Check It Out: The comedy of ‘N-word head Rock’

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Back in January, attorney F. Lee Francis appeared on “Roland Martin Unfiltered” to discuss allegations of racism at CBS. Francis began the segment with an observation. He said, “It seems, today, you can find racism in a stone. It just seems like racism is all over the place even when it’s not.”

Martin replied, “What the hell does that mean?”

Francis continued, “Standards for racism are no longer the same—”

Martin stopped Francis and told him not to be a Black apologist for racism on his show.

Francis said, “I’m not being an apologist—”

Martin cut him off, “That’s exactly what you’re doing! Talking about we can find racism in a rock!”

Francis tried to continue, but Martin shouted he didn’t want to hear that Bulls___.

Well, last month the Associated Press ran a story with a sub-headline that said: The University of Wisconsin removed a large boulder from its Madison campus at the request of minority students who view the rock as a symbol of racism.

The large boulder removed from the campus was Chamberlin Rock. It was a monument erected in the 1920s to honor distinguished geologist Thomas Chamberlin, who was also the president of the University of Wisconsin from 1887 to 1892. According to UW-Madison’s Department of Geoscience, the rock was scientifically important because it was a rarity from the Ice Age. Experts believe the rock was over 2 billion years old. The Department of Geoscience used Chamberlin Rock for its course work.

However, in 1925 Chamberlin Rock was referred to by a newspaper as “N-word head Rock.” Apparently, back then, that type of offensive terminology was commonly used to refer to any large dark rock. When members of Wisconsin’s Black Student Union discovered there was a single newspaper reference that linked Chamberlin Rock to the N-word the Black Student Union stated the monument was a symbol of the “daily injustices that students of color face on a predominately White campus” and demanded that Chamberlin Rock be removed. The University of Wisconsin removed the monument at an estimated cost of $50,000.

Last week, the Office of the Chancellor explained their actions in a statement titled: What a rock has to do with racism.

The Chancellor said, “Some will tell you that a rock is just a rock. To fear harm from an inanimate object is prescientific and irrational. But to be human is to imbue objects with meaning … This is a conversation about its symbolic associations, which have intense meaning to some and no meaning to others. When we made the decision to move the rock, we listened to those who saw a legacy of racism and present-day pain where others saw a mere rock.”

The president of Wisconsin’s Black Student Union was with a small group that watched a crane lift the rock out of the ground. The president said, “It was very meaningful for me to be there. I see this as offering the next generation of students something to build off of.”

But there’s nothing meaningful for the next generation to continue. 

All this will create is a new generation of recreational activists who will demonstrate the folly of the final followers of Saint George. The parable of Saint George is simple. He saved the village by slaying the dragon and became famous. Each generation that followed had fame-seeking imitators of Saint George, but the problem was Saint George had already slain the dragon. So, the fame-seekers swung their swords at smaller beasts until there were no creatures left to be slain. Finally, a generation arrived when the imitators of Saint George fell into the folly of swinging their swords at harmless items.

The Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs said, “It took courage and commitment for the Wisconsin Black Student Union to bring this issue forward.”

I hope Roland Martin called the Vice Chancellor’s comment Bulls___. If he didn’t, then he agrees racism can be found in a stone, especially if that stone was once referred to as “N-word head Rock” 100 years ago.



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