SAE fraternity members' apologies really about 'getting caught,' nothing more

OPINION - The big takeaway from the “apologies” offered by two expelled University of Oklahoma students is that racism and white privilege distort every aspect of life. It’s like a fun house mirror...

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The big takeaway from the “apologies” offered by two expelled University of Oklahoma students is that racism and white privilege distort every aspect of life.

It’s like a fun house mirror (minus the fun for everyone else) where consequences for abhorrent behavior are used to justify a “woe is me” defensive posture.

Parker Rice’s face is mostly clearly visible in the now viral video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members jovially singing about N***ers. He issued an apology to the Dallas Morning News, his hometown paper.

After noting that alcohol was involved in the incident and that his family had received threatening calls and social media messages, Rice said:

At this point, all I can do is be thoughtful and prayerful about my next steps, but I am also concerned about the fraternity friends still on campus. Apparently, they are feeling unsafe and some have been harassed by others. Hopefully, the university will protect them.

He goes on to say that this has been a “devastating lesson” for him, and he actually manages to use the word “racism” in the second to last sentence:

My goal for the long-term is to be a man who has the heart and the courage to reject racism wherever I see or experience it in the future.

I’m not sure when/if Rice will experience racism, unless by “experience” he means dole it out. At no point in his statement does he talk about the pain and devaluation black people experience due to thoughts and actions like the ones documented in that awful video. The gist of his apology is “I’m sorry I got caught. I hope my bros and my family don’t suffer too much.”

The other expelled student, Levi Pettit, didn’t even bother to release his own statement. His family sent an apology to the Dallas Morning News (and posted it on a website they created for this incident).

In the statement, Pettit’s parents assert that he is a “good boy” who made a terrible mistake and that he is definitely not a racist. They also offered up apologies:

We were as shocked and saddened by this news as anyone. Of course, we are sad for our son — but more importantly, we apologize to the community he has hurt. We would also like to apologize to the — entire African American community, University of Oklahoma student body and administration. Our family has the responsibility to apologize, and also to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Our words will only go so far — as a family, we commit to following our words with deeds.

The apology part of the statement is worded fairly well, but it’s not from Levi Pettit; it’s from his parents. Additionally, their statement feeds into the false notion that you can’t be a “good boy” from a decent home AND be racist.

Racism is not just in the form of hooded Bubbas running around with a noose in one hand and a rifle in the other. Racism can also look like nattily dressed college students fresh off of a few keg stands singing a catchy little ditty about ni**ers and hanging and never having a ni**er in their fraternity.

The fact that this song, which is clearly an old tune that they all know well, appears to be a “fun,” bonding ritual for the frat brothers (and the Delta Delta Delta members who were on the bus and laughing along) is quite troubling.

How do you heartily sing about hanging n***ers with your all white friends and then go to your 6 pm study group with your black classmate or graduate and own a business and fairly evaluate black candidates for jobs?

As for SAE, the fraternity has a long history of misdeeds on numerous campuses across the country, including the hazing death of a black pledge at Cornell University in 2011. Three frat brothers were charged with misdemeanors associated with the incident but were acquitted.

Continuing to sing a song about n***ers not belonging in SAE is even more disgusting given the fraternity’s recent past.

The SAE national headquarters needs to take decisive action that makes it clear that hazing deaths, racist banter and other less serious knucklehead behavior will not be tolerated.

For its part, the University of Oklahoma acted swiftly and with firmness. The SAE chapter is closed, the house has been vacated and there have already been expulsions with possibly more to come, pending investigation.

Of course, kicking out a few students and booting a fraternity off campus will not solve institutional racism, but it is a start. University of Oklahoma students have already begun holding protests. Hopefully, meaningful and honest dialogue will lead to changes in inter-personal interactions and school policies.

Before there can ever be a true dismantling of institutional racism, we must acknowledge that racism and therefore racists do exist.

We must call it by its name and acknowledge that racist thoughts/behaviors can co-exist with good thoughts/behaviors inside of one person.

We can never be rid of racism if there are “no racists.”

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.