The Wrong Shade

The president of the University of Richmond, Ronald Crutcher, writes that he finds himself in a dilemma.

Drink in hand, the student, Michael Kizzie, stands smiling on a table in what appears to be a fraternity house. He has a mock noose around his neck, and he is surrounded by unidentifiable — but presumably white — classmates in Ku Klux Klan robes, as some sort of sick joke.

This picture is from a 1980 yearbook photo, yet Crutcher laments that he has to make the phone call.

The student-driven Race and Racism at the University of Richmond Project had excavated a number of racist yearbook images, including the one of Mr. Kizzie but others too, starting in 2016. A reporter came across our publicly available archive of yearbooks and posted a tweet containing the noose photo. The post came in the immediate aftermath of the controversy surrounding racist photos in Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it went viral in the university community.

It may seem obvious, if not beyond compelling, that the best possible reaction would be to use this as a teaching opportunity. After all, Crutcher is president of a college, and the pic went viral in the school’s community, which presumably includes a student or two. But that notion doesn’t appear to occur to Crutcher. Instead, the only call considered was one for condemnation.

I was appalled by the image, and in a message to the university community, I publicly condemned the racist photo as “repulsive to us” and “antithetical to the values of the university today.” And I was proud of the Race and Racism project, which has involved faculty and staff, for being part of our broader institutional initiative to address the challenges students of color have experienced at Richmond and at colleges across the country.

Could the same condemnation of the content of the image be achieved without making Kizzie the focus of outrage for his being complicit? Nah.

With all this in mind, I called Mr. Kizzie. Unlike the students hiding in K.K.K. robes, he acknowledged responsibility and told me he agreed that we must use the resurfacing of that ugly moment he was involved in as a learning opportunity. And he graciously offered to come back to campus to participate in an oral history interview with our students this fall.

Responsibility? For what? For being black at a time when something as outrageous as posing as a lynching victim of the Klan wasn’t considered so far beyond the pale as to be inconceivable? For being one of a handful of black students, trying his best to be a welcome member of the crowd, get along, survive? Did Crutcher think it was Kizzie’s idea to his fraternity brothers, “hey guys, let’s take a lynching pic with me being hung. It will be so cool”?

But I did feel empathy for Mr. Kizzie, a smart and genial alumnus, living out his private life as any of us do, only to suddenly be thrust into a negative spotlight for long-ago actions he both regretted and maybe had forgotten.

How kind of Crutcher to feel empathy. Is he a swell guy or what? But if he not only felt empathy, but used his friggin’ brain, he might instead have saved Kizzie from his bloodthirsty mob by standing before the jail like Atticus Finch (before he was reinvented to undermine the very point of Harper Lee’s classic) by explaining that Kizzie should not be demonized by his woke students today for what happened almost 40 years ago.

As I’ve hosted discussions on race and education, I’ve seen participants squirm a bit in their chairs. I’m sure there will be a few moments like that as Mr. Kizzie shares his story with students from this newest generation. These racial conversations are deeply uncomfortable at times. But they are just as necessary as they are difficult, if colleges are to match the aspiration of our mission statements: to be a welcoming place for young people of every background. Those of us who lead in higher education have no higher calling than to embrace this challenge head on. Our students — past, present and future — deserve no less.

What an unadulterated steaming pile of faux woke bullshit. You sold Kizzie down the drain rather than man up to the harder responsibility of protecting an alumnus from the mindless outrage of the mob of insipid little shits, then wrapped it up in the pretty bow of some “higher calling.” In 1980, Kizzie was the victim of a twisted racist joke. In 2019, he’s the victim of mob in search of people to hate and a university president only too happy to pass out torches to his baby mob.

Coward. Failure. Hypocrite. It was your job to protect Kizzie, to explain to the students why this was not his fault and he had no reason to apologize. Instead, you sold him out to the new mob to protect your own pathetic butt from them turning away from Kizzie and marching toward you.

31 thoughts on “The Wrong Shade

  1. Cinnamongirl

    At least they aren’t asking for his degree to be revoked which is where I thought this could be heading. Poor Kizzie. Victimized not once, but twice. When will leadership somewhere, anywhere, stand up and tell the woke babies to sit down and STFU?

    1. SHG Post author

      The hard question is whether Kizzie prefers to be hung as a bad joke by his racist buddies or a testament to equity by the empathetic mob. He survived one. Will he survive the other?

    2. JohnM

      After I read the lede, I thought the same thing. An ex post facto* event.

      Look, I used google to look up a thing. I’m smartly.

  2. wilbur

    Maybe they should go back through the yearbooks with a razor blade and excise all pictures which may offend anyone. But upon reflection, these pictures are too valuable to the crew which lives to be perpetually offended..

    Paarenthetically, I note Prez Crutcher sez “We have no intention of varnishing our history. ” What an odd choice of verbs.

  3. Ann Clark

    I started at a mostly white college a few years after that picture was taken. He needs to be ashamed for posing. A vast super majority of blacks would have never allowed themselves to be put in that position.

    We all knew the type of Black who would have allowed himself to put in that situation. They were worthless in our view and viewed with contempt.

    The big C, (c**n) would be an adequate description for someone like that.

    1. SHG Post author

      Aren’t you the bold ally with all the answers for someone else’s life. What’s next, lynch him for being the wrong kind of black man?

        1. SHG Post author

          You have to be really woke for a white woman to call a black man a racial slur. Really, really woke, at least in “your truth.”

  4. Michael Shapiro

    Sadly, it was Kizzie who was the only one readily identifiable the others wearing hoods. He should be “grateful” that he hasn’t been asked to reveal the others in the photo.

      1. LocoYokel

        If it’s a frat picture it should be relatively easy to figure out with the membership roles during his time there.

  5. Turk

    Well, there is a teachable point buried in there. About peer pressure and how it pushes people to do stupid things in order to belong.

    Here it’s race. But it could be a million other things, dealing with alcohol, drugs, sex, assaults, gender and cow tipping. Hey, stupid isn’t confined to The Big Ones.

    Kizzie appears to be merely the issue-of-the-day for the more significant issue (doing stupid so that you belong to “the group”). And that is what Crutcher should focus on if he is going to address this. (Also should be addressed by every high school, middle school and parent long before they get to college.)

    I’m guessing that girls get more practice at saying no then boys.

    1. SHG Post author

      Buried? Were my words too big again? And leave girls out of it, since that’s not only an entirely separate sub-issue, but likely completely wrong when it comes to peer pressure.

      1. Turk

        “Buried” only in the sense that I think that the issue is how pressure affects a much broader scope of activities than Kizzie doing this one-off thing, since such pressure can come up in a thousand different ways from the obvious to stupid pranks (cow tipping).

        And yeah, I probably should have left out the girls/boys part I tossed in at the end.

    2. Ron

      You have a gift for stating the obvious as if it wasn’t the point to begin with. Maybe it’s not really a gift.

      1. SHG Post author

        In fairness, he did include the phrase “peer pressure,” which I did not, but then I don’t think that’s quite the case here (or with women pressured into sex). There is the acceptance aspect, but there is a distinguishing feature that separates them as “peers.”

  6. Pedantic Grammar Police

    It’s nice to know that, if I ever find myself with nothing useful to do, and no hobby to waste my time, I don’t have to just sit there and contemplate my failure as a human being. I can always search old college yearbooks for pictures that will offend someone, and some non-zero number of people will applaud my efforts, and I will be able to tell myself that I accomplished something.

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