A Haircut to Remember

As I recall, it happened in the middle of an early spring night in 1967 toward the end of my sophomore year at Earlham College. The sensibilities of the 1960’s counter-culture had finally arrived on campus, and one of my classmates had let his wavy brown hair grow to shoulder length. Another group of male students, wearing white sheets and hoods, pulled the “long-hair” from his bed, carried him forcibly to a field, held him down and cut his hair.

The victim did not suffer in silence. The campus was inflamed the next day with his outraged protests and those of his supporters. My group of “hippy, commie” friends suspected the culprits were a group of white basketball players whom we had dubbed “the fascista.” We protested the war in Vietnam and attacked the conservative social rules of the college administration. “The fascista” sought to counter our verbal assaults with physical intimidation. In just a few days it became common knowledge that our suspicions were justified.

Earlham is a Quaker Institution and so was viewed by students from eastern urban centers as a liberal place, but the college was controlled by the conservative, mid-western wing of that denomination. As far as I know, the administration never disciplined those involved in the assault. Both the victim and the bullies stayed at Earlham, graduated and went their separate ways.

I’ve thought about and described “the haircutting incident,” as I’ve come to call it, from time to time during the intervening decades. But it had become just a faded memory until a couple of weeks ago when I learned that Mitt Romney led a similar attack, with homophobic overtones, while in high school (sans the sheets).

People change. I believe at least one member of the Earlham barber gang became a somewhat counter-cultural anti-war activist before he graduated. Perhaps he even apologized to the victim. But I expect that others of the group have not changed much. I can’t be certain of this, since I’ve lost track of all those involved long ago.

One thing I am sure of, however. It is extremely unlikely that any of the people involved will ever forget that haircut. So I am convinced that Mitt Romney is lying when he says he can’t remember.

We could chalk his amnesia up to political expedience. Outright denial is foreclosed by multiple witnesses who say Romney led the attack. Since a major presidential candidate would rather not admit to committing such a cowardly and morally reprehensible act, claiming a memory failure enables Mitt to avoid a confession. Perhaps his advisers feel it muddies the waters just enough to mitigate the damage.

Is it possible that Romney’s failure to take responsibility is more revealing? After all, Romney’s homophobic assault took place over 40 years ago in high school while he was still a teenager. He could admit his transgression, even his bias, and say “that was then” and he regrets it. But perhaps Romney’s unwillingness to come clean is an indication that he hasn’t changed that much. Maybe the capitalist bully of Bain was an adult manifestation of the high school bully he had been. Maybe his saber rattling over Iran and his cozying up to the neo-con war mongers is an indication of the bullying president he’ll be if elected. Could it be that Mitt’s convenient memory lapse indicates that he never outgrew the mentality of “the fascista?”

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