Oklahoma, Damn!!????

If the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

Right now everyone is sounding off about the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the oldest and largest national/Southern fraternities for their stirring rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

“<em>There will never be a nigger in SAE. There will never be a nigger in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me There will never be a nigger in SAE.”</em>

I’m angry. My blood is boiling. I’m furious, flabbergasted and disgruntled. This was a case of racist nonsense gone amok. It was nasty, celebratory, defiant—and our response to it is all wrong…and that’s what I’m angrier about. Have the rallies, punish them accordingly, unify as a campus community, get the deep, heart-killing frustration out, but don’t hinge this on “nigger.”

I do not believe in policing beliefs or expressions of belief. If you want to call me a “nigger,” do it if it makes you feel better, but we’ll both be wearing icicle underwear in hell before I answer to it. We are not talking about “sticks and stones…” here. The word and concept behind the term “nigger” is very complicated, controversial and fraught with narratives that position anyone who uses it in any form–of any background-within a certain and pained history.

Without reading the depressing comments on social media defending the S.A.E. chapter, I think it’s safe to say that some will immediately rally to “Rappers get paid millions to say a lot worse yet these boys are going to have their lives ruined over political correctness.”  (Let me tell you, thoughts like these–with all their false equivalancies and nonsense—that come so fast and so fluid—remind you as a Black man how well you are trained to prove the validity of your causes)  However this whole discussion is not a re-appraisal on the “n word” debate. It hinges on whether we have conditioned ourselves to outcry over a name or word as if it’s use is the epitome of white supremacy, when far more white supremacy is being exercised in ways that demand constant and current agitation.

I’m not playing devil’s advocate when I protest blocking or banning S.A.E. at the University of Oklahoma. What are they learning? “Don’t say nigger. Don’t get taped saying nigger. Don’t say nigger in a way that can be distributed on social media. You can think nigger but don’t say nigger.” This is the wrong message. Apparently we don’t want to eradicate systemic racism, we just don’t want to hear “nigger.”

We will never heal as a culture on the so called issue of race if we keep lying to ourselves and each other. I pity these young men, I don’t fear or hate them. I’m no handkerchief headed Uncle Tom…I’m no apologist…so don’t get it twisted. If The Cooking Gene has taught me anything its about the ability of many white Southerners to search themselves and come to a place where they were mentally able to process seeing their way out of the inheritance of white supremacy they were raised with, or in other cases, the acceptance of the status quo. Know this… The Old South is not dead. It is alive. It is real. It is not an isolated incident. It is not history. It is now. Stop pretending otherwise.

I want to heal the disease not just blast the lesion. If we were serious about matters of racial justice and harmony we would end the cycle of outrage and begun beefing up the grassroots movement of not only resistance but systemic change. I’m extremely proud of the movement that has grown and developed in response to brutality, abuse of authority and overreach by law enforcement. We need more…we have men and women being shot dead before alternative solutions can be found to deal with conflicts. We have a wave of voter suppression efforts aimed at crippling the votes of people of color. The same state that is acting shamefaced about this incident is banning A.P. U.S. history because in their opinion it does not support their ideas and values about American history. You know the same history that neighboring Texas wants to change in every textbook where the Middle Passage gets annihilated as an American memory or where “states rights” trumps the inherent anti-democratic and morally evil nature of race based chattel slavery as the cause and purpose of the Civil War. You’ve done a wonderful job cutting off the head of the Hydra, but trust my words–in a world where systemic racism thrives at every possible level and intersects with gender oppression, class inequality, homophobia, religious hatred, regional prejudice and 100 other ills—you’ve not put to rest a racist trope. In fact it will come back stronger than ever before.

We have amply demonstrated to each other how racism hurts “minorities.” Yet we have failed to show white males how racism hurts them, and that’s why I reserve my pity for this chapter. It doesn’t hurt them when we express our outrage. For some it emboldens a spirit of resistance against what some inherently believe is a reversal of natural or social order. In the Pelosi documentary, “Right America Feeling Wronged,” you could see the fear, depression and despair in the eyes of some of the bigots she interviewed. 400 years of racial animus bullshit and these men were cracking under its pressure and burden. They spat, swore, and cried. One man went from defiant smiles to volcanic tears as he said something to the effect of, “There used to be a time when being a white man meant something in this country.” Racism should come with a dire warning, especially the anti-Black kind among its many varieties, real power+bigotry+the means to harm others and maintain such authority as a matter of birth and privilege will drive you insane.

What does that mean?

“There will never be a nigger in S.A.E.” The pride, the outlandish jubilation at being exclusive, in repeating the past, in referencing the hanging tree. The smiles were those you see in the crowd photographs of lynchings. Had these young men ever seen that? The infamous photograph of Laura and L.D. Nelson, a black Oklahoma woman and her son hanging over a river, a proud assembly having done the ritual of restorative racial injustice acknowledging their kill. A colored wench and her male seed cut down. Or to quote the Ferguson police department, “crime prevention.”

Did they ever meet survivors of Oklahoma’s prosperous Black Wall Street in Tulsa where the presumed “assault” against a white woman led to an outright pogrom against Black economic and social power? Do they know about redlining, housing discrimination, the war against Black farmers and landowners, the conflict over whether Freedmen – formerly enslaved members of The Five Civilized Tribes – should have a treaty honored with THEM…

Don’t punish these guys for saying nigger. Punish them deeply….i.e. Educate their asses. Make them sit down with the elders that saw this. Make them break bread with the people they say will never enter their “privileged” ranks. Make them spend a year making it right by doing something bi-partisan like getting elders and lower income people to places where they can obtain identification so they can vote without fear of being turned away from their RIGHT (not a privilege) to vote their conscience and be able to decide if the people policing them, controlling their children’s education, and making policy about their health care, economic well being and opportunities to achieve the American dream are safeguarded, not abused. (I bet that one won’t go over well…..)

Make these boys take classes in African American history. Make them work with young Black kids with a Black fraternity. Make them understand that working together we have more to gain than we do constantly figuring out ways to misunderstand each other. Make them go to an HBCU in an academic exchange so they can feel what it’s like to be in the minority for a change. Make them see the world differently, make them care.

I am not a universalist. I believe in the power and beauty of owning your cultural, regional, and ethnic “location,” while respecting our common humanity and doing and working towards maintaining that respect. I also believe in crossing borders, being outside the box, and being as complicated as we need to be to solve the root issues of our struggles. 

I don’t want these young men to harbor fear, resentment, pangs of lack when they look at someone like me. I want them to see a human, a human who is certainly and especially proud of the miracles of nature that have given him the extraordinary opportunity to be a descendant of some of earth’s strongest–beaten but never bowed, broken but self-mended, insulted but never un-crowned. These young men, many of whom might well call themselves “Southern,” share a heritage with me, a past, a history with connections unusually intertwined and close the way no two other groups with ongoing issues and enmity share. We are kin. If we sat down to eat, we’d probably eat the same foods, be able to tell the same stories about our grandmothers, hear the same hymns, appreciate life’s simple gifts the way only a Southerner can.

This kinship means we don’t throw our cousins out and think we have solved the problem. This kinship means we will resist their fear, their hate, their ignorance and give them a means to self improve. It’s not a free pass, it’s not tolerance for intolerance, it’s the plain notion, here and now that if we do not start telling the truth to each other and ourselves that if we do not find a means of living meaningfully together we will surely die miserably apart.

There’s always a food component here at Afroculinaria.

Now unemployed: The African American chef who cooked for these guys. Read more here.

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About michaelwtwitty

I am a Judaics teacher and Culinary Historian focusing on the foodways of Africa, enslaved African Americans, African America and the African and Jewish diasporas.
This entry was posted in Scholars, Elders and Wise Folk, The Cooking Gene and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Oklahoma, Damn!!????

  1. Hershel Franklin says:

    This is a great article.

  2. First, how is it you always write exactly all the emotions I’m feeling about these incidents so eloquently.

    Second, I believe the chapter should be shut down….Then do everything you said…classes, exchange programs, take a civil rights bus tour, all of it. Kicking them out of school will do nothing. As angry as I am…as much as this brings up so many old stories in my bones…you are absolutely correct: Sending them home will not give them knowledge and wisdom to understand how vile their actions were. Closing the chapter is simply a punishment. A necessary punishment…but that is all. As we can see from today’s culture…punishment without rehabilitation yields nothing but recidivism.

    Much love and peace, Mr. Twitty.

  3. As always, you see through to the real story. I can’t make a logical connection, but something in what you wrote reminded me of my father. As I was growing up a little white girl in Jena, Louisiana, I saw the civil rights movement on TV and heard my older brother, especially, talk about working with Barbara Jordan in Houston while in college. I heard many people who were members of our church and who visited our house speak against it. None were KKK that I was aware of. But one day as the news reported an event when I was about 10 or 11, I asked my father what he thought about the Civil Rights movement, and he said, “You can’t keep treating people like they are not people and not expect to have to pay for it sooner or later.” I have always been proud that even growing up in the time he did, born 1909, he understood the humanity of black people. He knew we had the same history. He and my mother grew up in Northeast Texas. There was a black couple who lived near him while he was growing up, Arthur, the man worked with my grandfather on his farm. I have no knowledge of their financial arrangement. But I know my father and his brother spent much time in their home, hunted and fished with Arthur and loved him and his wife, Emma like family. We never visited my grandmother, without visiting Arthur and Emma also.

  4. Jason E.LaRose says:

    Great, I agree with absolutely everything you have written. Nigger is not the only word that makes my blood boil. I’m Spanish and it has become a fraternal name amongst not only Black Americans but many other minorities. I ask my Black friends to refrain from calling me nigger and they are somewhat taken back as if I reject their inclusion. I am also a police officer. I have been called a NAZI exactly 713 times since I began counting 21 years ago. The weight of the word is so appalling to me that my that my base reptilian brain wants to lash out. Thank God my more developed cerebral cortex intervenes. Words cannot hurt you if you do not let them. But we cops refer to each other as Brother. I can’t imagine the day when we refer to each other as NAZI.

  5. mizunogirl says:

    That’s a fantastic idea. I loved reading this and would agree that this would be the best solution…. I am so jaded by now I believe they would either choose not to participate, and leave the university, or participate in that sad half interested way… I have to admit, All I could think when I first saw that video was… “Aren’t their parents horribly ashamed of these men” The I realized, they raised these men to feel that this behavior/attitude/thoughts were appropriate. This entire year has made me a bit distressed and alarmed regarding the state of our Nation.

  6. Adam Maze says:

    Mr. Twitty, a powerful comment. Thanks for being a humane voice, passionate and reasonable.

  7. True! says:

    I’m always Amazed and Why should I be? Young Man, I love the way you don’t shuck and dive around the Issues at heart in our daily lives. You took the covers right off the bed. TEACH! TEACH these boys on what they need to be doing productive in their LIVES? You are truly your Brother’s Keeper in all sense. I went to Tuskegee University and I saw young white men right in step with our young men. That is a Opportunity they must not miss on all that you mentioned. Be in and about the Community of Colors and all persuasions. This is how you nip the bud of racism. Oh our Ancestors are Hollerin’ on what you wrote. Right now is the time for them to see……Right now. With all my Heart. Love to you…..for Speaking the Truth. You wrote the words for so many.

  8. mcj3p says:

    Fascinating view.

  9. Cherisse says:

    Right. Between. The eyes.

    “Racism should come with a dire warning, especially the anti-Black kind among its many varieties, real power+bigotry+the means to harm others and maintain such authority as a matter of birth and privilege will drive you insane.”

  10. JR says:

    And very well stated.

  11. Kristine says:

    You’re a better person than I. I agree about the deeper stuff. What is going on in the states and this is small stuff in comparison. Still, for me, because I’m not as evolved I’m sure, I don’t care what happens to them. I just want them out of that school. Expel them. Do not let them continue on there at this time. I hear you and am not disagreeing but I personally do not care what happens to them.

  12. Jim D. says:

    Thank you. As the dad of two (white) boys in their late teens and early 20’s, I have learned the concept of “privilege” in a very, very real way because of Trayvon, Michael, etc. etc. etc. and now Anthony. In the past I have understood my privilege in a rational, intellectual way, but as a father, to try and imagine my way into the shoes of a fellow parent having to bury a son makes me feel that privilege in my gut. My “conservative” compatriots, the same ones who want to prevent the teaching of true U. S. history in favor of cheerleading, would call this “white guilt,” and dismiss me as weak for expressing it. But it’s not guilt. It sure doesn’t feel like guilt, which fills a person with shame and prompts him to hide away in isolation. It feels like understanding of, and connection with, the true history of the country I grew up in, the history I share with every other American. Owning my privilege feels like a step towards connecting with my whole community in a more honest way, that makes a better future possible.

    I am reading Randall Kennedy’s book Race, Crime and the Law. I knew the broad outlines of the story he’s telling, but the way he shows how current race issues are baked into the law, our political life, and the criminal justice system make for riveting reading. It’s quite scholarly and dry rather than polemical, but the effect of chapter after chapter of factual exposition and explanation of how the courts in this country have worked from the early days of the U. S. until now is as powerful as listening to a fire-and-brimstone ranter. The plain facts, laid out in such a plain manner, are compelling.

    These Oklahoma boys . . . well, like you, I think the most charitable assumption is that they don’t know the power of the words and concepts they’re playing with. I think it’s also a fair assumption that they’d deny being privileged. The consequences they face, apparently (expulsion from a fraternity? a bit of social stigma?), seem pretty mild.

    I used to teach kids that age, college freshmen. I think Randall Kennedy’s book is beyond most of them. But teaching real American history has got to be in the mix if we’re going to make the country better.

    Wow, I just started out to say “ditto” and here’s all this . . . so I’ll close by reiterating: Ditto, and, thank you.

    • Erica says:

      Thank you Jim. Our practically all white (and grey headed) church has ben doing lessons about white privilege. This latest exhibit is yet one more example.

  13. Ellen Hawley says:

    I’m not disagreeing with you, but I have no patience with people who complain about not being “able” to say toxic stuff about African Americans, women, or whoever else they don’t like. What they want is the right to say whatever they want without ever having to hear back from the people they’ve offended. I’m all for making people pay a price for it when they pour the poison in their minds out into the air. We can’t police people’s thoughts and we shouldn’t, and I’m not saying we should police their speech, but we can and must respond to what they say. That’s not policing. That’s acting like responsible human beings.

  14. alexandra says:

    Though I agree that these #SAE boys will only see this as “getting videotaped is bad” I still believe that consequences of closing down the fraternity are necessary. I also am with you 100 percent on make them care. I have been saying this very same thing, they don’t know because they’ve been fed with the trash of white superiority since they were born and accept it as truth. But how would they be required to do the work to look in the mirror? As a requisite to staying at OU? I’ll bet a lot of these #SAE boys would say over their dead bodies would they ever work or help anyone who is not white.

  15. Claire R says:

    This post is amazing. As the white parent of African American daughters, I struggle ALL THE TIME with these issues-it’s not the name calling that’s the issue, as repugnant as that is. It’s the culture of bigotry behind it that grinds my days to a halt sometimes. Thank you so much for seeing right to the core of this and being able to articulate it. I must admit to being happy that the school has renounced their behavior, but…but…it’s only a symptom. Anyway, thanks again.

  16. Alisa Boyd says:

    I agree 100%. I love reading your blogs because you put into words exactly what I’m feeling before I can articulate it. Yes, yes, and yes to everything you’ve said.

  17. George Geder says:

    Hello Michael Twitty,

    I like what you are saying because you are speaking. Zora Neale Hurston once said; “Speak, So You can Speak Again”. Although I read your post with some haste, and I’m certain that I may have missed some of the nuances, I appreciate it and have some thoughts to add to the conversation.

    Does a hate crime have to end in bloodshed? If not, then this act by these young men deserve to be in this category. It would be one thing if the young man in the video was chanting alone, but there was a chorus. Could he have bullied the others to join in? More important, what was the conversation leading up to the singing? In my 63-year-old mind, there was something tantamount to 18-20 years of learning, indoctrination, teaching, inspiration, and beliefs that gave permission for this to happen.

    We are not dealing with children. They have been infused with a moral compass by their parents, their religious institutions, their schools, their peers, and their communities. This begs the question; are they in consort or refutation with their upbringing? Furthermore, it is unconscionable that any 18-20-year-old man, IN AMERICA, would make up a song/chant like that and NOT know the historical, political, and cultural ramifications of what he sings.

    The damage is done. The bell has rung, class is over, you got your grade. Do not send these 18-20-year-olds around any children or put them in the company of any elders. They have had plenty of time to develop and adjust their moral compasses. Wish them well if you must. As for many of us, we must continue in the struggle, and fight the good fight for social justice, equality, and freedom.

    Peace and Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

    • Ashé, appreciated brother.

    • Mr Gerder, may I reply and say I am in total agreement with you in your observation about how anyone would NOT know the “historical, political, and cultural ramifications”?At 70 years of age regretably I am not shocked at others near to or past my age being so ingnorant but I have carried in my heart the hope that AMERICA has become a better place in our yournger generations. But fear also drags along with that hope in that I worry that some aren’t ignorant, they really just don’t care!!!

      • George Geder says:

        Yes, Sandy Casteel. We didn’t get old by being fools.

        Those students are not isolated, insulated, or living in a vacuum. They know what they are expressing. And they know that it is hateful. I just worry that they don’t know that it is wrong.

        In our time, America has become a better place. What we are seeing today is the incessant pushing back of that progress.

  18. Frank Colladay says:

    Michael, I have to admit that when I first heard about this incident, my initial reaction was to expel them, lock them up and throw away the key. I am ashamed of this, because I am a pastor, one who says he follows the teachings of Christ. I want to thank you for being a pastor to me and reminding me a morel Christ-like response. We have far too much violence and intolerance in today’s world, and we certainly don’t need any more!
    Again, thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    Blessings

    • I’m all for punishing these lads and their chapter, but is it possible that this is so we feel good rather than starting to fix the problem?

      • Gerald Falke says:

        Michael:
        You so eloquently express your innermost feelings – putting into words the thoughts that we find so difficult to express, but which we all share. But this is far from a simple problem and it’s solution, if there is one, is likewise complex.

        First off, is there really a ‘solution’ to this dilemma? Is punishing these individuals by limiting their education appropriate or reasonable? Who does that help? And what does closing this chapter solve? Will the fraternity brothers ‘learn their lesson’ or will this action simply deepen their distasteful bigotry?

        Isn’t one of the most beautiful, yet often ironic, qualities of America her protection of ‘hate speech’? My reality is that people are mostly xenophobic and I don’t see that ever changing. Neither political correctness nor laws ever seem to change human behavior.

        My thoughts on suitable ‘punishments’ for their repugnant behavior (and yes, I agree that their behavior cannot be condoned) would be similar to that which you suggested – give each the option to leave the University or take in-depth African-American studies; do hundreds of hours of community service in Black communities or Black institutions;…and I would also insist that SAE open their ranks to Black students, if they wish to remain on campus. Demand that they learn to work together – to depend on the others’ knowledge and character -to see first-hand the wonderful human qualities that we each possess.

        Only then do we have a chance to change the warped mindset that perpetuates such inane bigotry. Punishing them in the manner selected by the University will only stoke the flames.

  19. rev. andy blair says:

    michael, you are a blessing. many thanks for your article…as always, ‘food from thought’

  20. Jose Andreu says:

    God Bless you Michael W. Twitty. I’m with you.

  21. Marc Wilson says:

    I have much wrath rightfully spilled out at this horrific episode. Yours is the first pronouncement that has inspired me, God bless you.
    Shalom!
    Rabbi Marc Wilson, Greenville, SC, founder, MeetingPoint: A United Interfaith Community

  22. Lorna Gethers says:

    Well spoken Michael Twitty. I agree whole-heartily with you. Educate them.

  23. lo says:

    Awesome! I agree whole-heartily with you. Very well spoken.

    Lornabelle Gethers Author – Story Teller- Historian, Honey Bea’s p:843-576-9053 | m:843-330-0971 | e:lornabelle77@aol.com | w:http://lornabelle77.wix.com/honey-beas-gifts | a: Charleston, SC 29420

  24. It is SO good, amidst my mix of emotions, to read your thoughtful article that channels your generous spirit, I watched and listened in horror these young people exhibiting the most hurtful, ignorant behavior. As offensive as the words were, the utter human disregard shown in mocking such an act of violence and promoting exclusion to me were even worse. After the shock and disgust I first felt I then selfishly thought “I hope to God that people don’t think that ALL of us in Oklahoma are like that!!” My two grown sons were students at OU some years ago and now in my business (plants for events) I am on campus alot and have always considered the University a bit like extended family. In fact, just on Sunday evening of this week (not realizing what was transpiring just a few short blocks from us) my son and I were busily placing plants for an all day event on Monday. I honestly feel that my first inclination was to react toward those young people just I would my own boys if EVER they would : anger, shame, embarrasment. And knowing how President Boren feels about the students and how he truly sees, even more than I, the University as family; his reaction as seen televised is a sincere reflection of those same feelings. Anger, shame and embarrasment come together as a fast striking rod that needs the words and thoughts such as yours to temper it.

  25. I wish Officer Godwin could have read this before her death; She did get to do commentary on the Confederate flag and what it means to fly/show it. The words delivered by Officer Trula Ann Godwin, Davenport Police Department To Black Youth Conference
    In recent national news coverage, a young man was heralded as a hero for rescuing a couple from a burning mobile home in Mississippi. What made this story so spectacular to the media was the fact that the young man was African-American, the couple was white, and outside their mobile home flew a confederate flag. Add to that information the fact the young man was returning home just having viewed the movie “Rosewood”.
    Here was a young man who had just seen a movie about a white hate mob wiping out an entire community of African-Americans leaving no trace that the community had ever existed. Suddenly he witnesses a burning trailer flying a Confederate flag that often is today’s emblem of membership in such a hate group.
    This young man not only stopped to help, but he saved the two people inside which required going into the flaming inferno, and then giving them CPR. The couple inside told the media that medical personnel told them, another two or three minutes and they could not have been saved. The husband who was pulled to safety first said when he looked at the burning trailer, he was not sure he would have risked going back in for his wife as it looked so hopeless.
    The young hero made a decision based on his hope that there is good in this world, though it may only have been in him. He did not judge the situation by what he saw, or what he could have “thought” he saw. Recently reunited with the couple he saved, he was embraced by them both, thanked and assured no Confederate flag would ever fly at their house again. Even though their flag had no association with a hate group or intended racist attitude, they now understood what it meant to him.
    My challenge to the African-American youth of today is the same as my challenge to the White youth , Asian youth, Native American youth and indeed all youth. Take responsibility for all that you think, believe and act on. Do not let hate, bigotry and prejudice from the past or present lead you to destroy the future. Be strong in your pursuit of justice, and let it be justice for all.
    Have faith and hope in this nation and its future. Never let anyone take your heritage from you. You were born in the greatest nation with the most freedom of any place in this world. Do not let negative history become so ingrained in you that you destine yourself, your family and this country to repeat it’s mistakes.
    Be responsible to communicate with others, to bury fear of being different, and in fact learn to embrace it. It is your birthright and your true “Heritage”.
    Believing in your future, I thank you.
    Trula Ann Godwin.

  26. sjwoods318 says:

    Reblogged this on SJWoods Stuck In the Middle and commented:
    Remember – these boys represent the “ideal” in America – white, upper middle class, educated. This is the agenda we are taught in our schools, this is the society we are told that we need to assimilate with. These are the leaders that push their own agenda and then denigrate us for not being able to “fit in.” – “Don’t punish these guys for saying nigger. Punish them deeply….i.e. Educate their asses. Make them sit down with the elders that saw this. Make them break bread with the people they say will never enter their “privileged” ranks. “

  27. dave_f says:

    Extraordinary essay – thank you.

    p.s. Is the word “legion” a typo? “Lesion” would seem to make more sense in context.

  28. Pingback: Sexualized Racism: Hebrews 6:6 and SAE at OU | BLT

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  30. David says:

    Thank you so much!

  31. I have a lot to learn from you.

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