Black people can tell if a white person is the type who says nigger when he thinks no one is watching. We know and we warn others about you. –Me, on Facebook last night.
Over the weekend, a story emerged about a chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon which was suspended due to racist behavior which was caught on film. For what it’s worth, I was impressed with the swift response from SAE’s National President Brad Cohen, who said “They will be dealt with.”
And dealt with they were. Chapter closed, members evicted from the house, and expulsions are sure to follow. Mr. Cohen’s response doesn’t seem to be the standard response of corporate embarrassment and brand protection. It seems to be genuine disgust. I appreciate that and I wish more fraternal leaders could be trusted to have similar responses.
But the problem is that white people are racist and I can not trust a white person I don’t know to not be racist.
My lack of trust in white people (men in particular) is not unfounded. It is not unreasonable. It is based in the reality of a racist and patriarchal society that was not designed for black excellence. These young men on this bus already have all the privilege in the world. It wasn’t enough to just be white in a space affirming of whiteness. They had to affirm their superiority and their exclusionary beliefs.
Thankfully there was at least one subversive person on the bus who filmed and shared it.
I am glad that the #SAEhatesme movement has begun on social media, but I hope people understand that this is not solely about Sigma Alpha Epsilon. This is about any institution of all-white (on some campuses) or mainly white (on many campuses) people that gets to decide their own membership. When picking a pledge class, a chapter may not be chanting about never taking a nigger, but what’s going on inside them when they do vote? Are they challenging themselves about why they are voting no on a candidate? Are they really checking their privilege?
Further, are they asking themselves why people of color are not rushing their chapters in the first place?
Do they know that we don’t trust them to do right by us?
I am a Brother of Alpha Phi Omega, one of the most happy-go-lucky fraternal organizations on the planet, and even in our own existence, there have been chapters which have donned black face and had jungle-themed fundraisers. Although this was decades ago, it is definitely documented in our national newsletter.
No institution of white people is immune to racism. But ultimately, my mistrust of white people is not my problem because it is not steeped in racism. It is an evidence-based emotion, signed in the blood of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, with a bullet as the exclamation point. It is on film. It is in print. I don’t trust a white person to not call me nigger behind closed doors.
This is a white person’s problem, not mine. I’m good. I don’t have work to do. White people do. In the words of Olivia Pope:
Earn me. Earn my trust. Show me that you won’t lynch me. Show me that you will teach your boys not to shoot me. Show me that you want me in your fraternities and your country clubs.
Until then… just leave me alone.