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Racism and Rivalries

by Christy Walters

Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity Crest

On March 8, a video surfaced of Parker Rice and Levi Pettit, brothers of the University of Oklahoma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, performing a racist chant.

They chanted, “You can hang him from a tree, but he will never sign with me! There will never be a [explitive] in SAE.”

Pettit’s family released a statement denying that their son is a racist, claiming that he had just made a bad decision. Rice released his own statement, admitting that his actions were “wrong and reckless” and “alcohol induced.”

Nathalie Baptiste, a writing fellow at “The American Prospect” magazine, said the men “sang as if they were at a pep rally and their school was headed for the big championship game.”

This type of behavior has not been uncommon in recent media coverage. Last month, Chelsea soccer fans were slammed after video footage emerged showing them performing racist chants, like “we’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it,” on the Paris Metro and on trains in Manchester.

Chelsea fans denied the chanting and their alleged refusal to allow a black man to enter a tramcar after a soccer match because of his race. The fans claimed they wouldn’t let him on because he was wearing opposing-team apparel.

I think almost everyone can agree that chanting vulgar refrains and denying African Americans access to public transportation or certain social groups, like the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, are socially and morally wrong.

I’m a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I dislike Flyers fans simply because they bleed orange and black. Die-hard Steelers fans feel the same way about Ravens fans or even Browns fans, depending on whom you talk to, and Pirate fans feel that way about Cardinals fans.

Rivalries are natural, especially when competition is involved. Sure, it feels good to heckle the Islanders fans in front of you when the Penguins go up three to one with a minute left in the third. It feels good to elbow the Patriots fan at your Super Bowl party and make a comment when Tom Brady gets sacked on a fourth down. But would we really let that kind of behavior spill over into everyday life?

Would you pass someone over for a job because they hailed from Blackhawks territory? Would you not let a kid into college because he follows the Yankees? No. Most people would probably say that sounds ridiculous.

So does it sound any less absurd to deny someone entrance to a fraternity or a subway car because of their skin color? Does it sound less insane to judge someone’s ability based on race, ethnic background, or gender?

It doesn’t.

It’s 2015. We’ve already fought multiple battles for equality and obviously some are still going on. But that is supposed to be the beauty of America, people are supposed to be given equal opportunities to get jobs, go to school, run for office, and even join fraternities and sororities. I’m not sure if prejudice and bias can ever be completely wiped out of our culture, but wouldn’t it be better if everyone focused on the important issues in the world—the economy, foreign affairs, and healthcare—rather than focusing on who can and can’t be included based on race?

Let’s not turn the clock back almost 50 years. Treat other people with respect and get to know them before you judge them and decide they are unworthy of being in your circle. Save your snide comments and rivalries for game day.

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