Opinion: Greeks are worried about the wrong issue in the wake of nationally publicized racism incident

By on March 24, 2015

We’ve watched the video, heard the chants and probably (hopefully) decided that yes, those guys in Oklahoma University’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity are racist. But that doesn’t make every Greek member racist. I get that.

However, some opinions have come forward begging for sympathy, because not everyone seems to get that. Most notably, someone submitted an anonymous pity-invoking letter to TotalFratMove.com (TFM) crying about backlash on the Greeks at Oklahoma University. And even here at The Cardinal, someone submitted a piece, upset that the incident “tarnished” Greek identity.

I understand and agree that it is not fair to target and generalize all of Greeks because of one group’s hateful actions, but that type of behavior—the generalizing and targeting, that is—sounds eerily familiar of a group larger than all of Greek life in America. African Americans have been grouped, stereotyped and targeted for as long as they have lived here.

Considering the fact the African Americans were the butt of SAE’s chant, maybe we should shift the focus from complaining about the backlash Greeks may be receiving to realizing that the targeted responses are only a taste of the heat African Americans have unjustly felt for the last 300 years. Suddenly, when primarily upper-class white people are being lashed out against instead of just people of color, the reaction hurts.

This excerpt is from TFM’s anonymous letter, “OU is our home, and we are no longer comfortable here. In our own homes, we do not feel safe. You shouldn’t be afraid to walk to class alone due to the actions of a few bad eggs simply because you may be a member of a Greek organization. We are no longer trusted by our fellow students. Dirty looks are shot our way as we walk campus.”

Let’s replace a few words in this excerpt and read it from the perspective of an African American: “OU is our home, and we are no longer comfortable here. In our own homes, we do not feel safe. You shouldn’t be afraid to walk to class alone due to the actions of a few bad eggs simply because you are African American. We are no longer trusted by our fellow students. Dirty looks are shot our way as we walk campus.”

When people of color are publicized for gang-related crimes, African American men are stereotyped with abandoning children and pushing drugs and African American women are called “welfare queens” and written off as “angry black women,” they are targeted on these predispositions. These are not isolated incidents, while instances of institutional racism in Greek life—and the generalized backlash that follows—are somewhat isolated.

Point one: becoming a scrutinized group for a period of time that will surely blow over is nothing compared to being African American for a lifetime. Some Greeks are acting like they are the real victims here, brushing off the fact that African Americans were once again glaringly told they are not welcome in Greek organizations.

Both letters also sought to return the negative focus on Greeks to a positive focus by reminding their readers that philanthropy is integral to Greek life. While true, it doesn’t actually convince me of anything. Lots of people do nice things. Instead of trying to shift people’s opinions by talking about all the good deeds Greeks do, make initiatives to teach your chapters about diversity. Recruit and welcome students of all colors—and socioeconomic classes. Offer Greek scholarships so students who can’t afford Greek life are capable of joining. Outlaw Confederate flags and chants of Dixie from your events. (Confused? Read Louisvillian Tracy Clayton’s trending article, “A Black Girl’s History with Southern Frat Racism” on Buzzfeed. Seriously, read it. And the follow-up article.)

Point two: Stop sharing anonymous letters and opinion pieces begging for mercy on Facebook, and show the U of L community that Greek life here is above racist behavior instead. By even responding to the targeted responses, Greeks are submitting to the possibility that they are associated with this kind of behavior, almost agreeing that these are valid assumptions. Don’t just tell us how distant Louisville Greeks are, be so distant from any traces of racism, classism and sexism that no one even thinks to assume you’re guilty by association.

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One Comment

  1. anon

    March 24, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    This is anonymous because I don’t wish to speak on my own behalf but the behalf of many of the Greek Life members at U of L. From the Greek perspective, people are posting the articles and open letter on their social media pages is EXACTLY because they do not want the U of L Greek Community to be thrown in under the bus with what happened in Oklahoma. This happens all too often. Racism sucks. Sexism sucks. Stereotyping sucks. Everyone is stereotyped at some point in their lives and it is usually with negative things because humans are inherently negative. I am also upset with the “now you know how black people feel” argument because it okays stereotyping. Instead of saying “well now you have been stereotyped haha sucks stop trying to defend your own Greek chapter” the response should be more positive because the individuals in Greek life have responded appropriately. I am really proud of the response of chapters at U of L. I haven’t heard anyone group our SAE chapter in with the ones at Oklahoma and the SAE chapter here public responded by making it clear that this chapter stands up against racism. Whether the actions of individual members show that is a different issue. The point is, Greeks at U of L are doing something to fight racism and sexism and were well before the SAE video came out. The core values of many organizations already include diversity so it isn’t something new that needs to be taught. It is reinforced every week if not every day. As a member of Greek Life and extremely involved in every aspect, it troubles me that the light Greek Organizations bring to the community is not highlighted as much as it should be. Yes, it is important to address racial/sexist issues but when these kinda of issue that go beyond Greek life are the only headlines we get, it makes it difficult to feel communal support. By all means, yes, we should get angry about racism and sexism! But we should also encourage people to post the open letters and articles about how they are different because that reinforces antiracism/antisexism ideals and can encourage social growth not only on U of L’s campus but also in the surrounding community.

    Thank you.

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