Can You Hear Me Now?: Why We Should be Encouraged by the OU Sigma Alpha Epsilon Incident

On occasion, a nation is provided an opportunity to point its citizenry in a new and unprecedented direction. These milestones are what a nation will be judged upon by future generations. When the Plessy v. Ferguson decision (1896) sanctioned ‘separate but equal,’ this nation’s powerbrokers, all of them white, sae3were issuing an unmistakable statement regarding race in America. Similar statements were made with the Sweatt v. Painter decision (1950), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), as well as the Civil Rights (1964) and Voting Rights (1965) Acts, respectively. This nation’s powerbrokers capitalized upon these moments to speak loudly, and definitively, upon a homegrown racial problem.

The recently released video of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity — University of Oklahoma chapter — provides this latest generation of whites, citizens and powerbrokers, the opportunity to address race matters. And make no mistake about it, racial matters still matter in America. The video, posted by a African-American student organization, Unheard, was aimed sae4at University of Oklahoma President David Boren with a simple statement of “Racism is alive at The University of Oklahoma.” Unbeknownst to outsiders, and denied by insiders, there is always racial animosity at predominantly white institutions between nearly every possible entity and the African-American students enrolled there. It appears that the group Unheard was created in response to a hostile racial climate on the OU campus. As their name puts it, they, and the droves of their Black peers enrolled at predominantly white institutions feel as if they are Unheard.

Unbeknownst to most whites, for the vast majority of African-Americans these are the critical moments during racial matters as we pensively wait for whites, ordinary citizens and powerbrokers, reaction. OU’s African-American students must have been eagerly awaiting their University leaders and student peers reaction to a video that shows a few white students chanting “There will never be a Nigger in SAE. You cansae 1 hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.” Will they respond with a mediocre politically correct statement or will they respond swiftly, convincingly, and with a hammer of authority against those who have offended the righteous? Will there words relate an anger, disgust, and intolerance for prejudiced and discriminatory statements and activities within that institution of higher learning? Quite possibly the only gift that discriminatory behavior provides is that it provides an opening, a platform of such, for whites to reveal their position on race matters.

So they waited for the response of the white powerbrokers; fortunately, the wait was brief with President David Boren responding in less than an hour with a statement that “if the video is indeed of OU students, this behavior will not be tolerated and is contrary to all of our values. We are investigating.” Boren should be commended for relating a threat to throw the fraternity off the OU campus if the allegations were found to be true.

Relatively speaking President Boren was a bit late to the party with his denunciation of SAE, as its National President Bradley Cohen had already related that he was “…not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism in the video.” President Boren does not have to worry about shutting down the SAE fraternity as the group’s national headquarters has already closed it and issued an apology that reads, “We apologize for the unacceptable and racist behavior of the individuals in the video, and we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way.”

The OU student body also deserves credit for their swift response to this issue. It appears that someone spray-painted the SAE fraternity house with the words “Shut it down.” While others are planning a candle-light vigil aimed at healing the racial divide on their campus and in this nation. I consider this moment, a confessional moment for whites. Put simply, the fact that they desire to discuss race matters implicitly reveals that they acknowledge its presence in the new millennium. The fact that the student body, University President, and the National Headquarters of SAE, have all acknowledged the presence of the pernicious evil of racism in their midst and denounced it with an unprecedented swiftness and authority gives us hope for the future regarding race matters; because until we seriously address this nation’s race matters, race will continue to matter.

James Thomas Jones III, Ph.D.


©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2015

4 thoughts on “Can You Hear Me Now?: Why We Should be Encouraged by the OU Sigma Alpha Epsilon Incident”

  1. When I first saw this I was very disgusted and hurt because the day I saw it, I was on the way back from visiting Selma’s 50th anniversary. When I was at Selma I was thinking wow we have come so far and once I seen that video, I was thinking woe we have so much further to go. I am happy that the frat was handled and shut down. No matter what anyone says I feel as though this chant was not something new and it HAD to have been passed down to be chanted the way it was.

  2. We live in a VERY RACIALLY DIVIDED WORLD. No mistake about that fact. I have seen it since childhood, and I am not Black. It’s a strange human affliction, perhaps an ancient remnant trait that was necessary in early human societies. Who knows, but blame your parents for perpetuating ignorance and blame yourself for embracing that ignorance and partaking in gang behavior.

    1. Jay unfortunately for all of us, racism just as envy, hate and love is something(?) we can’t change. We can only hope to educate and guide generation after generation to better our relationship with each other. On the other hand, this site states ” the uplift of the race”. If they mean the black race then they are out of touch and being racist at the same time. How about the uplifting of everyone they come in touch with? What’s the matter? Can they remember MLK; come together and be brothers and sisters?

      1. Obviously you are not understanding the statement of “uplifting the race”, as well as misplacing the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As so many like you do, you seek to opportunistically exploit and mis-interpret King’s legacy for your own selfish purposes. Please visit any of King’s lectures in the post-March on Washington period when he had grave concerns regarding the humanism that people have inexplicably chained him to. Your reference of coming together as ‘brothers and sisters’ is a total misrepresentation of King’s legacy that is more aptly represented by the statement, “I feel as if I have integrated into a burning house.”

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