Friday, March 13, 2015

Racism in America

It's not dead, and we have no idea how to kill it. We can, however, suppress a lot of discrimination.

But I want to talk about the Oklahoma U SAE misadventure, where a bunch of frat brothers got caught on tape singing a racist chant. It was offensive, disgusting, and racist, but I don't really think it was much about deeply racist attitudes in the US or even OU. It was mostly about a bunch of boys behaving badly, something bunches of boys are famous for doing, especially if they happen to be SAEs.

It has actually been documented that adolescent stupidity doubles when they are assembled in groups, and male SAEs, in my experience, are self selected for immaturity.

This was not a "hate crime," but abuse of free speech. Many people were offended and some may have been frightened, but the main victims are the perpetrators and especially any innocent frat brothers they may happen to have. Their chapter was closed, they were turned out of their housing, and some have been expelled.

The severe reaction by OU is understandable given the damage to its reputation, but was it just and appropriate? Jamelle Bouie, who writes on race and society for Slate, says no, and I like his argument.

Education would be better. The University of Oklahoma is two hours away from Tulsa, which in 1921 was the site of one of the worst anti-black race riots in American history. More than a thousand whites stormed the black district of Tulsa and razed it to the ground, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless and destitute. Black Tulsa never recovered, but memories of the attack live on among descendants of the victims.

Many or most of these kids are young enough to still be educable. I've seen it happen in my life and to me. This should be a teachable moment for the country.