t want to imply that the sins or our fathers should be bestowed upon us.
That would be ridiculously unfair. We cannot, in any way, be held accountable for what happened nearly two centuries ago. Besides, the poor dirt farmers who worked their small family farms were not the ones to perpetrate this inhumanity. It was the rich plantation owners, for the most part, who were the predators. Less than 25 percent Southerners owned slaves.
Life was not akin to the “Gone With The Wind” fantasy. It was harsh. The men were whipped, the women were often raped. Families lived in constant fear of separation as slaves were sold or traded. Because of health and sanitary conditions, childhood mortality was high.
Is that something we should look upon with pride?
Slavery was legal in the Utah Territory. Southern Utah was settled by a number of relocated Southerners who brought their handful of slaves with them and were sent here to establish Utah’s Dixie as a place to grow cotton and tobacco. The effort, of course, failed, but the settlers remained and clung to the Dixie moniker.
There were good and decent people in the Old South. They had little wealth, but lived lives of honor and respect. They did not participate in slavery, many, in fact, did not believe in it. They fought, however a Civil War in defense of their homes, their families.
That is a kind of legacy and heritage I can respect and understand, but must it carry forth and be burdened by the Dixie nametag?
The spirit of humanity, kindness, loyalty, comfort should perpetuate itself. It should be carried in the hearts of those who dispense it. It really needs no flag, no symbol, no name to be carried forth, especially ones that are hurtful to a group of people who still suffer the injustice of racism. If you don’t understand that racism still exists, then I suggest you take a quick look through social media and see the attitudes being expressed these days.
Look, I get it. Not everybody who wants to hold on to the Dixie name is a racist. I understand. But, how do we distinguish them from the others?
How do we convince the parents of a young African-American student interested in attending school here that their son or daughter will be in a safe, welcoming environment?
How will we keep the dialog going on campus, where diversity is supposed to fuel discussion and offer a variety of opinions and perspectives? We can’t ensure that diversity if students won’t take a second look at the school because the name frightens them.
The minstrel shows that were once a part of the Dixie College school year are gone.
So is the statue of the Rebel soldier, and the Rebel mascot.
It’s time, now, to do away with the name.
We can surely come up with something better, can’t we?
- On the EDge: An uncivil war over Confederate flag
- Perspectives: Stop focusing on nonissues; Charleston shooting
- Applause and song resound, Dixie name change survey results; STGnews Videocast and Photo Gallery – 2013
- On the EDge: Be a ‘real’ Rebel, accept Dixie name change – 2012
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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