Waking up on an otherwise nice Monday to find video of an Oklahoma fraternity song that's apparently gone platinum. And with a hook like "You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me, there will never be a nigger in SAE" how could it not? Truly a lyrical masterpiece...
But I will say, it's incidents like these that make answering the question of reverse racism all the more exhausting. You all know what I mean. There's always somebody shouting about it. "Reverse racism is real. I know, because I was walking through a neighborhood and was harassed by a group of black people." Or "I had a conversation with a black person and they called me racist, which couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, it's racist of them for just making assumptions. Isn't that what we're supposed to be fighting against?" Or "They can say things that we can't. How is that fair?"
And to be sure, I feel for the person harassed. And I feel for the person who felt unfairly judged. But do these things constitute reverse racism? To me, no. At least not the way they're interpreting it. Because there's a difference between having your feelings hurt and being systemically denied access to the things you need to succeed in life.
You can ask someone five easy questions:
1) Have you ever been interviewed by a black person for a job? More than once?
2) Have ever sought financial advice or a home/business loan from a black person?
3) Have you ever sought the help of a black real estate agent in finding a home?
4) Have you ever been confronted by a black officer, black judge, or been represented by a black lawyer?
5) Have you ever had a black teacher or professor? If yes, more than three? More than five?
These questions encompass, essentially, the five major power structures one will encounter in his or her lifetime. Employment, housing, finances, law enforcement and education. Which is to say nothing of politics which we know is majority white, male and Christian. The people in these positions are often referred to as "gatekeepers" and it takes only cursory research to find out that these positions are all staffed disproportionately, and primarily, by white people. This is not to say, of course, that there are no black judges or realtors, or bankers and teachers, and without a doubt there will be those who answer yes to one, or perhaps all questions. If, in the 16 years it took to achieve a bachelor's degree you managed to have five minority teachers, congratulations. I think. It is also not to say that all white people are evil oppressors out to destroy us. What we're trying to establish, and acknowledge, are the vast disparities and fundamental failures of the systems that have left too many struggling for too long, up a mountain of inequality.
For instance, we know that there are only five black CEOs in America's Fortune 500 companies. We know that African Americans make up only 2 percent of the rest of executive positions. We have studies that show us if we send out the exact same resume 100 times with either the name "Scott" or "Jamal" attached, that "Scott" will always be called back more often. We have studies that show teachers of minorities implicitly expect them to achieve less than their white counterparts and that this influences their overall potential for success. We know that schools are more segregated than ever before. We know that (mostly white) money lenders unfairly, and disproportionately targeted minority borrowers with subprime mortgages which is why African Americans and Latinos were 70 percent more likely to have their properties foreclosed on during the recession. Some would chalk this up to the targeting of low income families except that high-income African American families were upwards of 80 percent more likely to face foreclosure than their white counterparts. We know, that all things being the same with income, middle to upper class black families are more likely to live in areas of higher crime and poverty than their white counterparts. Why? Because they're often not even shown other neighborhoods, or if they are, there's a myriad of covert ways in which these things are made to seem inaccessible. We know that law enforcement unfairly targets minorities and that blacks receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts.
So here we are. We know these things. We don't have to guess at them. We don't have to speak anecdotally. These systems are not upheld by people wearing white hoods and burning crosses in front yards. They are upheld by deeply entrenched, and subversive cultural beliefs and practices that, 50 years later, we still choose to willfully ignore, until they're impossible to do so. Which brings us to this fraternity, another network opportunity that is clearly closed to us. We know that these organizations are where the future politicians, doctors and lawyers preside, and yet we wonder why it's so hard to change? So yes, I'm sorry for the person who was yelled at by black people. And is there a corporate boardroom out there about to hire a woman or minority because they need a "fresh face", and are they passing up a highly qualified white man to do so? Probably, absolutely yes. Are there a few African Americans being admitted to colleges and taking the place of qualified white kids. Yes, that probably also happens, though it's debatable that missing out on Harvard and settling for Yale qualifies as lost opportunity access denial.
The fact is, when we talk about the big picture, we know that many white people can, and do, go their entire lives without encountering or interacting with persons of color in the situations I've mentioned. The opposite cannot be said for our encounters with white people. Navigating these predominately white spaces is something one must learn early on, and it is a frightening thing to sit across the table from someone you're meant to trust and not be totally sure they even value you as a human being, or see you as someone capable of success and deserving of fair treatment. So yes, we know where the real disparities lie. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge them, well... I guess that's up to... you.