A Guest Post
By: Kathleen Finegan, Library Director
The recent protests at the MU campus in Columbia reminded me of an experience I had as an undergraduate at UMKC in the 1970s.
I had enrolled in a course called ‘Negro History.’ The course had not been taught for a while, thus the Negro rather than Black or African American history.
The course was taught by a Dr. Underwood and the class was full, every seat taken.
As the course developed and the members of the class engaged in discussion, two of my classmates stand out.
One was named Charles; he was a black man and we had several classes together and often shared our notes when one of us missed class. It was rumored that Charles had traveled to Haiti and returned with a more radical view on civil rights.
The second member of the class that stands out was nicknamed ‘Son of Norway.’ He was interested in genealogy and his background was Scandinavian. He didn’t shy away from comparing his investigation of his family history with that of Black Americans.
A class like Negro History being taught in the 1970s was bound to encourage critical inquiry and argument. Dr. Underwood to his credit demanded that all discussions remain civil and further the pursuit of understanding.
One day in class Charles and Son of Norway had an exchange about the comparability of the history of Blacks in America and the history of Scandinavians in America. Charles maintained that the history of Black Americans, because of slavery and the struggle for civil rights was more fraught than that of Scandinavians, who choose to immigrate and settle in America. He also referred not to this history of white men, but of pink men.
Charles substituted the pink race for the white race, and referred to Son of Norway as a pink man.
Son of Norway responded to begin called a pink man much as a Black man might respond to being called a N—–.
The class erupted. Everyone had something to say about the pink designation.
I learned a lot in the ruckus that followed that day. Words, and especially naming, is a powerful tool. Learning about history entails an understanding of that power..
Reading some of the responses of former MU President Tim Wolfe to the complaints of the MU minority community, I thought, Pink man.