Kent Bush: Things will never change unless we change them
Hello, you are reading this column in 2015.
I’m not making that announcement because of daylight saving time adjustments from the weekend. I am making that announcement because on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Civil Rights events in Selma, Alabama, an Oklahoma University fraternity was disbanded after video of overtly racist chants on a party bus were posted online.
Members of the school’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter were seen and heard chanting “There will never be a n--- in SAE” and following it with cute phrases about hanging those same people who are excluded from SAE membership from a tree.
University President David Boren wasted no time and handing down swift and harsh punishment. The house was cleared, and the fraternity was disbanded and no longer has a presence on campus.
Everyone in the National Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization rushed to paint this as an isolated event.
I would love to believe that. But several facts drive my belief that this was not isolated on the Norman campus and probably not isolated nationwide.
That was not the first time that chant had been yelled. When a couple of idiots started it up on the party bus – because nothing says “Let’s have fun at a party” like shouting racist epithets – far too many partygoers knew the chant and shouted and clapped along.
It wasn’t isolated among that group of fraternity members. It was a fight song, a rally cry, a declaration.
Other evidence doesn’t support the claim that those beliefs are isolated among the group. As the controversy began to unfold, interest was drawn in the SAE fraternity house just up the road in Stillwater on the campus of Oklahoma State University.
A rebel flag is proudly displayed in the window of one of the member’s rooms. One would hope that at my alma mater, the young man was just a really big “Dukes of Hazzard” fan, and not a symbol of more widespread racism within his fraternity.
I want to believe that. I don’t, but I want to.
This incident has been hurtful to many students at the university. It has been nice to see the overwhelming response following the incident from President Boren, to students on campus, to former OU fraternity members who have been posting their disbelief that this happened in their Greek system on their alma mater.
That was the most disturbing thing about the video. Groupthink led many on the bus to clap along and giggle at the chants. Only one person, purportedly a young lady invited along to the party, had the courage to use her phone to record the incident and expose the horrible truth.
Like I said before, it is 2015. We are 150 years from the abolition of slavery, 50 years from Selma’s Civil rights march, and six years from electing our first black president.
But in the blink of an eye, it will be 2065. If we as a society truly want to see this behavior end, there has to be fewer chanters and cheerers when incidents like this happen. We need more people to stand up and have the courage to shine the light on these cultural cockroaches and drive them out of our shared spaces.
As the adoptive father of a black child, I don’t want to feel this way again. I don’t want him to suffer the pain of people treating him this way.
Things don’t just change. People change things.
It is time we all stand up and say that this is not acceptable on our campus, in our neighborhood, on this party bus, or in my house.
If we want it to get better, we have to do our part to make it better.
Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.