Yesterday the noxious video of Oklahoma frat guys chanting racist stuff on a bus hit the interwebs. The chant not only bragged about preventing “niggers” from joining the fraternity, but also threatened lynching.
The fraternity was dismantled and student members told to move out of their house (and two members were kicked out of school). I think it is worth thinking about this moment in time not only for the accountability for racist insults (which I support) but also the redemptive narratives of those-kids-weren’t-that-bad (which I think is worth examination).
One redemption thread was that the closure of the house was going to mean that the long-time chef of the fraternity house Howard Dixon would lose his job. Fundraisers quickly raised tens of thousands of dollars for Mr. Dixon. In addition to brightening the reputation of the fraternity members, this also points toward the nasty preference to imagine that a ‘few bad apples’ are what spoiled the bunch.
Having attended several fraternity-rich universities, my take is that the whole system is a nostalgic white supremacist dream. To select your friends and cloister is an invitation for toxic entitlement to blossom. (Thinkprogress has some good context for this particular fraternity.)
My initial thought about SAE was that the interwebs were enraged because this example is such old-school bigotry that its an easy critique. The language about gamergate or sexualized violence at college campuses seldom gets this kind of swift action. I think we doth protest too much. It’s easy to point as SAE as racists while ignoring larger structural injustices.
Waka Flocka Flame, an unlikely political advocate, rushed in with a quick cancellation of a show. Initially I was wondering how many of the racist chanting frat guys on the bus ALSO had tickets to go see Waka Flocka Flame? Quite a few it turns out.
Racism doesn’t mean that you aren’t into black culture or hip hop. The poisonous element of this racist chant was the proud exclusionary bragging of a (mostly white) frat in keeping out black people. Checking in with the Reddit thread on this discussion, a number of people made the same observations. That they had known white-identified people who were into rap music and also prejudiced. As one commenter put it: “It’s sad… they can be performers, servers or the nannies. They could be their life-saving doctor, their pastor, their therapist, their mailman, and pretty much everything else in the world. Except simply a person.”
The double consciousness of racists. To objectify and divide marking difference to ensure that white supremacy continues. I wasn’t surprised when someone mentioned that Waka Flocka had been hired by this very fraternity to perform at a show. Thus the video of Waka Flocka Flame shotgunning beers and performing for what seems like a mostly white Oklahoma SAE crowd last year.
It puts Waka Flocka’s cancellation of the show in a slightly less charitable light. We might read it as solidarity against racist injustice. We might also call it covering your public relations.
Turns out Waka Flocka has a ton of fraternity shows on youtube. Check the Baylor video where he explains that he doesn’t like a woman in the crowd grabbing his ass. Note his justifications at 2:05.
Let’s note that the Baylor Waka Flocka show has some visibility of the entitled audience members who are consuming Waka Flocka Flame. When Waka is grabbed he explains that he “feels like a bitch.” It is dumb sexist stuff, but we can also note his refusal to be grabbed and the part about “in my community.” I think Waka Flocka Flame probably has crazy stuff happen during his live shows (including being grabbed), but something about this rebuttal suggests that this moment is ‘beyond the pale.’
The normalcy of partying to Waka Flocka and then having a racist admission policy (and chanting about it) seems like the interesting part of this SAE duality. Challenging racism in our day and age needs to be more rigorous and intersectional than this one example, but its a good thread to get access to some key arguments.