The now-defunct Oklahoma University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon may file suit against the university for branding the entire fraternity as racist, based on the actions of two of the students. They believe that the matter should be closed now that those two have been expelled, and that people are exploiting the incident.
SAE has hired attorney Stephen Jones to represent them, but nothing has officially been filed as of yet, according to KFOR in Oklahoma. KFOR is also reporting that this decision came from an emergency meeting with SAE staff and alumni.
The fraternity has a deep problem with racism that may possibly be rooted in its historical ties to the Confederacy. SAE is the oldest fraternity in the U.S., and is also the only frat that was founded in the antebellum South. This is a heritage that the national fraternity is extremely proud of.
Couple that with the history of racist acts at SAE chapters elsewhere in the country, and we can see that there’s a deep, ingrained culture of racism within SAE itself. There’s also the fact that the investigation into OU’s SAE chapter has expanded to include other chapters at schools in both Texas and Louisiana, according to the Chicago Tribune. Allegedly, these chapters had knowledge of the racist chant that landed SAE in trouble at OU.
So what do they think they’re doing? Well, one possibility is that racists absolutely hate being called racist. In our allegedly post-racial society, where everyone is equal, there are no racists anymore, at least, according to the racists. So getting called racist is a slur, and it’s slander, because it’s a lie. That’s essentially what it sounds like OU’s former SAE chapter is saying.
But why else? Scot Nakagawa, at Race Files, has a couple of different theories why whites (especially overtly racist whites) hate being called racist. One of his ideas is that the term gives people of color a certain power that whites, suffering from white privilege, don’t want them to have. This goes back to wishing people would know their place and keep their mouths shut. Like it or not, that attitude is still quite pervasive here.
Nakagawa’s second idea has to do with historical images that the word racism calls up: White law enforcement and government officials beating, spraying, and otherwise harming black people who were peacefully protesting against racism; white supremacy groups like the KKK and everything they did, and more.
It’s easy to think that, when someone says, “RACIST!” they’re equating us to all of that, and saying we’re capable of those horrors, and we generally think of ourselves as good people. So we recoil in horror, and get all offended, and scream, “I’m NOT racist! DON’T CALL ME A RACIST!”
It was more than two students who participated in that racist chant. OU kicked SAE off their campus and severed their ties because a good chunk of the fraternity was involved in that. And it wasn’t subtle racism that we could look at and say, “Well, maybe, but is it possible some are taking this too seriously?” It was blatant, it was obvious, and it was flat-out wrong. It speaks to the culture of racism inherent in SAE, and, indeed, in the larger culture of Greek organizations on college campuses. SAE’s national fraternity could stand to take a good look in the mirror, and stand against this lawsuit, if they’d like to redeem their image.
Featured image created by Rika Christensen/Liberalistics