Welcome to the New South, which at times can look and act one hell of a lot like the Old South. The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament staged a first round matchup between Kansas State and Southern Mississippi and KSU won, as expected, 70-64. The story of the game, however, was the members of the Southern Mississippi school band who gave us all another lesson that the past is not always past, by starting a chant as racist as it was ignorant.
They engaged in a chorus of “Where’s your green card?” aimed at Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez. Imagine being Angel Rodriguez and having that chanted in your direction at full volume, while trying to play a basketball game. This has about as much in common with normal rowdy fan behavior as a glee club has with a lynch mob. Rodriguez’s four free throws in the closing moments of the contest helped seal the victory, but that’s not nearly enough of a response given both the behavior of the fans as well as the exploding anti-immigrant climate in the state.
The chant, first and foremost, was both racist and stupid, given that Rodriguez is actually from Puerto Rico, and therefore has citizenship. But given that the state of Mississippi’s Republican electorate just voted for Rick Santorum, who recently said that Puerto Rico could only be a state if everyone learned and spoke English, their actions should anger but not surprise.
It also shouldn’t surprise given the fact that today—of all days—Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant saw his deeply punitive, racial-profiling anti-immigration House Bill 488 pass the state house. The bill will deal with what Bryant calls the “massive, uncontrolled” influx of “illegals.” It also gives local and state police the powers to demand the immigration papers of anyone they choose to stop. “If we pass this bill, it will set Mississippi back 60 years,” said Representative Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport. “Let us show America we are not the narrow-minded people they say we are.” Nice try, but instead Bryant celebrated the bill, saying, “Perhaps it’s boat-rocking time in Mississippi.“ Perhaps the students were just taking his lead, and trying to rock some boats.
Southern Mississippi School President Martha Saunders issued a statement a mere two hours after the game where she wrote:
We deeply regret the remarks made by a few students at today’s game. The words of these individuals do not represent the sentiments of our pep band, athletic department or university. We apologize to Mr. Rodriquez [sic] and will take quick and appropriate disciplinary action against the students involved in this isolated incident.
Yes, she misspelled Rodriguez’s name. And yes, treating this like an isolated incident is, pardon the expression given Mississippi’s history, a whitewash. Defenders of the Magnolia State will no doubt say that the state has changed dramatically from the days gone by. But given Bryant’s scapegoating, anti-immigrant agenda and given the extraordinary efforts taken by the state to deprive minority voting rights, it is, as Al Sharpton said, a change from Jim Crow to James Crow Jr. Esq. In other words, the depriving of rights and the threats to citizenship have erupted, yet now assume the language of legal niceties. But sometimes the bile rises to the surface, and from the mouths of Southern Miss. students, amidst a basketball game, the bile did runneth over.