Saturday, March 14, 2015

Black And White At The Frat

At least we have an unabashed feminist, or rather "Salon's politics writer,focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice," putting the infamous chant (video below) of the SAE fraternity members in perspective. Katie McDonough writes

The University of Oklahoma has been in the spotlight in the days since a video showing members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity gleefully reciting racist chants was released to the public. School officials have already closed the fraternity chapter and expelled two students involved in the incident. They’ve also been clear that there may be more sanctions to come. University president David Boren called the students in the video “disgraceful” and said that the institution would become “an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue.

However, Boren, she notes, "will have his work cut out for him" because

Government agencies responsible for ensuring equal access to education — like the Office of Civil Rights in its enforcement of Title IX, for example — are loath to revoke funding for schools that fail to address bigotry, discrimination and violence on campus. But angry parents and well-heeled donors who came out of the Greek system are much more willing to cut the purse strings if they think a school has stepped out of line and is coming down too hard on their boys.

She notes that given experiences at Oglethorpe University, Salisbury University, and Trinity College

a mass defection of the good old boys with fond memories of their days spent crushing beers (and hey, maybe singing racist chants) in a frat house could spell financial trouble for universities — or career trouble for university presidents — serious about reform. In 2013, 60 percent of donations to universities that topped $100 million came from fraternity alumni. Data shows that fraternity men account for 85 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and they populate other powerful institutions — from Wall Street to the White House.

Until colleges start finding the prospect of preventable death, rape and assault more frightening than a network of angry donors, nothing will change in the Greek system. And while fraternities are not singularly responsible for — or home to — a culture of violence, white privilege and male entitlement, a long tradition of permissiveness around dangerous and bigoted frat “antics” has allowed these problems to continue largely unchallenged at an institutional level. Discipline is often administered whack-a-mole-style rather than going at the roots of a system of class privilege, misogyny and racism. A system that is propped up by wealthy donors.

Racist chants or rumors about “sexual assault expected” aren’t isolated to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. These problems are structural. The solutions, then, have to be, too. Boren and the University of Oklahoma seem united, for now, on the issue of addressing the kind of racism captured in that video. According to statements from the black student group Unheard, Boren is also working with them to institute reforms beyond the Greek system. But if the school wants to take on more than a single frat or a particularly odious example of racist college dudes, it will have to take on the institutional structures that condone the racism and misogyny that is so often played for laughs in fraternity culture. And while it appears the university’s donors have so far been silent about the expulsions and evictions that have come about in the wake of the video, they may not stay quiet for long.

On a less serious level, we have our work cut out for us convincing the elite that there is racism.... and there is racism.  Salon's Sarah Gray (video of segment she refers to, below) sets us up with

On Wednesday night’s “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart discussed the racist chant caught on video being sung by SAE fraternity boys at the University of Oklahoma. Stewart also ripped into the “Morning Joe” panel’s outrageous explanation for the racist chant, which they blamed on hip-hop.

“Two things,” Stewart said. “One, the kids on that bus were not repeating rap song they had heard. They were gleefully performing one of their fraternity’s old, let’s call them anti-negro spirituals, featuring a word the predates rap and probably folk and thought. Black rappers did not introduce that word into the vernacular.”

Two (or more) pundits (o.k., o.k.; Jon Stewart is just a comedian, he will protest) and they both get it wrong.

The "n word" was not introduced by black rappers into the vernacular, the latter defined by Merriam Webster as "of, relating to, or using the language of ordinary speech rather than formal writing." Clearly, it existed from early on or, as Stewart put it, "predates rap and probably folk and thought."

But it was re-introduced into the vernacular by rappers. It had lost its legitimacy a few decades ago when rap music emerged to lend it credibility.  (Stewart, who is 52, should  be old enough to remember this.)  When one begins to recognize a term is reprehensible because it is offensive to a group of people, and a subset of the cultural leaders of that group routinely employs it, the message is insinuated that the term is acceptable. It may still be understood intellectually as improper but human beings absorb a lot on the subconscious level. If the prolific use of the "n word" did not somewhat legitimize it in the larger society, it would have set back our understanding of human nature immeasurably.

We should be pleased that neocon William Kristol (segment below) pointed out "Popular culture becomes a cesspool, a lot corporations profit off of it, and then people are surprised that some drunk 19-year-old kids repeat what they’ve been hearing.”(Were Kristol as much a conservative as a neo-conservative, he would have choked on the words "a lot of corporations profit off of it.")  However, it was left to Willie Geist to sort it all out when lamented that the term frequently is used in rap music. "I'm not defending it," he continued, "but there is a distinction between white kids on a bus talking about hanging and Wocka-Flocka" repeating the term.

Would it that Jon Stewart recognized that. It is easier (and far more humorous) to condemn the video, simply as racist while denying any connection whatsoever to the use of the "n word" in popular culture. Easier too, for the right to link use of the term by the fraternity members to its use in rap music and leave it at that  Despite the connection, the video goes beyond racism. Some things, as Geist presumably understands, are worse than racism. One of those is lynching.

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