Vol. 10    No. 18
SEPTEMBER 3, 2015
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                                Existential Madison
It’s been one of those days, or should I say weeks. I’ve been in the stretch run of getting the September 3, 2015 to the printer on time. And in
spite of the fatigue and fuzzy-headedness, it sure looked like I was going to meet my deadline, which left me feeling pretty good. But then, all of
a sudden, my dear desk top publishing software started acting up and wouldn’t allow me to produce any PDF files. My guru at Wingra Press
told me how I could side-step the issue. But I had already burned about 1.5 hours dealing with the problem. I learned I should ask for help
sooner.

So since I don’t have time to write a column this issue, I thought I would reprint a column that I wrote for Spectrum Magazine 1-2 years ago. It
was near the back of the magazine, so I figured some of you may not have read it. Here goes.

***
When I was a student at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi, one of five Euro-American students at the historically Black
university, I had some rather profound discussions with Paul Broome, a Euro-American professor at Alcorn. Paul was a progressive son of
the Old South and I a progressive product of Madison who was in denial when it came to race matters.

I proclaimed that I was not a part of the muck and mire of racial America, that it had somehow missed me in the cocoon of the hyper-
segregated suburb of Milwaukee from which I came. Paul said that we are all a part of it, not just the Old South. And over the course of my
two-year stay at Alcorn and work on the Congressional campaign for an independent Black candidate in 1978, I had to agree with Paul.
I did hold biases and stereotypes that I was often not aware of because they were ingrained in me by a race-conscious society. Since those
biases and stereotypes were shared by so many Euro-Americans, those biases and stereotypes were “reality” to us, “facts” that we used to
deal with people of other races. And because these beliefs were so widespread — and African Americans and other people of color so
relatively powerless in the society to change them — we could go about our daily business with our biases and stereotypes remaining
unchallenged and intact.

That is, of course, not true any more.

My experience at Alcorn was a profound, life-changing experience that taught me we all walk around life with a thousand veils over our
heads, the veils of our own ignorance and misconceptions. And we think this distorted view that we have through the veils is “reality.” And
then something happens — we have a profound experience — and we realize that we have a veil over our eyes and the view that we now
have is “reality,” not realizing that there are 999 veils to go. Some of us are forever satisfied with this view of “reality.” And there are others
who continue to deal with life and other people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and remove the veils — or in some cases have
the veils removed for them.

Madison is a great place to live — if you can get past the cold winters — with many amenities, great restaurants, free community events
almost every weekend of the summer and many, many people who are civically engaged. Outside of my three years living in Mississippi, I
have called Madison my home since 1970.

But I would also call Madison “Racially Existentialist,” “I believe and therefore I am.” Madison has always had a “manageable” percentage of
people of color, now perhaps 20 percent of the population, but historically much smaller. And Madison is a community of progressive ideas
that attracted me to it in the first place. Madison has believed itself to be antiracist and therefore thinks that it is. And there has never been
enough people of color present to say, ‘Madison, you still have to remove the thousand veils from your eyes’ through honest engagement and
interaction with people from all walks of life on a continuous basis and more than just with a handful of people who are different than you that
allows you to remain fully veiled, but feeling you have no issues to deal with.’

Madison has the potential to be a truly cosmopolitan city where people can pursue life, liberty and happiness without subtle and overt barriers
being placed in their way because of “what” they are. But Madison is going to have to go beyond its existentialism and truly deal with racial
matters. It is going to have to go beyond the denial that I had back in the 1970s at Alcorn State University.

And once Madison “gets it,” it will have the world in the palm of its hands for it will have a competitive edge in attracting the talented from
every background to its city limits. Madison does truly have the potential to get there, but it is going to take the talented and the brightest from
every cultural background to get us there. I hope you will join us!
Integrating Diversity
UW Vice-Provost Patrick Sims and the
Diversity Framework