Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Word About Racism & the Greek System

I was just reading this article about the SAE incident. For those not familiar with it, someone on the party bus of this chapter at the University of Oklahoma decided to videotape & post a video of this fraternity singing a racist chant. The school reacted by getting rid of the chapter, expelling people & the national office came down on them as well. Big controversy in some corners of the world.

The author actually cited an incident that happened at my school. I remember it well since I was a sophomore at the time, a member of the Greek system (though we may not have even been a chapter by that point & didn't have a house) and found the whole incident appalling. Coming from Winston Salem, NC & a high school class that was 50/50 black to white along with having many good friends who were never "tokens" but simply my black friends who weren't cutting me down behind my back like plenty of white bitches in my class, I didn't get the whole racism of these guys. I've always felt like other minorities can understand each other in a way people who aren't don't get. It might be a different story & different struggles but there's still knowing what it's like to be ostracized, bullied, harassed & having an "otherness" about you that likely explains why I've had lots of friends who wouldn't be candidates for membership into the Aryan Nation or WASP.

For the record, the major offender in that incident was not SAE like this story portrays. Perhaps there were racists there or immature guys simply joining in out of peer pressure or drunken stupidity but the real offenders were this other fraternity that draped themselves in the Confederate flag on a regular basis & called themselves "Southern gentlemen." I also wasn't personally present to see this since I was in my dorm room & then read about it later when the Black Student Association at my school publicized it.

SAE was not a fraternity that my black male co-worker at the campus museum said he wouldn't set foot in for fear of being harmed while the one I mentioned as the major offender (and the reason I had nothing to do with Oglethorpe for many years) was. These were his words, not mine.

Oh, and lest you think it's a Southern Greek system thing or that sororities always side with the frats it's not & we don't. My own sisters were just as appalled by the whole thing, especially the ones from outside of Georgia who were not used to seeing this blatant racism in their faces. We were equal opportunity & started out running the gamut in terms of our membership; I & at least one other founding member would be livid if that weren't true in our chapter today. I've seen that equal opportunity reflected in other chapters and among other alumnae I've met over the years. I don't think a single one, regardless of where her chapter was, would be siding with the behavior of the frats in this story.

There was another incident my senior year involving KA concerning their Greek Week skit & Antisemitic remarks among other offensive things (again, not present for that one; I was working in my telephone interviewing job at the time--I heard about this from my own sisters). Aside from my own sorority sisters (some of whom were Jewish), a number of girls in another sorority (who also had Jewish members) were quite ticked off about that as I recall.

Now I support free speech but I don't support speech without consequences & you bet if you uttered a racial slur around me, you'd get hell for it considering you're trashing dear friends of mine, business associates and some people who were actually there for me in life while your sorry ass probably wasn't. I'm glad to see this university taking action; my school let KA get away with shit for years. They were far too lenient on them, especially considering we were supposed to be a "liberal arts" school.

I never had issues with the other frats. I didn't go to SAE & feel like I wasn't welcome or an outsider. Guys who were members there were nice to me; I remember one of their members once telling me I was welcome there anytime. In fact, I got that kindness at every frat other than the racist one. Our newer members got along with some members there but I remember we older ones didn't feel welcome or like we had a place there. Guess we figured Southern gentlemen exempt loudmouth feminists from their "gentlemanly" behavior. At least, I felt that way.

Oglethorpe was trying to increase their black student enrollment when I was there. With the presence of that frat & a number of well known and well regarded black schools in Atlanta, I didn't blame black kids for not wanting to enroll in the racist pit that I saw Oglethorpe being at the time. I was also pissed since I didn't enroll there to endorse racism or have it shoved in my face; I came there for the academics & the experience of living in a major city.

My attitudes on race are more nuanced since I know racism isn't just a white thing. It's an everybody thing. I also lived a lot of things in my youth & had parents who taught me better than some of these people's parents must have. No one was a "token" with my parents & if they called you a friend of theirs, you were lucky especially with my mother since she's semi-reclusive. I still wish we were in touch with my father's truck driver friend (who was half black, half Native American) since I wanted him to know about my father's passing & be able to pay his respects. They were really good friends & we actually went to his house, a rarity with my parents' friends. He wasn't one of my father's drinking buddies & my mom actually liked him and his wife.

I'm skeptical of the whole "educating" people idea unless maybe it involves having to deal with direct confrontation or just dealing with people in day to day life & seeing they're really not so different from you. Kind of like that episode of The Boondocks where Uncle Ruckus meets that country music singer who's a total racist & they get along so well in their racism of black people, they do a duet. Granted, Ruckus claims to have the reverse skin condition of Michael Jackson & that's he's really a white guy but it's an example of why The Boondocks is pure genius in its social commentary. See the first three seasons for yourself; I didn't see much of the fourth so I can't speak on that one. Overall, I feel like when people are adults, they are set on certain things & sometimes so much so even death, poverty or divorce won't change them. Death didn't change my ex though it did change me. Losing stability also changed me in some ways though perhaps it also amplified what I already had. You can carve out exceptions for people you befriend or meet but it's very hard to change things like racism or homophobia & you can't do it in a commanding fashion or by forcing change. You have to do it in more subtle ways.

You have to show examples of people who aren't living up to the negative stereotypes. I also think a huge key is showing how we're the same. There are universals to human experience in my view. Death, kids, animals, weather (good or bad), parents, authority figures, the incompetence of our "elected" officials, that kind of thing.

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