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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

"Dear White People": The SAE controversy

Earlier this month, the University of Oklahoma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity placed itself in the national, controversial spotlight. In a video distributed on social media, members of the fraternity were caught on phone video singing, clapping and chanting,

“You can hang them from a tree,
But they’ll never sign with me.
There will never be a n***** SAE.”
The two members who had “leadership roles” in the chant were quickly expelled by the president of the University of Oklahoma, but further actions continue to be taken in retaliation to the event, including the removal of the letters of the SAE house, the disbandment of the fraternity, the suspension of all of its members and protests and demonstrations against the fraternity. An examination of all SAE fraternities for any racist behavior or discrimination has occurred since the video has emerged.
It isn’t the first time that the fraternity has been in hot water. Even on our campus earlier this year, Mercer University’s SAE was suspended and had its letters removed from the house after a downtown brawl with Alpha Tau Omega. The fraternity received its letters back earlier this semester.
Somehow, I know that this event should come as no surprise. Racism is not as dead as so many would like to believe. It is not hiding or fighting to rise up again. It is real and alive. It is substantiated by this, so it shouldn’t be surprising.
But it still is to me.
Over spring break, when this whole controversy happened, my father and I watched the film “Dear White People.” The movie follows a community of black students at a college as they fight the administration from sending the school back into segregation through a new housing selection process. The students also seek equality in society as a whole. It cumulates into a ridiculous black-face event orchestrated by the campus’ most popular and prestigious fraternity led by the son of the university’s president. The film comments on the role of blacks in the media and our society. It is a hilarious and beautiful movie, one of my new favorites.
Anyway, the connection that I am trying to make is how true this movie is. The film was made early last year, but it is current to today because it seems as though it was made as a direct comment to this whole controversy. The University of Oklahoma SAE didn’t black-face or mock black people, but they were directly racist on camera, just like the fraternity in “Dear White People.” Not only that, but in secondary footage, members tried to stop the filming and hide their racist actions. They directly offended all black people and closed them off from the fraternity by throwing history in their faces — in our faces.
Honestly, this is more than just a bunch of white boys being racists. This more than just an argument about if the “n-word” is okay or if racism is still alive. This is evidence. It is a direct sign of how right “Dear White People” is because each time something like this happens it shows how close we are to those times of segregation and racial separation. It shows that racism is not dead. It never even went sleep. It has been awake and alive this entire time. It is just a more subtle source of oppression now. But it is still our unfortunate reality.
In an iconic scene in “Dear White People,” the students go to the movies but end up arguing with the movie clerk about the movie selection. They narrow movies down to three categories based off of their portrayal of black students: those that don’t have any black people in them, those that portray them incorrectly, and those that portray them in the past as slaves or members of the civil rights movement. As they say in the film, “So, we have black people dying in the past, and black people dying in the present.” With events like these of the University of Oklahoma SAE, we see that this statement accounts for more than just black people. With each act of racism, I think that we have humanity dying in the past and the present.


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