It goes without saying that the racial epithets sung by members of the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon are disgraceful especially the imagery evoked by “hang ’em from a tree” utterance.
Predictably there are those who want to start yet another national conversation on race. Case in point, Alabama based writer Edward T. Bowser:
Whenever race is mentioned in this space, I’m inevitably met with these three words: “Get over it.” It’s as if racism totally died out in the 1960s with giant headbands and bell bottoms.
Well, nobody told the frat boys from the University of Oklahoma that racism is out of style.
Not one day removed from thousands of marchers of various races crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge in an act of solidarity, a video clip featuring members of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon gleefully singing a racist chant has been making the rounds online.
I refuse to post the video here, but this excerpt speaks volumes:
“There will never be a n– SAE/There will never be a n— SAE/You can hang ’em from a tree, but it will never start with me/There will never be a n— SAE.”
University President David L. Boren quickly cut ties between the school and the SAE chapter,saying on Facebook,”You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners.'”
Nor should they have the privilege of calling themselves Americans. But sadly, we know that this narrative is still prevalent in our country.
Those young men are part of a prestigious fraternity at a highly-regarded school. They’re future doctors and lawyers, businessmen and politicians. The very men, ignorantly laughing about hanging people who look like me from a tree, are just a few years away from running our schools and corporations.
These are the roots of institutionalized racism – that ugly kind of hatred too cowardly to reveal itself in public, yet still festers in darkness. Our educational, work force and health-care systems, all infested with quiet racism, resulting in policies that cripple minority communities.
This is 2015. And racism is still real.
That’s why Selma has become more than just a town, it’s a rallying cry. When President Obama addressed the crowd in Selma during Saturday’s Bloody Sunday observance, he said, “We know the march is not yet over. We know the race is not yet won.”
This is why we must continue to talk about race. Racism isn’t embedded in our DNA, it’s a learned behavior, passed down through generations by word of mouth. The SAE frat boys on that bus didn’t make up that song on the fly and randomly sing it in unison – it was taught to them, drilled into their brains by narrow-minded mentors. We live in a state where, in 2015, homeowners are still intimidated by ignorant neighbors who defame their property with racist slurs.
“Get over” racism? No, we need to move beyond it, and that only happens through uncomfortable conversations.
Like poverty, racism will always be with us in form or another. But the racism of today simply does not have the power it did the day those brave people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago.
But by Bowser’s own admission, the University of Oklahoma immediately cut ties with the SAE fraternity and did so only hours after the video came to light. Bowser argues that that SAE members are tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, businessmen and politicians. I beg to differ. The name Sigma Alpha Epilson is now mud and will be for a long time to come. This incident will be, for lack of a better term, a black mark against the SAE whether they were present or not. I can’t imagine many employers are going to want to associate themselves with University of Oklahoma graduates who were part of SAE.
If Bowser thinks an uncomfortable national conversation on race is necessary then let me make things awkward for him. The Eric Holders of the world are going to have stop calling America a nation of cowards, the Al Sharptons of the world must be shunned and Edward T. Bowser needs to admit his part in perpetuating the lie that former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown on account of his race. It is a lie which even Eric Holder has now rebuked.
I am entirely comfortable in saying that Eric Garner and Tamir Rice’s encounters with the police should not have resulted in their deaths. If Bowser wants an uncomfortable conversation on race then he needs to be prepared to say that Michael Brown left Darren Wilson with no other option but to use lethal force. Unfortunately, there are many who are more interested in delivering national lecture on race rather than a genuine conversation.
Again, the actions of the University of Oklahoma chapter of SAE are completely reprehensible and must be condemned by decent people everywhere. Yet let us also acknowledge that in 2015 the worst thing an American can be accused of is racism. The same could not be said when peaceful civil rights protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.