A fraternity at the University of Oklahoma, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is no longer welcome in the OU community after allegations arose that some of its members participated in singing a racist chant on a bus. In a leaked video students can be heard repeatedly singing, “There will never be a (n-word) SAE.”
In a press statement issued Monday, the university’s president David Boren called the participants “disgraceful.” He said that they “misused their free speech in … a reprehensible way,” and that they “violated all that (the university) stand(s) for.”
He continued, “You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners.’ Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.”
This incident, along with other recent episodes of race-related conflict across the nation, blurs the line between overt and more subtle forms of discrimination. These events raise a crucial question that I believe all of us should be asking: How many incidents like the one at OU will it take before we stop being outraged?
More relevant to UCLA students is the Undergraduate Students Association Council quagmire involving allegations of anti-Semitism in light of insensitive questions raised at the USAC meeting on Feb. 10 regarding the appointment of Rachel Beyda to the USAC Judicial Board. With so much heated debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, why were we surprised by the disturbing conflation of Jewish identity and the policies of the state of Israel?
The cultural landscape of the U.S. reflects a rapidly diversifying mix of racial, ethnic and religious groups. Many claim that we live in a post-racial society, but recent research suggests otherwise. In an article published on March 9 in Politico Magazine, Sean McElwee cites Spencer Piston, a professor at Syracuse University, who notes that, “the racial divide dwarfs other divides in policy opinion. Age differences in public opinion are small in comparison to racial differences … (It is) consistent with a long-standing finding in political science.” McElwee summarizes Piston’s analysis of several studies by concluding that, “(white millennials) have the same level of racial stereotypes as their parents.”
This seems to be confirmed by a more dramatic analysis of the consequences of poor race relations. The Department of Justice released a scathing report on the systematic oppression of African Americans in Ferguson, Mo., by virtually every branch of the government and by multiple age groups. Michael Martinez, for CNN, reported that, “It’s only now that federal authorities have documented the institutionalized racism, as part of a civil rights investigation after (the Michael Brown shooting).”
The SAE incident should be understood for what it is – not an egregious anomaly in the daily life of an otherwise peaceful environment of “equal opportunity,” “love” and “(taking) care of each other like family members,” – rather a small but telling representation of a larger culture of hatred that has been inculcated for generations; one that will not go away just because we want it to.
Whatever the solutions to the problems of racial animosity, class antagonism and religious dissension may be, we must begin using vocabulary that accurately reflects the on-the-ground reality of our cultural moment: Racism is still very much alive in the collective unconscious of the American mind. Our surprise at incidents like the racist chanting by OU students is a disingenuous reaction that ignores the deeply rooted history of hate in our country.
Anger toward this type of bigotry should lead us to remember the cultural context that gave birth to it. At the same time, we should be inspired to continue standing with marginalized and underrepresented minorities in this time of great uncertainty.
Heydari is a second-year history student.