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Est. April 5, 2002
November 29, 2018 - Issue 766

The Nazi Salute in Wisconsin

"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?"

Any 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,’”

Boston Review, 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.

Look again.

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 university system.

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.

A 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!

It’s 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!

Apparently, 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 football game!

A photoshopped image!

And, no, I’m not surprised at all by then.

Diversity in 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.

Maybe 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 another matter.

It’s all about control. Controlling the “living space,” the lebensraum to 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 in 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 “sentencing and police policies” targeting black Americans.

Plenty 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).

It 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!

The obvious absence of racial diversity, of black Americans in particular, in Wisconsin is beneficial to progressives and liberals. To suggest we do 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!

NO! 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 me.

I had to stop and think. I didn’t encounter “the right,” as in the Right, back then.

Now 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 propaganda of innocence has a face. Has many faces…

Take a look!

Fifty 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.”

We even got the black kid to throw it #barabooproud.”

And look closer.

There’s 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 power.

Sieg Heil!”

The photo appears on Twitter, and, immediately, media outlets denounced the photo. Appalling! Disgusting! Let’s not show the American public, heaven forbid!, the offensive saluting hands! How could this happen—in America, of all places!

Anchors 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 progressive/liberal camp.

No wonder there’s a rise in hate groups throughout the US.

According 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.

Some neighbors, friends, family members even. Very fine people, huh?

I 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?

I 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.

The 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…

The 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 peculiarities.

It’s 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.

At 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?

Maybe 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?

Okay. 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 institutions.

When 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 whatsoever!

People 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.

What must young white children, students, think, when they witness how black Americans are hated so?

Back in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the Anti-Defamation League and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is looking into this Nazi salute photo.

And the white progressives and liberals will do what? Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




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