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The Eyes of Texas

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One of the most remarkable battles in the culture war is presently happening in Austin, with basically a full-fledged war happening between liberal current students and Black football players at the University of Texas on one side and conservative alumni on the other over the university’s use of the song “The Eyes of Texas,” which is an old blackface tune.

Dozens of students at the University of Texas at Austin who give campus tours to prospective Longhorns are refusing to work this week over a dispute about a plaque with “The Eyes of Texas” lyrics hanging in the Admissions Welcome Center.

The dustup over the plaque is the latest example of UT-Austin officials standing by “The Eyes” over pleas that the university distance itself from the alma mater song because it originated at a minstrel show where students likely wore Blackface.

It’s also the latest in a series of clashes over the song in a nearly yearlong controversy that has frequently pit administrators and alumni against students and divided members of the Longhorn community.

Just this week, a threatening incident was reported to UT-Austin police where a student-led online event about “The Eyes of Texas” was crashed by an unknown man on camera wearing a bandana over his mouth and nose and who appeared to be loading a large gun.

UT-Austin officials did not respond to a request for comment about the incidents, nor did they respond to written questions.

Students say protests over the song are not going away. Kendall Walker, a UT-Austin senior who is part of the student strike in the admissions office, said she thinks administrators wrongly assumed the issue would die down after the school formed a committee this past year to study the song’s origins. UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell has repeatedly affirmed that the university will keep the song.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg honestly,” Walker said. “This is the beginning of it and people resisting that decision and not accepting a committee of people deem[ing] the song isn’t racist. There’s a whole generation of students and minority students that are equally and more mad than we are and don’t want to enter a space that predetermined their opinions don’t matter.”

Much of the nation’s culture war can be summed up by a battle over people wanting to reckon with the nation’s racist past and present and those who do not want to reckon with either. I started my modern US history survey this semester by discussing Charlottesville, reminding students that if they think history doesn’t matter, well, people are literally dying in the streets over their different interpretations of it. It’s hard to see how the conservative powers that be in Texas can force university students to participate in such an atrocity. But they will try. And they will go down trying.

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