Invoking the history

Shaun King at Daily Kos has more about Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma and elsewhere.

27 days ago, people on Reddit were talking about this exact same chant, and stating that it was a required chant to enter the SAE fraternity at the University of Texas. Before this controversy at the University of Oklahoma ever existed, here is how it was recounted in Texas,

For SAE context a few buddies of mine told me their favorite song to sing went-
“There will never be a n*gg*r SAE, there will never be a n*gg*r SAE, Abe set ’em free but they’ll never pledge with me, there will never be a n*gg*r SAE.”

But even before this, SAE had demonstrated a history of racism across the country.

So let’s read that Think Progress piece by Ian Millhiser.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), the fraternity that was kicked off of the University of Oklahoma’s campus Sunday night after video emerged of some of its members singing a racist chant that celebrates lynching, proudly touts its history on its website. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South,” the fraternity’s national webpage explains, adding that the frat was “[f]ounded in a time of intense sectional feeling” and that it initially “confined its growth to the southern states.”

Though SAE had “fewer than 400 members when the Civil War began,” 369 fought in the Confederate army. Only seven fought for the union.

Ok, there’s a thing here. They’re being coy, if not downright evasive. “Antebellum” and “sectional feeling” and “Confederate army” are all code. They’re all a way of invoking while denying a history of slavery and racism. What they’re really saying is that SAE was founded in a slave state, and that the overwhelming majority of its members at the time of the Civil War fought to defend the South’s “right” to own slaves. It’s sly, if not worse, to signal that while refraining from spelling it out. Apparently they don’t want to come right out and say that SAE is the only national fraternity whose origin is the slave-owning South, but that’s the reality.

SAE’s national headquarters, to its credit, reacted swiftly after the video became national news. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters has closed its Oklahoma Kappa chapter at the University of Oklahoma following the discovery of an inappropriate video,” according to a statement on SAE’s website. “In addition, all of the members have been suspended, and those members who are responsible for the incident may have their membership privileges revoked permanently.” The statement adds that “we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way.”

Well just re-name it “intense sectional feeling” and you won’t be disgusted any more. Or will you?

This is hardy the first time, however, that an SAE chapter found itself in hot water due to the racist actions of its members. To the contrary, a brief search for publicly available articles and in the news database Nexis uncovered several similar incidents…

  • In 2006, an SAE member at the University of Memphis quit the fraternity after two other frat members harassed him for dating a black woman. According to an editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the former SAE member “said SAE members used the N-word to refer to his girlfriend” and that they “also suggested that he must have met Darden on the street one night and that he couldn’t possibly be interested in a real relationship with someone of another race.” The Associated Press later reported that two students were suspended by SAE’s national office after they determined that these students “made comments that were inappropriate and unbecoming.”
  • In 2000, SAE’s Oglethorpe University chapter was put on probation, along with chapters from three other fraternities, after an incident where African American students visiting from other schools faced racial harassment and assault. According to one news report uncovered on Nexis, officials at two predominantly black colleges that competed in a cross-county meet at Oglethorpe “complained that Oglethorpe students in fraternity houses threw bottles at athletes and screamed racial epithets.”
  • In 2009, Valdosta State University in Georgia hosted a community forum on “Heritage, Hate or Fear?” that was inspired by the university’s SAE chapter’s practice of flying a Confederate Flag on its front lawn. A lawyer for the fraternity’s national headquarters warned that the chapter could lose its charter if it continued to fly the flag.

That’s what I’m saying. You can’t invoke “the Confederacy” and “sectional feeling” without invoking slavery and racism. Gone With the Wind is a reactionary pro-slavery movie; get over it.

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