In 1969, Black students at the University of Wisconsin took action to address the University's neglect of and veiled hostility toward the needs of the Black community. These students conveyed their demands, including the establishment of a Black Studies department, to the University administration. The images below document how Wisconsin responded to those Black students and over 10,000 other people on campus who stood up with them. This is our institutional legacy. We must know this history to understand the deep, persistent currents that have led us to #theRealUW.
These images are scans from Richard Faverty & Joel Brenner's On Strike – Shut It Down (Madison: Beckett Associates, 1969), a book I happened across on a shelf in UW-Madison's Memorial Library while searching for something else. Such is the serendipity of browsing the stacks.
Note the limited number of Black students captured in the photographs. While Black students were, and remain, a minority population in the UW's campus community, these images are noteworthy for their lack of focus on the Black students whose concerns initiated the demonstrations. As we contemplate the University of Wisconsin's problematic legacy of responding to the concerns of minority students, we will do well to compare these images to the way agency and solidarity are depicted and assigned in the images that come out of #theRealUW demonstrations.
When Tom Russell, a resident of El Paso-Juarez, wrote "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall," he was reacting to anti-immigrant currents in Texas that exploit low-wage laborers, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico.
But as I travel around the big old world
There's one thing that I most fear
It's a white man in a golf shirt
With a cell phone in his ear.
Russell sings about the guy in the world he most fears, "the white man in a golf shirt/with a cell phone in his ear." He sings about that archetypal White Man in that man's musical language – Country & Western, an aural mosaic that has incorporated many world musical traditions into the song of rural and suburban White America. But the problem at the root of it all, as Russell well knows, isn't just the archetypal White (bogey)Man.
Latin@s work in many capacities in our country, many as undocumented workers paid starvation wages, and many others as professionals – teachers, lawyers, firefighters, doctors, you name it. Latin@ life spans the gamut of the American experience and the spectrum of American politics. It's a damn shame we can't recognize Latin@s for what they are – not our "neighbors," but our brothers & sisters walking the same paths toward a future America as our ancestors did when they arrived.
Who's gonna wax the floors tonight
down at the local mall?
Who's gonna wash your baby's face?
Who's gonna build your wall?
"Who's gonna wash your baby's face?," Russell sings. The person providing the most intimate care for the vulnerable child, the one acting as surrogate for the affluent parents, is the one simultaneously despised, discredited, and suspected. That person does the work of the White Man's family without ever becoming family.
That White Man is so many of us, blind to the bonds of our kinship.
I understand some folks – including many of us veterans – are uncomfortable with what has become a day for our society to render unquestioning worship to military service. For those of you with misgivings about today's holiday, I offer this:
We can celebrate the social advancements that people who served before brought us – things like the Bonus Army; the GI Bill(s); the many men & women who persevered & served with honor & pride in segregated units that signaled they were considered less reliable, valiant, and human than their white counterparts; the men and women of all colors and backgrounds who served with dignity and honor after Executive Order 9981 ended formal segregation, but certainly not oppression; and the men and women who, by their resistance as troops in Vietnam, forced the political class & military brass to abandon that war.
Those are all things I think we can celebrate without getting militaristic. They speak to the better things done by people who have worn uniforms. They complicate the image of what a veteran is, and does, and means.
We need that complication.