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Vol. 9   No. 18
SEPTEMBER 4, 2014
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UNIQUE HITS
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                        The More Things Change
There is a saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. I was reminded of that
saying this weekend.

One of the deepest books that I ever read was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was written with
Alex Haley, the author of Roots. Malcolm X always spoke his mind and spoke truth to power while he was
a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam during the early 1960s and even after he left the organization due
to some indiscretions on the part of a leader. It was perhaps due to his uncompromising honesty that
Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

One item that made a lasting impression on me was when Malcolm recounted a debate that he had with
an African American professor in which Malcolm, in so many words, asked the professor, ‘What do they
call a Black professor?’ The professor replied that he did not know. Malcolm replied, ‘[The n-word].’
In essence what Malcolm was saying is that no matter how accomplished African Americans would
become in American society, there would be some whites who would always look upon them as the n-
word.

I bring this up because of an incident that happened this weekend. I was up on the Rooftop of Monona
Terrace doing what I usually do at Dane Dances, taking photos of the band as well as the crowd. Dane
Dances is always a phenomenal experience where people from all walks of life and ethnicities come
together to dance. August 29th was the last Dane Dances and so the wonderful crew who power Dane
Dances had put together a wonderful evening of entertainment with the Orquesta de Kache and The Eddie
Butts Band.

I had touched base with members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority who were out in force that night to take a
group photo. I circled back to where they had gathered around dusk and we gathered most of the
members who were present together.

As I was lining up the photo, I caught a glimpse of an older white man passing by. While I was focused on
taking a good photo, I couldn’t help but hear what he said to me. He said something to the effect of, ‘Taking
their photo before they go to jail?’

I couldn’t believe my ears and I finished shooting the photos. It took me a while to get what he was saying.
After I was done, several of the Deltas asked me what the man said and I told them. Apparently they had
heard him too and they had heard what I had heard.

The Deltas were, as is usually the case when they come together, dressed in red and were forming a delta
with their hands for the photo. Otherwise they were professionally and casually dressed. The only thing
that this man — this racist — was referring to when he was making the comment was that the Deltas are
African American. And obviously that was why the man thought it would be funny to say that this group of
women was getting their photo taken before they went to jail.

My Delta sisters are a group of accomplished, college-educated women who help make city of Madison
life turn toward the better. They had just been honored by their national organization for the good works
that they do in the community. The Deltas are health professionals, educators, managers of large
organizations and many other professions.

But to paraphrase Malcolm X, these accomplished women are still ‘n-words,’ criminals in his eyes.

Now this man does not represent every Euro-American in the Madison area, but there is enough of his ilk
around to poison the racial climate in Madison for people of color, especially African Americans. In his
own arrogance and sense of superiority, this man was very comfortable in his ignorance. God, I pray that
he is not in a decision-making position that impacts the lives of African Americans and other people of
color.

And what also really made me mad was the fact that this man felt comfortable enough to say this mess to
me, that he assumed that I would get the ‘joke’ and laugh along with him and think it was funny. This man
really pissed me off and I am still steaming two days later.

This incident serves as an affirmation that we need a vital NAACP and other institutions in Dane County
that will call it what it is and remind us that racism and ignorance pervade our community just like any
other in America where race still matters although the powers that be would like to say that we solved
that and we need to move on.

Malcolm X spoke truth to power during the early 1960s. Not as much has changed since that time,
certainly not as much as the greater Madison community would like to believe.