politics that fails to understand the rise of the right as an
extension of the past, rather than its inversion, is both deeply
flawed and dangerous. “The Worst Place in the U.S. to Be Black
is… Wisconsin: ‘Racism and the Wisconsin Idea,’”
October 29, 2018
The masthead reads: WISCONSIN.
2000-2001. The University of Wisconsin at Madison’s official
booklet for incoming freshmen. A roughly even number of young women
and men, dressed in red and white sweatshirts, cheering at a
Wisconsin football game. Okay. It would have been a pleasant surprise
to see a crane shot of students hunched over their books, laptops,
articles at desks at the campus’s main library. Students being
students, maybe? Students learning. But, maybe, learning isn’t
a selling point.
Mid-way the left edge of the image
is the face a black male student. He smiles.
The year isn’t 1954 when the
appearance of a black person in a photo of predominantly white
Americans would make anyone familiar with the history of the US think
of a lynching. There’s the black swinging from a tree, above a
sea of white faces, old and young, female and male. All smiling.
This is the year 2000. It’s
the same year I’m recruited to teach in Wisconsin, for the
Weeks into the fall term, an older
black female colleague who, no doubt, has heard what’s happened
to me in August, wants me to take a look at something. So
I do. I’m looking. And
then I see. We don’t have to speak.
month or two before, in August, I’m summoned to the affirmative
action office, to see the director, a black man I hadn’t seen
before. And it’s a week or two before contract signing. But
this man has information to relay from the white administration: Go
back. Go back home!
not as if I hadn’t taught for years at the college/university
level. It’s not as if I had landed at that UW campus without
the dean of faculty’s contacting to my chair at Loyola
University Chicago. It’s not as if that call didn’t
commence with letters of recommendations, transcripts of three
degrees, including the doctorate and field of study, scrutinized by a
hiring committee before being invited to come to the campus for
interviews. I received a letter of congratulations: come
join the English department! And,
now, week or two before I’m to sign the contract, I’m
being asked to disappear. Don’t leave the office
until you agree! After two
hours, I’m handed the phone. Here, speak with a
psychiatrist! And he
leaves the office.
It’s a revolving door.
Before you, two other black women, hired by the English department,
were sent packing. One before she signed and one after.
Take a look at something!
Diallo Shabazz, too, the black student in the photo, took a look at
it one days as he was passing the administration offices on the
Madison campus. It was a surprise to see himself, he admits.
Particularly since he had never attended a University of Wisconsin
A photoshopped image!
no, I’m not surprised at all by then.
Wisconsin? In Madison, the state’s capital, six percent of the
population is black while 50% of the state’s prison population
is black. At the UW Madison, according the 2017 statistics, of the
42, 977 students enrolled, 418 are black men and 540 are black women.
in the individual snowflakes that fall, there is diversity in
Wisconsin. Maybe in the effort of the state’s effort to
acknowledge diversity by
including white women and white members of the LGTB community. But in
terms of racial inclusion, that is, the inclusion of blacks—that’s
all about control. Controlling the “living space,” the
represent the “opposition.” Resistance to the “right.”
To fascism, even. So the newest photo out of Wisconsin shouldn’t
have surprised progressive-minded journalists and activists in or out
of the state. After all, it’s the same state that incarcerates
more blacks than any other state. According
to a census report, Wisconsin is listed at the worst state for
incarcerating black men in 2010, coming in number one at 12.8%.
Number two is Oklahoma at 9.7%. NPR
March, 2015, noted that Wisconsin spends more money for correctional
facilities and less on education. Yet the practice of incarcerating
blacks continued, with the state’s criminal justice system
police policies” targeting black Americans.
in the progressive and liberal camps should have known that four out
of five black children live in poverty, and, in Milwaukee, one of the
most segregated cities in the US, black children have the highest
rate of high school suspensions (NPR).
starts early in the state of Wisconsin and long before Scott Walker
and Donald Trump! Black Americans are used to being described as “the
enemy of the people” by society and having the progressive and
liberal camps look away. Self-preservation is the first order of
business - under a capitalist regime. Control the representatives of
opposition and the message!
Oh, don’t pay any attention
to those radical blacks! Those troublemakers!
obvious absence of racial diversity, of black Americans in
particular, in Wisconsin is beneficial to progressives and liberals.
To suggest we
anything that would address the suffering and injustice
experienced by black children, by their parents, by blacks lingering
in prison (for mainly drug-related crimes, in predominantly white
college towns!) is to receive a resounding NO!
Go back from whence you came? When
I wrote about it for the City Capital Hues in
Madison, the publisher and editor was confronted and asked to fire
had to stop and think. I didn’t encounter “the right,”
as in the Right, back
it’s 2018 and another photo has surfaced, and it’s not
been doctored. Why should it be? It’s bold and brazen.
Empowered by what need not be kept hidden any longer. This
has a face. Has many faces…
Take a look!
to sixty predominantly white high school boys, hands up, saluting:
“Sieg Heil!” They are “proud” students of
Baraboo High School in Wisconsin. “Welcome to Baraboo.”
even got the black kid to throw it #barabooproud.”
the top of the black young student’s head. Dreads. There’s
one white student, hands at his side. No salute. But look at the one
in the front row, center. He’s giving the symbol of white
photo appears on Twitter, and, immediately, media outlets denounced
the photo. Appalling!
not show the American public, heaven forbid!, the offensive saluting
hands! How could this happen—in America, of all places!
and pundits appearing on CBS, CNN, MSNBC
angered. USA Today, AP, The New York Times show
the photo and insists that there is no place for this kind of hate in
America. Democracy Now!, a
news outlet that frequently appears in Madison, fundraising, also
showed the photo too. But the Koch brothers don’t fund
progressive, liberal or Left news outlets. Nor “celebrity”
activists. So silence on certain unpleasant issues becomes beneficial
to the “good guys and gals” too. Who wants to lose their
funding? Even if that funding is from within the white
wonder there’s a rise in hate groups throughout the US.
to the Southern Poverty Law Center
(SPLC) hate crimes are
up in 2017, the third worst year since the agency started collecting
such date. There have been 7,106 hate crimes last year. There are 953
hate groups in the US (SPLC).
Two blacks are shot dead, on October 25, 2018, at a Kroger’s in
Jeffersontown, Kentucky, after the killer (a believer in white
supremacy) tried and failed to enter a black church. On October 27,
2018, the Tree of Life synagogue lost 11 of its worshipers, shot by
an American who hailed white supremacy.
neighbors, friends, family members even. Very fine people, huh?
can’t imagine what it’s like for the average white child
in Wisconsin to grow up and see blacks so infrequently as to think us
a novelty. But we are there on the local news channels, under the
news heading: “crime.” Blacks appear in prison orange
garb not in red or white sweatshirts with the “W” logo.
What must these children hear from parents and other adults at the
kitchen table about black and brown people? What do they learn in
school about colonization, enslavement, the practice of genocide as
the foundational violence of this nation? What do they learn about
themselves? What do the white students of Wisconsin learn about their
responsibility toward ensuring social justice prevails as opposed to
learning how to be competitive toward the racial other, exclude the
racial other because all are “criminal,” a threat, until
proven “dead” to resistance? What do these students learn
and observe from friends and neighbors? What is it that white
children come to understand about the other when these children hear
adults speak of “certain” people from Chicago or
Milwaukee invading Madison? Or Baraboo?
hear echoes of Thomas Jefferson, “from cradle to grave...”
In in his Notes on Virginia,
Jefferson writes that he fears what will become of young white
children who witness, day in and day out, the violence afflicted on
enslaved blacks by their parents, neighbors.
whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of
the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the
one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see
this, and learn to imitate it: for man is an imitative animal. This
quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his
grave he is learning to do what he sees others do…
parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath,
puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose
to the worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily
exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious
not a matter of what aboutism.
False equivalency. “Black people are bad, too...” Such
utterances attempt to distract and avoid the systemic rule of white
supremacy and the role of white Americans in its perpetuation.
the Baraboo School District website, there’s a collage of
images showing smiling parents, students, teachers. I couldn’t
locate a parent or student or teacher of color. Today, over seventy
years after the end of World War II, we ask what did the average
German citizen think when she looked around and no longer saw the
Jewish shop owner or teacher or neighbor? Did she just shrug their
shoulders, go back to her living room, sit in front of the radio and
listen contently to the latest news out of the Third Reich? Did
anyone suspect a problem? A crisis?
not so much, huh? To perceive a problem or a crisis, you would have
to be the target of a pogrom of abnormality. You would have to
perceive that something is wrong. Injustice is evident. The world is
majority NOT you - white America. So where are the others? So in this
wonderful city of Baraboo, of Madison, of Pleasant Prairie, of Green
Bay, of Platteville, of Fond du Lac, of Oshkosh, of Appleton - where
are the others?
Along with the journalists and activists, Lori Mueller, head of the
school district in Baraboo is shocked, too. In no way does the
Baraboo school district tolerate hate! The school district “is
a hate-free environment where all people, regardless of race, color,
religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national
origins or ancestry are respected and celebrated.” Yeah, yeah,
yeah. These children were born on American soil, educated at American
a group of people feel entitled to their identity as innocent people,
historically innocent people - you can’t feign surprise when
the offspring throw up their hands and give the salute validity. Sieg
Heil! The young are not blind or deaf to social media, to the US
president calling himself a nationalist, to Brian Kemp, in Georgia,
openly disenfranchises mainly black voters. Steve
King, the US Rep from Iowa wins
his seat again, yet the man never has a good thing to say about black
people. And seconds after police arrive on the scene, the witnesses
know. How many times
have we all witnessed this scene? The witnesses scream: he’s
a guard, he’s a security guard!
But the police see a black man who happens to be restraining a
shooter. But that scenario doesn’t compute! A police officer
begins firing as if at a firing range. At a blackened figure within a
white circle. Fire! Fire! Until the black man is dead. No hesitancy
of color in Wisconsin see it as a place not to enter, a city not to
visit, a line not to cross. We
feel it as stress. Hate.
must young white children, students, think, when they witness how
black Americans are hated so?
in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the Anti-Defamation League and the
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is looking into this Nazi
the white progressives and liberals will do what?