Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column which appeared in the Star last week, Fraternity boys and the long shadow of racism
. We've seen plenty of coverage of the vile song the Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat boys from University of Oklahoma sang on the bus—racial exclusion and lynching to the tune of "When you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." Robinson takes us into the possible future of these lads and others like them.
Now, I realize that these soft, pampered, privileged, ridiculous frat boys are not likely to attempt actual violence against black people. But they wouldn’t have to. The attitudes their words reveal can, and probably will, show themselves in other ways.
Let’s imagine the video never surfaced. With halfway decent grades, degrees from Oklahoma’s flagship university and the connections that Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s old-boy network could provide, the boys on that bus could be expected to end up in executive positions with the power to hire and fire. What chance would an African American job applicant have of getting fair consideration?
Or imagine that one of the boys ends up in the real estate business. Is he going to treat African American buyers fairly? Or is he going to find ways to perpetuate the unofficial redlining that sustains patterns of racial segregation in neighborhoods across the country?
Maybe one of those boys might have developed an altruistic streak — or failed to find a job in his chosen field — and opted to spend a couple of years in Teach For America. He would have gone into the inner city with the attitude that he was among inferior beings. The students, of course, would have picked up on his disdain and returned it in kind — thus reinforcing his prejudices.
The frat song and racist emails from members of the Ferguson police department are vile, but they don't do great harm in and of themselves. It's the attitude, and the acceptance of the attitude, that it's OK, and probably appropriate, to make fun of minority groups, and that attitude spilling out into people's daily and working lives that's dangerous. Racism is alive and well, and denying it, or focusing on a song or an email and moving on (Just some stupid kids, just a few cops with a warped sense of humor), helps keep the fires burning.