Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Stripes and margins

Who is at stake? The convenient answer, no matter what the question or how it might change, is that we all are. Why write, or talk, about something, if it does not affect all of us in some meaningful way?

There are at least two answers, depending on what the question is or how it might change. One is that every discussion is meaningful because, no matter how many or few people it includes, we are all part of the same system. All included. The other answer is that someone who is not part of the discussion has no part in the discussion. In opposition.

But the question changes from time to time.


Once, I heard a story about a man who had a surprising fascination with jazz music. His companion was surprised because he had looked at the man’s face, and the man did not look like he would be interested in jazz. But the companion discovered the man’s love for jazz from his face, also, when the man talked about musicians and music, especially jazz music.

“When you talk about music,” the companion told him, “your face becomes beautiful.”

That said it all for me. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my face becomes beautiful just by talking about music. I like music well enough. I even own a few discs. But I do not talk about music in the same way as, say, that man who loved jazz.

What is the question now? I haven’t asked it yet. For some people, it is on their faces all the time. At this school, where the colors are white and red, a lot of people want to talk about race. They think they understand race. Or the differences between races, which is what race is all about anyway.

But why write, or talk, about anything so divisive? Can’t we find a way to talk about something that affects us all in some meaningful way?

Apparently, some people at this school are pretty sure there are differences between people, or at least between races. They saw it fit to scrawl words on a dormitory wall, including the word “nigger.” I don’t know if they used a capital N, but they probably didn’t know they were advertising Dick Gregory’s book.

It wouldn’t have been the first racist advertisement seen on this campus. I work for a newspaper in Madison that has been called, at least once, a “racist propaganda machine.” I have been told this was mostly because it printed an advertisement some viewed as racist.

A long time after that advertisement ran, I had an opportunity to speak with a professional sports writer who I admire greatly and who happened to have been, at one time, an editor of a different campus newspaper. Without my asking, the sportswriter assured me he had not been aware, before the fact, that a writer on his staff helped plan a protest bombing that destroyed a physics laboratory and killed a researcher.

I did ask if he agreed that Allen Iverson, a black basketball player who has a history of subversive and transgressive behavior, might be for black men in this country something like Muhammad Ali, a black boxer who had a history of subversive and transgressive behavior, had been when he was in college.

He told me he did not approve of Phil Mickelson, a white golfer who is left-handed and known for taking risky shots (in golf, those things are something like subversive and transgressive behavior). But he did not answer my question. Racist propaganda? Perhaps not.

Sports are full of racial conflicts, as well as subversive and transgressive behavior and a little bit of propaganda, too. If you have been watching the World Series on Fox, you’ve noticed quite a bit of propaganda, even though most of it was aimed at getting you to watch programs on the network’s fall lineup, coming soon.

But the World Series has another interesting dynamic, too. The Anaheim Angels have a white manager. The team is mostly white, except for a black professional hitter named Garret Anderson and a Hispanic phenom named Francisco Rodriguez.

The San Francisco Giants have a black manager. The team is mostly black or Hispanic, except for a white professional hitter named Jeff Kent and a few others. On the Angels, even Jarrod Washburn is white.

All this means very little because skin color, like talent, is hardly distributed evenly in professional baseball. But it is interesting to notice that we nearly always notice when it seems like races are in opposition to one another.

This weekend, on this campus, a white man tried to stop some black men from burning an American flag. In its own way, this might be cast as a racial conflict. In another way, this might be cast as a political conflict. In other news, the headlining group did not show up at the rap concert.

It is true of race and politics, and occasionally of music, that conflicts arise when one group feels it has been pushed to the margins.

The rap group Dead Prez has a specific idea about the United States government’s relationship to black people. Some black people do not like to live under the American flag any more than they like living under another flag, which still flies in some Southern states. Ralph Wiley, who has been a respected author and now works for ESPN, wrote, “The sun is my flag. All others are temporary.”

White people have burned the American flag, too, and minority individuals who are not black feel marginalized by this nation and its dominant society. Even dominant societies have margins, which is why nations and universities need flags and colors and anthems. Marginilization is different from prejudice or discrimination or offense. Marginalization is the reality of being different from the mainstream, and it is not a sour pill that can dissolve in the water of equality, because it is not a function of action or inaction. The only way to reverse such a social and psychological circumstance is to invert it, and marginalize right back.

Student government here, which has advertised in this newspaper and has a logo if not a flag, concluded it should not finance an organization called MEChA. I am told this was mostly because of its subversive and transgressive behavior. (Anaheim has Disney. San Francisco has an area called Castro and many homosexuals.)

The student organization, it seems, was making some people feel uncomfortable. It tried to open a discussion that did not include everyone because it understood that its members, and potential members, and some sympathizers, felt like they had already been set in opposition to others. (Would a Giants fan feel at home among a bunch of Angels fans?)

They created a kind of poem, or anthem, or shout, or plea or conversation. The discussion, in part, served to outline a new conception of those individuals, to establish new margins and new identities.

Was that meaningful? Is it worth something to define yourself, even if by doing so you separate from others? Are differences something to be celebrated or destroyed?

When you talk about race, what does your face become?

Lars Russell ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and integrated liberal studies. He is editor in chief of The Badger Herald.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *