Ooooooo-klahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, and the SAEs love bigotry, and all ‘dem Okies let racism sustain!
I really hope you didn’t agree with those lyrics.
I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life. I love Oklahoma. And people who travel to Oklahoma love it too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Everyone here is so friendly!” And I can’t tell you how many times someone was honestly surprised upon learning that.
Whenever Oklahoma earns national news coverage, the newscasts reinforce unflattering Oklahoma stereotypes. After the 2014 Moore tornado, citizens with the strongest accents or wearing overalls were the ones interviewed. And have you ever heard of Sweet Brown? If not, search her on YouTube. She’s an Oklahoma City native, and her newscast went viral, not because of the actual event (an apartment fire), but because she seemed uneducated.
Now, Oklahoma’s in the news again. But this time, it’s because of a racial chant the SAEs at OU drunkenly recited on a bus. And the rhetoric surrounding the scandal is almost as harsh as the chant itself.
I’ve seen various news headlines that read, “Racism is taught,” or “that’s just Oklahoma for you,” or, “it’s an SAE thing.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.
My brother was an SAE at Johns Hopkins. Three of my uncles were SAEs at LSU. When the media started blaming the fraternity for teaching the racial chant, they were livid. None of them had ever heard the chant before in their life.
“The most racist thing I think we did was throw a Halloween party, where we put a scarecrow in the front yard, and one guy came dressed up as a banana,” my brother said. “The school threatened to suspend us, but it was all circumstantial. We didn’t have any racist intent.”
If you’re going to blame SAE for teaching racism, you might as well blame Ernie Pyle, Pulitzer Prize winning World War II journalist and Ed Wilson, president of Tribune Broadcasting and former President of Fox Television, NBC Enterprises, and CBS Enterprises. You should even blame William Faulkner, a Nobel Prize winning author. Why? They were all SAEs, too.
SAE does good things for society. It is one of the sponsors of the national, anonymous anti-hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE. And SAE’s national philanthropy is the American Jewish World Service.
The SAE mission, as stated on the national website, highlights “The True Gentleman,” who “speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”
Just because a few members failed to uphold those virtues doesn’t meant that the entire fraternity is a failure.
Tyler Speller, a black president of OU’s white-majority Phi Delta Theta fraternity, told the LA Times, “The actions of the members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity have deeply saddened me and the rest of the OU community, though I do not feel they represent the views of the entire OU Greek community and the university.”
Some people blame OU. But OU isn’t so bad, either.
In fact, on March 7, OU students raised half a million dollars at Soonerthon, a philanthropy that benefits a local children’s hospital. The majority of the participants were fraternity and sorority members.
And for the third time in four years, the OU debate team won the National University Debate Championship, the collegiate debate tournament in the U.S.
Having a strong debate team is testimony itself that the campus is fighting for equality. I’m a member and executive member of the SMU debate team, and our coach, Dr. Ben Voth, always references James Farmer Jr. who, in addition to being a civil rights leader and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), led the Wiley debate team, otherwise known as The Great Debaters. He relied on the conventions of debate as a means of empowerment, and to promote the Community of the Beloved.
As for those who blame Oklahoma for racist hegemony? News flash: the two men leading the chant were from Texas.
I’m not saying that the OU SAE chapter isn’t racist. I’m not saying that what they did is acceptable. I just think it’s time we looked at both successes and failures before stigmatizing an entire group.