Roger Marolt: The eyes are upon Texas
“What starts here, changes the world.” It’s more than a slogan at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s their promise. As a rally cry over the PA system before a football game, it’s enough to bring chills. I am not an alum. I’m a fan. I am a proud Longhorn dad, husband and son-in-law.
I’m also disappointed with the Board of Trustees’ decision to continue an awkwardly too long embrace of the traditional school song, “The eyes of Texas are Upon Us.” It’s creepy. It touches inappropriately. You know, it’s sung to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad.” It gets worse.
The song has a history. It is sung pre and post at every UT sporting event. The tune concludes commencement ceremonies. It evokes sentiment of good times at college and rekindles fierce loyalty to the institution upon every rendition played. Through the outsized influence UT has on the Lone Star State, the song is an iconic symbol for all of Texas. It’s also offensive to many.
But, just as much of U.S. history has been examined lately and revealed to be coddling systemic racism in the ways it has been traditionally told, the song, too, has been recognized for hurtful racial overtones. The song was first performed by UT students in 1903 during a minstrel show. A report by the school found that the song was regularly performed in this manner until the mid-1960s. Many are concerned and want the song severed from school custom and tradition.
As the proudly liberal flagship institution of the UT system, I’ll bet a 72-ounce steak against a bushel of Brussels sprouts that the majority of Austin campus students, faculty and alumni support mothballing the fight song. Yet, leaders of the institution insist, “‘The Eyes of Texas’ is and will remain our alma mater.” The marching band will continue to play it. The athletic director has mandated that all football players stand when the song is sung after football games. As one school donor wrote, as quoted by The New York Times, “the Blacks are free, and it’s time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor.”
It comes down to money. The school is trading principle for principal. Apparently their strategy is to change the world with cash. The problem is that buying your way to success through that means is still subject to interpretation. There is smart money and dumb money. I think the University of Texas at Austin is doubling down with bills of idiocy and coins of foolishness.
Have the decision-makers at UT thought about the future, because you have to do that to change the world, right? Do any of them believe the song will still be sung at a football game five years from now? Our country is going through the second great awakening on the fronts of equality and inclusiveness. My guess is that five years from now the school’s fight song will be gone, and this controversy will seem embarrassing. Can the song possibly survive and the school maintain its national reputation as an elite university? What’s starting in the world, will change UT.
If you’re worried about us rewriting history now, consider that we wouldn’t have to if we had let Black people write any of it when it was happening. It’s not about creating white guilt, it’s about evoking Black empathy. It’s time we gave up on the lazy notion that, if it ain’t woke, don’t fix it. This is not to assuage guilt, it is to treat others as we would like to be treated.
The shortsightedness of the school’s leadership is from knowing they need money to uphold the schools prestige, but failing to see how embracing one hurtful song in order to get more can undo everything, diminishing much goodwill they have created.
For a moment I thought it might be an acceptable compromise to keep the traditional tune but replace its old words with new ones that inspire acceptance. But, that would be like carving the face of Martin Luther King Jr. onto a statue of Robert E. Lee. It would be an insulting joke. The best way to remedy an offense is to remove the offense. UT’s old song has hit a sour note. What a good excuse to change their tune. The world can then be next.
Roger Marolt likes the weird Austin, not the dumb one. Email at email@example.com.
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From behind the scenes, the sights and sounds of horse and cattle, and the raucous lifestyle of rodeo culture hasn’t changed all that much since the Snowmass Rodeo arena opened here in the summer of 1973.