Education, Ethics, Race

White Allies – How About Shutting Down Racist Greek Organizations?

1 Comment 10 March 2015

The video of University of Oklahoma chapter Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) members singing racist lyrics is neither unbelievable, unreal, shocking nor isolated.  Face it: The author(s) of that song were not passengers on that bus. That song has been around for quite some time and those young men have learned its lyrics and the sentiment of its lyrics well. That said, surely we ought respond to this egregious act but I’m compelled to respond to other words spoken by white students on college campuses: “I don’t know why Black people need Black student associations?” Viewing the video I immediately thought, “See it’s because of this kind of brutality!”

Yes, this behavior was racist but the responses to the video show an increasing effort to deny racism exists in the “hallowed halls of academia.” Don’t tell me this is “shocking” because it’s not shocking if you live in America. White people hurling racial epithets and threatening lynching is not new behavior and is very believable. Change the talking points. Better to say it is “horrific and inexcusable behavior.” And say it in ways that count to eradicate such behavior. The quick action taken by University of Oklahoma is right and just but let us not forget some history: the history of segregated white fraternities and sororities. The answer to why we still need Black fraternities and sororities is in that history, it is in this story about SAE and it is in the unwritten but lived stories Black students face in schools across our country.

As we speak about SAE I urge us to remember the very first fraternity founded in 1906 for Black men, Alpha Phi Alpha was established “as a study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice, both educationally and socially, at Cornell [University].”  This nation’s oldest Black fraternities and sororities were established to address the very kind of behavior shown in the video of SAE members and the ongoing patterns of racism among its chapters at other schools!

Black fraternities and sororities were also designed to be spaces where Black students would be safe to express the discrimination they felt on campus, to encourage one another to strive for excellence and to complete their degree programs. This need has not diminished and the video is no eye-opener for Black university students, alums, faculty and administrators. When a Black student receives a degree from many institutions of higher education across America they are receiving more than a degree; they have overcome years of institutionalized racism. “Getting that degree” is the attainment of the hopes of our ancestors and it is often the first example for other family members to be assured “that it can be done.” Unfortunately, it is also a bittersweet achievement. Black students very often must face the failure of schools to properly prepare them and their colleagues for a world that does not turn on white thought and scholarship; the burden of excessive student loan debt; few vocational networks and having spent 4 or more years with very little sense of “community” as advertised in the school’s glossy marketing material. And yes, there are exceptions to this critique but they are, proportionally speaking, few.

Diversity, statements about “zero tolerance” for bigotry, showing solidarity among the student body and working assiduously to ensure the campus is welcoming is great and we have good examples of this among some of our schools.  However, as long as Black scholarship is not respected, as long as it is treated as an appendage to curriculum; as long as Black students’ voices are ignored in the classroom; as long as our experiences are deemed as having little to no epistemological value then what remains “unbelievable, unreal and shocking” to me is that more of these incidents aren’t revealed.

So here’s another work for our white allies in the protest movement: Time for you all to move from the malls and highways and turn your attention to predominately white fraternities and sororities. Use your white privilege to disrupt and say, “Get out of here!” to those damn Greek organizations housing the bigots that will become the lawyers, judges, politicians and police officers that oppress and refuse to believe that #BlackLivesMatter. Shut. Them. Down.



Abilene Had a Child: Musings on “The Help”

No Comments 13 August 2011

I did not expect “The Help” to be without flaw. In fact, I knew it could not possibly give a factual rendition of the life and work of black maids during Jim Crow era, especially those who worked below the Mason Dixie Line. I know there are other books written about this subject that have not gotten such press. I was not expecting that a white woman’s novel-made-movie (especially one who both grew up with maids and now has one in her employ) would be sans stereotypes and errors. And so it was. The kind of movie and book that has folk writing protest letters and critical commentary. Continue Reading


African: Not So Much

No Comments 08 January 2011

It is such a strange thing to be so connected with a continent and people whom you know nothing about but live under the umbrella of “direct relatedness” because of skin color, and to a lesser extent, physiognomies, diction and inflection. As a child of the 60s excitedly connected to the Black Power movement, I took great pride in lauding my African heritage. I refused to perm my hair, grew a thick and curly Afro, carried the Afro “pick” with the emblem of the clutched fist in my hair, refused to pledge allegiance to the American flag, instead paying homage to the red, black and green Afro-flag. When I insisted on being called African American rather than Black, it was with this explanation: “I am not Black, my color is caramel, my race is African!” Within my culture, naming who we were, and are, was and remains a matter of debate. The opposing argument went along the lines of nationality and relationality: “Those people over there don’t know a thing about us and really they don’t like us! I ain’t no African! I was born in America.”

These many years removed, I remain a child of the 60s, very proud of my participation in the movement that – vis-à-vis the demand to unconditional love of the racist – taught it was impossible to love any other people until we truly loved ourselves, including our African heritage. Nowadays, I understand myself, my sense of being, less associated with country or continent though I am American, to be sure. On the other hand, I do not deny my African lineage, I simply do not hold an overly romanticized notion that lineage creates automatic essential and intimate relationship and knowledge. Despite our “many times removed” cousin-ship, in a Hurstonian way, I recognize that those “skin-folk” ain’t my “kinfolk.” Beyond what I read, I know little of Africa with its many countries and diverse ideologies. Moreover, I find the staunch and violent homophobia taking place in several of its countries as despicable as the racism and homophobia perpetuated in the United States.

I am Black. I embrace blackness as both an articulation of my membership in the Diaspora of those progeny of the elders who survived the Maafa and the intentionality I have to be in “solidarity with the oppressed” of this world (an idea theologian James Cone so brilliantly developed). To be Black, “beautifully black,” demands a constant engagement against bigotry and oppression. I understand my blackness as inherited from a people often sold into slavery by their African kindred, who lost their lives suffering under brutal torture, shedding blood to be recognized as human, and who whispered a vision of hope in the ears of their children.

Rather than take on another resolution, 2011 has found me shedding, analyzing and re-envisioning my own tacitly accepted truisms. The kind of behavior that gets you accused of being a race traitor.  Oh well…

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