clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Oklahoma frat’s “above and beyond” racism shows how extreme bigotry has to be to get a response

After video surfaced of the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing an outrageously racist song, the university's president, David Boren called their behavior "disgraceful" and kicked the fraternity off campus because "we don't provide student services for bigots."

Two of the white students who were caught gleefully chanting "There will never be a nigger at SAE ... you can hang him from a tree, but he'll never sign with me; there will never be a nigger at SAE" have now been expelled.

As Vox's Libby Nelson noted, the reaction was swift, and the president's statement stood out as unusually forceful. Boren took a very strong and satisfying stance against the incident, especially when compared with past, passive reactions to racism at other universities. Even better: there's been noticeable silence when it comes to opposition to his decision or defenses of the students.

But as Above the Law's Elie Mystal pointed out, this is likely due to the fact that the fraternity members' conduct happened to fall into the insanely narrow category of behavior that Americans label flat-out racist and unacceptable. (Further reading: Nothing is racist anymore: 17 racist incidents people actually tried to defend)

Thank God Sigma Alpha Epsilon's University of Oklahoma chapter dared to go above and beyond to prove their racism. Thank God they actually sang a song. Because they pretty much could have done anything else without anybody suspending them or even complaining about racist behavior

He's right: anything short of using a racial slur combined with an explicit celebration of exclusion and a joke/threat about lynching would have likely been dismissed as "racially loaded" or "controversial." It's nice when everyone agrees racism is bad and perpetrators deserve to be punished. But it's unfortunate that explicit, undeniable, beyond-the-pale behavior like the SAE members' is what it takes for us to get there.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.