Racism is systemic, not incidental
There is a lot of buzz this week about a video of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, whose members are caught on tape singing a chant (it is so simple it is hard to dignify it by calling it a song) that has no point other than racism. It repeats the n-word ad nauseam, it references lynching, and reiterates over and over there will never be Blacks in that chapter of the fraternity (there have only been two Black members ever).
After the video (which was posted anonymously, presumably by a SAE member) went viral, the university shut down the frat; a sorority whose members are visible in the video is “cooperating” with the investigation; and two of the frat members who “took a leadership role” in the video, have issued apologies directly, or via their family members.
Weak-tea apologies, it has to be said. “It was wrong and reckless,” said one. “It was a mistake,” said both.
As if the deep racism of the song, of the camaraderie around the unrepentantly racist lyrics, as if the culture of bias and discrimination it points to were the matter of one incident, one ill-considered choice.
Regrettably, that is all too often the manner in which we respond to the reminder that not only is racism alive and well in our country and in our communities, it is sheltered systemically in schooling, policing, housing and micro and macroeconomies.
Study after study has shown that, across the nation and in our own beloved Philadelphia, Latino and African-American youths are stopped and frisked at much higher rates their white peers.
Studies have shown that Latinos and African-Americans are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than their white counterparts, even if their offenses are identical, and that even in the earliest years of schooling, overzealous school discipline policies target Black and Latino students.
It is much harder for Blacks and Latinos to get mortgages, and harder to buy homes outside of traditional ethnic communities, regardless of income. Predatory lending practices are targeted at Blacks and Latinos, and shifty lenders charging extortionist interest rates most frequently set up shop in Black and Latino neighborhoods.
This is news to no one, certainly not in Philadelphia, where the ACLU says the city stops “tens of thousands” of African-Americans without reasonable suspicion.
But what does seem news — or at least has become more widely a part of discussions since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson — is the systemic racism inherent in our media coverage of white and Black in America.
The frat members at SAE have been referred to in the media as “students” and “boys,” in a way that stresses their youth and immaturity. Brown, 16, and Tamir Rice (an African-American 12-year-old who was shot by police because he was in possession of toy gun) were most frequently referred to in the media as “men.”
Racism is so ingrained in the media, and so systemic, that folks on shows like “Morning Joe” on MSNBC unflinchingly accord equal weight of disapproval to the use of the n-word by Black rappers as to a frat song sung by whites saying: “You can hang them from a tree, but he can never sign with me,There will never be a n***** in SAE.”
It is time for us to have a substantive conversation about reforming or dismantling the systems that depend on, or coddle racism in our nation. Let’s ask the next Philly mayor, let’s ask the “next great city” itself, to start the conversation and lead the way.