The writer and rapper discusses his Tone Madison essay series on race and violence in Madison.
Back in May, Michael Penn II wrote an essay for this site titled “The Circus: One year after Tony.” It argued that Madison has learned very little—and done still less to protect its residents of color—since 19-year-old Tony Robinson was shot to death by a Madison Police Department officer in March 2015. The “circus” Michael wrote of was the futile cycle of media coverage and sociopolitical hand-wringing that surrounds racism, and especially violence against people of color, in American society.
We didn’t plan it this way, but over the past couple of months The Circus has taken on a life of its own as an essay series, in which Michael—a 22-year-old UW-Madison graduate, journalist, and hip-hop artist—grapples with the bigger picture of race in Madison and connects it with his own personal experiences. He’s written about MPD’s violent arrest of an 18-year-old black woman at East Towne Mall, an attack on Langdon Street that ended with the cops doing nothing, and, most recently, the first time someone ever called him the n-word—in a UW-Madison dorm.
Michael joined me this week for an in-depth talk about the series and why he felt inspired to write it. Give our conversation a listen here.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and catch WORT-FM’s weeknight local news show, which partners with us to produce these. Thanks to Dylan Brogan for producing this interview.