Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Redefining race

I grew up in Janesville, a town just south of here that is famous for two things. It’s where they make GM trucks, and it’s where the KKK made its most overt public displays in a generation.

In 1991, public demonstrations of overt racism and pure hatred violently took place just blocks from my home. I was very young then, and I was kept away from the proceedings. I vividly remember watching on television as a neighborhood in my hometown was besieged in a clash of uniformed police, hooded demonstrators and screaming protestors.

I had walked those very streets. My grandparents grew up in that neighborhood, my father played there as a child. And I knew people in that crowd. It was the closest I have ever come to feeling real hate, to grasping the ugliest side of human possibility that I–and likely, most of you–have thankfully been sheltered from for the better part of my life.

That said, I will not resort to hyperbole and claim to have been scarred by my limited childhood experiences with racial conflict. Yet, I was then, and I remain today, deeply impressed by its weight and proximity.

Also, I do not claim to understand what it is to be a person of color, on this campus or elsewhere in our society. I have never known a world other than that of a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male from a large, respected family and a loving home.

But this circumstance will not prevent me from commenting on recent events and the state of race relations on this campus in general.

***

Earlier this week, amid the blather and dither of what was intended to be a “viewpoint-neutral” and professional process to disperse large sums of public money, something happened that turned the trumpeted thesis of this university on its head. The parameters of the game were widened ten-fold.

Once again in this city, one of the most tolerant and race-conscious cities in the country, the race card was laid on the table.

In what should be a benign and detached enterprise, a budget hearing, emotion replaced reason, and civility was thoroughly trumped by the passions of distorted entitlement.

It is a sad comment on the state of the diversity movement at this university when the basic expectations of “tolerance” for whites include allowing their money to be spent on newsletters printing “f*ck the white boy,” while the expectations of “tolerance” for students of color is simply to hold their comments to themselves after being fed more than enough money to carry on such endeavors.

A greater double standard I’ve yet to encounter.

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***

As Henry Kissinger once said, the reason campus politics are often so heated and so inflamed is that so little is really, truly at stake.

SSFC’s decision to zero-fund these groups, and future decisions to zero-fund other groups on the same grounds that may be yet to come, will have few effective externalities beyond the people who have a direct stake in the groups under question.

Yes, some students may be thrown out of a job. But, largely, the campus as a whole won’t miss the “services” being cut, as they sit on the chopping block precisely for that reason.

As far as I can gather, the main reasoning behind the cuts levied on DES and MEChA are direct results of their inability to show tangible results–or at least anything substantive enough to warrant thousands of dollars in public funding.

And their defense against these accusations of irresponsibility and inactivity?

“You don’t understand our culture.”

“You can’t see the help we provide”

Profanity-laced diatribes about tolerance and respect.

Last I heard, tolerance and respect had something to do with manners.

But the reality of these statements is that they stand alone, and can do only that because their deep implications are based solely upon shallow intentions.

Those who cry foul regarding SSFC’s decision pervert their stated goal of racial harmony. They seek to infuse racial preference where sound judgment now sits, instead of seeking to infuse sound judgment in the place of racial preference.

The accusations of bigotry that revolve around mere financial assessments reduce the standards of understanding between races from the broad criterion of respect for human dignity to the narrow trappings of dollars and cents. They define the cause of minority equality down, down to a level rarely seen outside of this campus and its twisted definitions of equality.

Keep up the good work, SSFC, you’re finally starting to raise the bar.

***

It is a sad comment on the progress of Plan 2008 and all of the other appropriations and efforts made to improve “campus climate” when, attempting to make a reasoned criticism of any person or group largely comprised of or associated with persons of color, a white individual is presented with essentially two outcomes. At best, he is a “reactionary.” At worst, he is a racist. Such modifiers as “bigoted” or “ignorant” are liable to come down as well–all representing varying degrees within the same spectrum.

And this very form of objective judgment leaves the nay-saying whites serving on SSFC labeled as racist bigots.

I begin to wonder where on that spectrum the thoughts espoused in this column might leave me.

— Eric Cullen ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and history.

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