(Still) Sequestered and Institutionalized

"Lynching of Laura Nelson and her son 2" by George H. Farnum, Okemah photographer

“Lynching of Laura Nelson and her son 2” by George H. Farnum, Okemah photographer

Frankly, I’m not surprised with any of the OU frat member’s actions but I’m really astounded at our “supposed” anger and shock.  In these types of instances, I’m usually of a mind that persons are angry because what’s ordinarily done in private, someone got the bright idea to do in public, and record it.   The shock is simply politically correct window-dressing.

I don’t know; maybe it’s because my parents came from the not-so-deep south, South Carolina and Virginia, respectively that I feel as I do.  Man doesn’t live in a vacuum and often becomes a by-product of his existence and influences.  In my case, they both made their way north, arriving in Philadelphia in the fifties.

In fact, tales told around the holiday table often concerned a relative’s need to take the trip sooner rather than later; implying a necessity in order to save life and limb.  It was just another one of those stories young black kids got told; especially those with southern relatives.

They’d say that it was only after coming north that they became aware of another type of bigotry; the sly, established racism that spews decency for the camera and in your face while at the same time, calling you a nigger behind your back or closed doors.  Now, in a somewhat similar fashion, everyone wants to give the impression that all these excursion shenanigans are uncharacteristic.

They paint a picture of these highbrow gentlemen waking up in their innocence the day of a bus trip and suddenly, collectively deciding to compose, chant and record some degrading and rhyming doggerel for their amusement as they traveled to their destination.  I’m not buying such an excuse and you shouldn’t either.

Those who yearn for those days of old have learned how to hide their racism giving them free reign to walk among the worthy and the honorable.  And just like those who harrowed the survival of my parents, today’s troublemakers know how to infiltrate decent society and turn the most well-meaning and considerate persons into something totally unrecognizable to friends and loved ones.  What we witnessed was always around; it’d really never left.

It was probably in the frat house that the members had their best opportunity to quash it; but they didn’t.  And it was that acquiescence that fostered the nasty familiarity that in turn, bolstered the individuals that in turn, bred the video. The sad thing is that it got a hold of enough of the frat members in one place so that they felt comfortable in their bigotry; and sad as it is, that’s also scary.

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Besides which and under the heading of ghosts from the past, it’s behavior that Oklahoma is familiar with.  After all, the state handed us the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot that burned the then “Black Wall Street” or Greenwood section of the city to the ground.  Ten years earlier, it provided history with the iconic photo you see at the top of the page; the lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson in Okemah, Oklahoma on May 25, 1911.

So, as black frat members exclaim their shock and surprise and the family and friends of other members extol the virtues of those students identified, I challenge each of them to open their eyes and take another closer look.

If they do, I think they’ll have to realize that, even as good as it may have seemed there was still an undercurrent that some probably didn’t want you to look at too deeply.  It was a rock they didn’t want overturned because a deadly snake was waiting underneath.

Well, the frat boys kicked the rock and turned the snake loose.  I’m inclined to say good for them because in doing so, they laid bare the ingrained and long-standing feelings of what, God help us, could be many on campus and throughout the state.

While killing it is the ideal way to go, putting it back under the rock, nine times out of ten, will be the way the university tries moving forward.  And we already see that; OU has kicked SAE to the curb.  Out of sight, out of mind; until the next time, that is.

A better solution would’ve been forced diversification.  You want to maintain a chapter on campus; diversify, immediately.  Follow through by setting up guidelines to ensure that it’s done.  Create a teaching moment, wherever possible, I say.

As we ponder what’s gotten into Millenials, let’s appreciate a few things.  Firstly, things aren’t as good as we think, despite the best efforts of these new generations.  Bigotry still exists in America and is, in fact, institutionalized in many areas, today, yes.

It exists still in all facets of our lives; education, housing, employment, wellness.  It affects us all economically, spiritually and ordinarily.  It could be argued that it’s moments like these that test how good a job we’ve done over the years trying to eradicate it.

Me, I’m inclined to think about that snake.  We never kill it when it rears its ugly head; we just let it shed its skin and crawl back under another rock. And we’ve been doing that for a while now.

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