Some 104 years ago, a group of fellas got together in a small house in Bloomington, Indiana to discuss the beginning of what would become the greatest fraternity. This very thing happened years before that, and for women, in another part of the country, all because it was decided there would “never be a nigger in” any of the fraternities and sororities already making their mark on these college campuses.
I feel safe enough to say I speak for all members of Black Greek-lettered Organizations when I say, “Good,” to those guys on that bus who were so adamant about denying anyone who looks like me membership into their precious bond. As a black man, seeking membership into an organization with a 159 year history of racism, an organization founded by confederate soldiers in old, antebellum Alabama, has not made my bucket list.
A colonized mind is a terrible thing. Last night I watched the clip of William Bruce James II, the second and last Black member of the University of Oklahoma’s Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon come to the defense of racism. “I can’t say that there was never a moment of insensitivity or a showing of ignorance, but it was never from a mean-spirited place,” James said when asked, “did you ever experience racism?” I will assume this means when the white brothers of SAE decided to play klansmen for the annual Halloween party, William Bruce James II laughed along with them when they suggested he play “porch monkey.” Afterall, they were laughing when they suggested it.
Having worked in higher education on a campus built by one of the most revered and celebrated slave owners, Thomas Jefferson, I know Williams James Bruce II isn’t that one needle in a haystack. Too often I’d see the same shuck and jive routine by many Black members of predominantly and historically White fraternities; laughing at racist jokes to fit in when the correct response would have been to shut down the conversation, educate the ignorant, and if need be, lay them flat. I have no solutions for the William Bruce James II’s of the world. All Black men and women don’t culturally identify as Black, and while that disappoints me, I sometimes understand, looking at their upbringing. I do, however, get upset at that parents who have failed them.
(Side note: Not the proudest moment, but it once took ten men to pull my fraternity brother off a member of a white fraternity who insisted on telling a racist joke that required he use “nigger,” even after my brother suggested he stop the joke as soon as he saw where it was heading. Again, not the proudest, but it did feel good)
I joined my fraternity because I wanted the women, the parties, the social life. I wanted to be able to charter busses to Philadelphia to hold up free Mumia signs, to get the unlikely voters of Volusia County to the polls, to show up places where change and evolution were necessary with a Kappa shirt on and work just as hard as the people who were there before I arrived, and just as hard as the AKAs, Deltas, Alphas, Omegas, Sigmas, Iotas, Zetas, and SGRhos, because that’s what we were and are supposed to do.
SAE just so happened to be the fraternity caught on tape. There aren’t always cameras, and there aren’t always those on busses willing to share and speak up.
Somewhere I may have steered off the path I was on when I began this post, but I finish with this: we were created to fight everything that happened on that Oklahoma bus, not join it.
“There will never be a nigger in SAE?” Good.