Two weeks ago, I sat across from former IU halfback George Taliaferro as he delicately described to me that an element of racism still exists in Bloomington. I stopped him instinctively in self-defense. I pointed out the integration of Indiana and America’s ongoing efforts to surrender the entire English language to political correctness.
I said, “C’mon, that stuff doesn’t happen anymore.”
That’s when Taliaferro stopped me with the palm of his hand. He aligned his eyes with mine and said, “How do you know that stuff doesn’t happen anymore?”
In the last five years, I retorted, IU has hired its first black coach in men’s basketball history and its first black president in University history. Mike Davis and Adam Herbert are surely signs of change, aren’t they?
Taliaferro didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to.
In less than three months, those signs will have changed. Davis resigned in February 2006 and Herbert is out of office in July. Their names will be replaced, ushered under the rug of normalcy like dust balls the size of boll weevils.
Still, the sign that reads “Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center” stands in front of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building. Still, the sign that honors a man who believed segregation brought social stability remains intact. And yet, Herbert – the one black man still in a position of power to replace the racist sign – well, he’d rather not.
Shortly after my column appeared last Tuesday in the Indiana Daily Student, Herbert released a statement. In it he added: “I have asked Provost McRobbie to initiate that dialogue and develop a proposed presentation to the board as soon as possible.”
But, about a half-hour later, Herbert revised his statement to read:
“I am disappointed, but not surprised. … These revelations provide an opportunity for dialogue around issues of race. … This dialogue will enable us to consider how best to proceed with respect to the name of the building.”
I will be graduating in less than three weeks, and with no more ties to this University, I urge our campus’ leaders to face the facts. The Wildermuth sign is a testament of IU’s tolerance to those theories. Yet, leaders such as Herbert are standing in the path of the light that I am trying to shed on this sign. Their stoicism shadows any growth, shatters any progressive outcome.
Changing the Wildermuth sign is not a revision of history, rather it marks the changing times of history. After all, I am not a revisionist on history, I am revisiting history.
But, I need help. The first black president in IU history should be standing alongside me, atop a soapbox, urging Bloomington to openly discuss this issue. When Herbert’s tenure ends June 30, I would hope that president-elect Michael McRobbie would help fight for a forum.
Over the past year, events have erupted in revealing the racial tensions of our great nation. These volcanoes of vulgarity recently include Don Imus and the Duke lacrosse team. Both cases resulted in heavy handed reactions that did not help address the root of the problem in a thoughtful manner. In these circumstances racial conflicts were not solved – they were inflamed.
The University needs to be a leader, because that stuff is still happening.
On Oct. 31, 2005, Taliaferro was sitting at home with his wife preparing for trick-or-treaters. Taliaferro’s porch light illuminated as he opened the door to the sight of three white children. The eldest was a girl, followed by her two younger brothers. With a joke and a smile, Taliaferro grabbed a fistful of candy from his bucket and placed it in the girl’s bag. He did the same for the second eldest. Then the youngest child, no more than 5 years old in Taliaferro’s estimation, approached with his bag wide open and his eyes glued to the floor. Taliaferro transferred the candy from his bucket to the child’s bag.
Without lifting his eyes the boy said, “Thanks, nigger.”
Taliaferro’s face turned to stone; his eyes remained fixated on the spot where the child had been.
The girl grabbed her brother’s arm and yelled, “Shut up, David!” as the three children vanished into the night. Taliaferro stood still at his doorway, still gripping the bucket of candy.
So ask yourself Indiana: How do you know that stuff doesn’t happen anymore?
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