Ferguson and The University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity
April 4, 2015
By: Kurt von Behrmann
In what some deem “Post Racial America,” overwhelming evidence to the contrary indicates we are anything but a racially equitable society. Overt discrimination is still with us. When tensions reach a breaking point, or when what has been private is made public, the notion of an America minus prejudice sounds like the ludicrous piece of fiction that it is.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s secretive chat celebrating the exclusion of African-Americans from its ranks became known, and an embarrassing facet of Greek life reared its head. It was a decidedly ugly one. Given permission by concealment, feelings and attitudes from America’s past made themselves loud and clear.
The fact that some fraternal orders exist along racial lines is nothing new. Given that they are social in nature and private, Universities and society in general has allowed this type segregation. As long as one does not make it “obvious” that a Frat is “White Only,” or for that matter “Black Only,” integration is placed in a permanent holding pattern.
The values, or the reputed values, of academic institutions are in contradiction to the Frats that they co-exist with them. It is that very conflict that puts Universities in the unenviable position of allowing what it does not accept among its own ranks, at least on a surface level.
The pull and tug of that which is tolerated in public versus what is allowed in private delves into the very deepest core of the type of racism that permeates American Culture. It is acceptable to move into an all-white community. It is not acceptable to be vocal and proud about the fact. The same holds true for restricted country clubs.
Amongst the Patrician Caucasian Class of America, expressing hatred for Blacks and wishing they were systematically removed from the United States, or lynched, is fine, in private. Chanting about it is decidedly “in poor taste.” It is a key separating factor that divides “Patrician Whites” from “Hoi Poli” Whites.
Contemporary racism is now clouded in new terms. “Entitlement Programs” mean any and everything that would allow Blacks economic, educational and social advancement. Anything that would reduce crime, violence, sexism, teenage pregnancy and any other social problems in the inner City is transformed into government overreach that always fails.
Another interesting element of the New Racism is encouraging Africa-Americans to eschew any form of social and educational advancement. One sure fire way to do this is to encourage the most misogynistic music possible that values money, guns, flashy cars and girls girls girls galore above everything else.
The “Gangsta’ world is the high culture of the African-American community designed to define it and sell itself as authentic. Create the most negative, depressing self-hating cultural climate possible and then sell it to Blacks with the idea that this is the penultimate achievement of Black intellectual achievement.
Let me add, I am not putting down literature and art that have something substantive to say about the Urban Black Experience. There is culture there, but it is hanging on by a thread. The degradation of Black intellectual achievement has been an ongoing, and successful, project.
There are “Patrician” well meaning whites in America. I have never purchased the simplistic idea of “Whites” are all evil and Blacks are perfect.” This is a racist view. People are complex and circumstances are complicated. My point is that “SOME” elements in America are committing acts that fly in the face of a decent society and are making a profit from it to the detriment of Black cultural life .
Social racism protected by the traditions of Greek Campus Life are not easily seen by the outside. It can give the impression that racial hatred has vanished from Campus life. It is a little harder to ignore when it is systematic, visible and part of a legal system that that has exploited Black communities.
When Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo, that one event was the catalyst for protests from a community that had endured years of mistreatment by the Police.
The incidents of unarmed Black youth finding their lives ending at the end of a gun has been too frequent. The repercussions of another incident where an unarmed Black Youth found his life ended by an overzealous Block Watcher George Zimmerman left a bad taste in the minds of the American public after he showed a continuing history of violence. It seems that these events were happening way too often to be just happenstance. It was a point noted by all, conveniently ignored by some.
There has been a long held belief that the Police are above and beyond reproach. It is buried deep in the American psyche. Politicians running on “law and order” platforms have no interest in finding fault with the Police. In the minds of most they are there to “protect” and “serve.” The assumption has been that they are above politics and beyond the need for oversight.
That attitude maybe slowly changing.
Old beliefs die hard. In an America where some find it hard to find fault with the system, where the belief that racism ended with President Obama, Ferguson was a glaring sign that it was still with us in the ugliest way possible.
What truly set nerves trembling in Missouri’s Black community was the idea that Officer Darren Wilson was not going to be tried by a jury of his peers. It was as if the powers that be wanted to rush this matter under a very thick rug. The excuse given for the fast paced decision was that there were no reliable witnesses. Well, there were witnesses. Wouldn’t it be up to the jury system to discern truth from fiction? Instead, the whole affair was brushed aside like a hiccup.
As investigations found cold hard data, it was revealed that the entire Police Department of Ferguson was engaged in practices that were decidedly racist. Blacks were profiled and found guilty of minor infractions and given unusually large fines. The entire department was using this system of harsh punishment as a revenue stream. So much for protect and serve here. The unconscionable part is that this is an economically challenged community.
Coming to light were the emails that mocked the President and African Americans in general sent via office email systems. The remarks were crude, dehumanizing and filled with vitriol. There was no mistaking this was a Police Department that viewed the community it served with contempt.
The one time I saw Officer Darren Wilson I was struck by his youth, and the overwhelming feeling that he lacked the “gravitas” one would expect in a law enforcement official. His speech and demeanor was more like that of a young teen thrown into a situation that was beyond his ability to comprehend. He had the classic “Deer In The Headlights Look” when interviewed. He looked easily shaken. He looked scared.
I recall a police officer telling me many years ago that experienced seasoned officers would be leaving the force. Their replacements will be young, and more than likely ill equipped to handle urban crime. His words were prophetic.
Clearly, racism is a problem in Ferguson. But, the makeup of the department and its total disconnect from the community it is supposed to protect has created an adversarial environment. It is an “US” versus “Them” mentality.
Stats from Mother Jones Magazine http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/10-insane-numbers-ferguson-killing
One clear solution is to hire African—American Officers, recruit from the community and start to establish a less combative stance on the part of the Department. Having citizens on advisory boards, taking input from the community, having members of the community cooperate with the Department, all of these could have and should have been done. These things do work. It was not like none of this did not exist in the country. These things do work. The reality is that no one cared, and it showed.
When I think of Officer Darren Wilson, I start to think about the circumstances that place Whites into environments where they have no connection.
Picture the circumstances and one starts to see why this happened, and how it happened. I think it is safe to assume that those White Officers in Ferguson come from White communities. They are largely around people who think, act and look like themselves.
Now, place those same Whites deep into Black communities where there are enormous social ills and historic racism and you see the disconnect.
Consider those same White Officers encountering day after day Black people behaving badly and its long term impact. The view that emerges is that all Blacks are violent. Now they have proof positive that all their racist views are backed by facts, experiences and cold hard data. Even in the poorest of communities, not everyone is violent, cruel or so soaked in the crime culture that rehabilitation is impossible. The reality of Black humanity is not what these cops witness.
Over time Black crime becomes the Black identity. The idea that they deserve to be punished because they have no value as human beings can justify maltreatment. Racism backed by slanted experiences provides the justification to do as one pleases.
When racism meets anger meets the worst ills of society, do not expect the meeting to be a good one. Without a type of training that views communities as U.S. communities in a more balanced light, it is easy to see Black Communities as enemy territory.
The surreal nature of College Campuses becoming sanctuaries for racist Frats and Police Departments openly hostile to the Black communities they are supposed to protect and serve, it all paints a picture of a society that espouses one set of values, but secretly houses something far more sinister. There is something perverted about a Police Departments and a judicial system that is basically “shaking down” their communities for money. There is something profoundly disturbing about College Campuses where racist chants take place but are not known until accidentally made public.
How out of touch are the institutions created to protect, serve and educate really are when beneath the image lurks something so dark, and so disgusting?
Kurt von Behrmann is an Artist currently working on an exhibition dealing with bipolar Disorder.
It is slated to open, February 2016 at the Shemer Art Center, Phoenix, Arizona
He is at work on raising funds for the project at GoFund Me.