When a vile, racist video by members of the Oklahoma University chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity was put online, strong demonstrations by students, teachers, community members and even the school football team expressed outrage. Many on Twitter condemned the message. The video showed fraternity members on a chartered bus singing a song filled with the “N” word and promoting the lynchings of African Americans.
The video was exposed to the public by the student activist group, “Unheard OU.” This group organized the first demonstrations against the fraternity.
In the face of the protests over this video, the university administration shut down the fraternity and expelled two students who were clearly leading this “song.” That action is, of course, altogether right and proper.
But these racists found defenders. Several pundits have declared this to be a “free speech” issue. And members and alumni of the SAE fraternity have hired Stephen Jones, the same lawyer who defended Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 set off the bomb in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and wounded 680 others. Jones has also worked for Richard Nixon and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as three Oklahoma Republican governors. (oklahomacity.suntimes.com, March 14)
Jones is already threatening a lawsuit “to protect the due process rights, the first amendment rights and the 14th Amendment rights of the fraternity members.” Of course, this is nonsense. This racist video was nothing but an open threat of extreme violence against the Black community, backed up by hundreds of years of “legal” KKK lynchings. Racists should have no right to free speech; therefore, the Oklahoma video footage should be deemed a hate crime, punishable with jail time for those promoting racist violence.
Record of racist, anti-woman assaults
The SAE fraternity has a sordid history mired in racism. It was the only fraternity founded in the pre-Civil War South. When the war broke out, SAE had 400 members, 369 of whom joined and fought in the Confederate army. After the war, the fraternity moved north, but retained its segregationist roots. Several members of the Dartmouth College SAE chapter, for example, still refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.”
In 1982, the University of Cincinnati suspended SAE for organizing a racist party on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, with a flyer asking people to “bring such things as a canceled welfare check.”
In 1992, the Texas A&M chapter hosted a “Jungle Fever” party, which included “black face, grass skirts and ‘slave hunts.’” (insidehighered.com, March 10).
In 2000, SAE members at Oglethorpe University threw bottles at Black athletes and yelled racist slurs at them during a cross country meet. In 2002, SAE members at Syracuse University wore black face out to local bars. In 2009, the Valdosta State chapter flew a Confederate flag on its front lawn. In 2014, 15 SAE members broke into a Jewish fraternity at the University of Arizona and physically attacked its members while shouting anti-Semitic slurs.
On Feb. 25, SAE members at the University of Washington shouted from their frat house windows racial slurs and made obscene gestures at a Black Lives Matter march that was passing by.
Right after the Oklahoma University video was released, a Confederate flag was hung in a window of the OU SAE chapter house.
And there are reports that the racist song used at OU is identical to one used by the SAE chapters at Texas universities.
Sexism is also the operating mode for SAE. On some campuses, the fraternity’s initials have been translated as “Sexual Assault Expected.” There are reports that the Oklahoma SAE racist song was used at the SAE fraternity house at Dartmouth with the lyrics changed to promote violence against women.
An analysis by Bloomberg News service in 2013 found that SAE is the leading fraternity in deaths caused by a culture of heavy drinking, drug use, sexual assault and hazing. (Bloomberg.com, Dec. 30, 2013)
Yet the fraternity remains “in good standing” at some 200 college campuses.
Smash white supremacy
Racism is not just a group of white thugs — be they in fraternities like SAE or in police departments — chanting bigoted slurs and threats. It is an ideology embedded in the fabric, the heart, the very bowels of the capitalist social and economic system. It is the grotesque and obscene conception that Black people’s lives don’t matter compared to whites.
This ideology was spawned to spur slavers to capture African men, women and children, chain them like animals, ship them across the ocean in the most heinous conditions, and then force them with unbelievable brutality to labor in the “New World.” Why? It was all done to amass vast wealth among plantation masters, factory owners, banks, insurance companies and other sectors of the ruling class, wealth that they horde to the present day.
Racism was used to “motivate” the beatings, the rapes and the murders by slave owners, the overseers and the slave catchers. And it was and is fashioned by the political and economic elite of this country into laws and customs, into Jim Crow and segregation, into courts, prisons and of course into the indoctrination of the police occupying forces right down to the present day, from Los Angeles to Staten Island, N.Y., to Ferguson, Mo.
Racism remains the main tool by the “master class” to maintain and protect its rotting system of exploitation and oppression. It is no accident that fraternities like Sigma Alpha Epsilon, incubators for the future financial and corporate elite, ground their members in racist bigotry so they can more effectively take up the reins of power in the future.
But they face strong and determined opposition from the African- American community and from many progressive supporters. And that opposition is part of a social movement that is destined to smash racist ideology in all its forms along with the social and the capitalist economic system that sustains it.