The Eyes of Texas are upon us. Perhaps even the eyes of a nation.
I want to offer my thoughts on what The Eyes of Texas represents to me, and perhaps in so doing, it will speak to some of you. That means more than just highlighting its association with a vile practice that once was, six generations past, but also striking a balance with the song’s unifying modern practice. It is the only way to make sense of it and perhaps find some clarity of purpose.
Absent context, our history and the imperfect realizations of our ideals throughout, merely become a tool for an endless series of recriminations against the practices of men long dead. The sad state of affairs for most of human history. If one holds that everything we drink is fetid water sourced from a poisoned historical well; that all progress is illusory, suspect in its origin; any positive growth merely fleeing an original sin, where is that journey taking us?
An African proverb offers wisdom for any journey: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
I want to go together.
In practice, though not origin, The Eyes of Texas represents unity. We sing it rapturously with strangers of every possible background, belief system, and identity to mark our victories. We let it ring out defiantly after a loss, with one voice and purpose, reassuring our Burnt Orange tribe that we will endure. I was a young teenager shivering in a miserable cold drizzle as Baylor dismantled a hapless Texas team 50-7 in Memorial Stadium. As the stadium crowd began to thin well before the final gun, I looked over at my father expectantly, the metal bleachers around us protesting the crowd’s hard, joyless steps to the exits. “We stay until the Eyes,” he said. I nodded. His tone implied that this was fundamental to our character, who we were. We would see this through, good or bad. We must accept setbacks in order to relish the triumphs. If not with equanimity, at least resolve.
Because we were all in it together.
I was ignorant of the song’s shameful racist association, as I suspect were the majority of us for most of our lives. The song debuted in 1903 at a campus spirit organization’s minstrel show, a practice that was indisputably dehumanizing and dishonorable. The song’s original presentation, while sadly of its time, should not necessarily degrade our current understanding. The song itself is not racist nor is its recent and current practice. Its spirit changed with the community it represents, just as that community changed. Like many of our nation’s ideals, it was up to us to expand that proposition to all. Originally sung by an all white student body, it has been, increasingly, for over six decades, sung proudly by a diverse one. Not to mention the many who follow Texas that never attended the school. It cements an association whose only requirement is a shared love for Texas: the school, the state, its pride, and yes, its myth and legend. It has punctuated joyous events beyond athletics: graduations, weddings, the birth of a child - and it has echoed hauntingly and solemnly across manicured grass pillared by stone epitaphs and remembrances.
It is iconic, imbues common identity, and fosters powerful solidarity. I do not want that union forfeit to our ghosts. The Eyes of Texas is all of us. As it should have always been. We do not sing at our student-athletes, we sing with them.
The song’s message is simple: we uphold a standard that cannot be shirked, even in death. After Gabriel’s Horn blows, there is a final reckoning.
Defining that standard is left to us. We decide. Not the people who first performed it 117 years ago. Is there a greater rebuke to that original unveiling than people of every background proudly singing shoulder-to-shoulder, with unity of purpose and clarity of heart, as we have done so many times together? All one, the sons and daughters of Texas. Our living reckoning of a legacy, the resolute exorcism of our ghosts. For at least one moment, all traveling together, in accord with timeless wisdom.
Eight decades past, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, and Kawasaki made the armaments that killed many of our countrymen. Toshiba equipped the men who terrorized Nanking. Mitsubishi engines powered the Zeros that attacked Pearl Harbor. They refined the gasoline poured on American POW’s set alight at Palawan. Few Americans bear ill will towards those organizations now. They are the same in name only. They are not the same people, those are not their current ideals, and we are not living in that world.
This is no call for blissful ignorance. We owe it to every member of our Longhorn community to understand and grapple with our history. The noble and the grotesque. We do not lack for either. But we should also be careful about destroying or undermining that which unifies us because it passed through or touched a particular time and place, altered by time’s distorting lens cast upon the folkways of a different era.
The Eyes of Texas did not endure because of its disreputable beginning. It endured because it spoke to something deeper. As we grew in understanding, the song grew with us. Because the “us” singing it had changed, too.
“No man ever walks through the same river twice. For it is not the same water and he is not the same man.“ - Heraclitus
The Eyes of Texas is not the same water.
And we are not the same men.
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