I Am A Rock

And the (Chamberlin) rock does feel pain according to John Roach
Up close photo of a large rock against a grass background
Photo courtesy of Channel 3000
Chamberlin Rock

This month’s magazine features a thoughtful piece by editor Andrea Behling regarding the issue of historical monuments. As a white male I am clearly overrepresented by statues, so I have turned the column over to the 2021 object of controversy on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus formerly known by most as Chamberlin Rock.

Take it away, Chamberlin.

Hi folks.

Just want to introduce myself to you and give my first interview since I became the focus of controversy on campus. First, let me tell you about myself. I am a hunk of stone weighing 42 tons. I am about 2 billion years old. I came to be during the Pre-Cambrian era, so I’ve been around.

Tens of thousands of years ago I was hoisted by a sheet of ice and deposited on your Madison campus. I arrived here long before humans existed in your town. I had no say about being dropped here, but I didn’t complain because the view is wonderful. When the UW–Madison campus formed around me, it was exciting. The students made me feel young again, which is tough to do when you are a 2-billion-year-old rock.

So, about the controversy.

Nearly 100 years ago, some ignorant men gave me a nickname that was racist.

They were racists in a casual way, because most white men of that time thought they were kings, and all others — women, people of color, gay men and women — were lesser beings. That is how it was. It was in the air they breathed.

My lawyers, if a rock could have lawyers, would argue that I was the target of said insult, not the originator of the slur. The best proof that I never uttered the offensive word is that I am a rock and cannot speak. Additionally, please note that I have never taken the chiseled form of a Confederate general and never would.

I have lived in Wisconsin longer than any of you. I’m a big fan of your state. At 42 tons, you could say that I am your biggest fan. I would have enlisted to fight with the Wisconsin Union soldiers in the Civil War, but given my size it would be impossible for me to fit into a uniform. The university used $50,000 in private donations to move me just 14 miles, so I can’t imagine what it would cost to move me to a Virginia battlefield to fight alongside the 12,000 Wisconsin men who died fighting to free Black men, women and children.

After the university relocated me to a site near Lake Kegonsa, I was happy for the whole thing to blow over. But then an associate professor at Columbia University named John McWhorter published an essay about me in The New York Times.

McWhorter, who is Black, suggested that the UW deciding to move me was more about racial theater than the advancement of civil rights. He argued that trucking me off campus lacked intellectual rigor. He suggested that the students would have been more productive using their efforts to better the future, not trying to rectify an obscure event from the distant past.

I respect the students who call for my removal for their passion.

I surely think folks should build a lot more statues of heroes who aren’t white men, because heroes come in all colors and genders. But I side with professor McWhorter when he argues that discussions regarding monuments and history require fact and intellectual rigor. Sinful emblems of the past should be corrected. But uninformed impulse wastes political capital and distracts from the hope of a better future. A better future that requires humans to be brought together, not torn apart.

Some of you will have to request forgiveness. Some of you will have to grant it. That is when hope arrives.

One last thing.
When I was on campus, the Bascom Hall statue of Abraham Lincoln was my neighbor. I miss him. I don’t think you should take his statue down.
Over my 2 billion years, I have seen a lot of you humans come and go.
He was one of the good ones.

The Chamberlin Rock

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

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