Originally published at The Black Commentator
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
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.