Over the Hill

Cal Poly student who wore blackface shouldn't get a degree without knowing basic history

Former Cal Poly Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity member Kyler Watkins was captured in blackface at a frat event on April 7, 2018. The fraternity said the makeup for an event featuring teams of different colors.
Former Cal Poly Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity member Kyler Watkins was captured in blackface at a frat event on April 7, 2018. The fraternity said the makeup for an event featuring teams of different colors. Facebook Monique Chenault-Hakker

First, I have a brief comment on Cal Poly senior Kyler Watkins.

He attended a fraternity event on Saturday, April 7, with his face and neck covered with blackface makeup. A published picture of him in that blackface started a public uproar, and he was accused of racism.

But he said, “My actions stemmed from ignorance.” He also said he “woke up Sunday morning (April 8) to learn that ‘blackface’ is of historical racial significance.”

I think he’s unqualified for a university degree if he’s ignorant about this central issue in United States’ history: the systematic oppression of black Americans by white Americans.

Cal Poly students marched across campus in one of multiple planned Open House protests over the administration's perceived lack of action on Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, after photos surfaced of a member in blackface and others as racial stereotypes.

Does he know people were kidnapped in Africa and brought to America as slaves? Does he know our Constitution counted each of them as just three-fifths of a person? Does he know that after the Civil War black children were sent to separate schools, far inferior to white children’s schools?

There is much more to know about the past and present treatment of black people in the United States, but he admits his ignorance.

Kyler Watkins should get no degree until he knows American history.

But enough on him, let’s talk about nature.

Lately, I’ve seen a couple of ravens, or very big crows, on my birdbath. I suspect they use the water to wash down mouthfuls of baby-bird meat.

For the last few days I have found many light, fluffy, white feathers on the ground around the birdbath. I also found feathers and baby bird remains in the water and on the edge of the bath basin.

I set up the birdbath about 15 years ago, so my late wife, Mamie, and I could watch small and medium-sized birds drink, bathe and frolic.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen evidence there of Mother Nature’s grimmer side.

I can see it through my den window as I write this column on my computer.

As a matter of fact, just five minutes ago one of those ravens perched on the birdbath and took big swallows of water. He’s not as fat as a chicken, but he looks as long as one, from beak to tip of tail-feather.

If you watch carefully while you’re outdoors, or even just looking through a window, you can sometimes glimpse life-or-death struggles or other dramas.

Once when I was a young boy living on a small farm, I saw a hawk circling high in the sky as I walked up a hill. Then suddenly the hawk’s wings closed and it plummeted toward the ground.

I instantly concluded someone had shot it. I ran pell-mell toward where I thought it would hit the ground. I was excited. I was going to get me a hawk. I gave no thought to what I’d do with it, but I’d have me a hawk, dead or alive.

The hawk was almost to the ground and I was almost to the same spot, when suddenly it opened its wings, grabbed some little thing on the ground and swooped away.

I didn’t get my hawk but I did get a memory that still gets me a little excited when I relive it.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@abcglobal.net.
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