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, were 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 at 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 can 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