We need to talk

I am not a boat-rocker, and I do not like controversy. Nor do I want to cheapen what happened at the University of Oklahoma by using it to make myself relevant, as some did last night.

I’m just tired of being silent when there is so much to be said.

When there’s an incident on campus, we hear the same thing as each time before: Don’t talk about it. Don’t post about it. Doing so could make Greek life look bad.

So what happens when we already look bad?

SAE, fraternities and the Greek community as a whole have taken a hit here. And this isn’t something we’re going to make worse by talking about it—it’s out there. This story has reached every major news outlet, website and blog from here to Washington. We’re dealing with a national story here, and our silence isn’t going to do anything but make it look like we don’t care about what happened.

Look, silence has its place. When we lost a member of our Greek community a little less than a year ago to a drunk driving accident, silence was our only choice. It was the way we showed respect to those mourning her loss. I can still hear the silent procession making its way across campus at her memorial—we walked in silence and in solidarity with one another in a time of great loss.

But this is not the time for silence. No, this is a time for us to speak out and openly say that we don’t condone the racist chant in that video. This is a time for us to tell others that what happened in that video doesn’t represent anything more than a bus full of idiots whose backwards and hateful thinking got them exactly what they deserved. It’s time for us to say we don’t respect one bit of what was said, and that we probably wouldn’t respect the people it came from, either.

We need to speak up because institutionalized racism will not go away at the hands of institutionalized silence.

And then, when we’ve expressed our thoughts, we stop.

Stop talking, and LISTEN.

Listen to the people who were actually victimized here: African Americans. Let them remind us why the words of that chant still sing. Let them tell us what we can do to make it better.

We can tweet and rant all we want, but as predominantly 18-22 year old white college students who have never actually experienced racial discrimination, sometimes it’s better to just shut up and listen.

And then we should take what we learn and DO SOMETHING.

All the tweets in the world won’t fix the problem.

So you tweeted that you hate racism. But did you look at your own chapter to see if it had a history of racist traditions?

Did you open a dialogue about how recruitment or date party themes or anything else could be perpetuating prejudice as well?

Did you unfollow TFM on Twitter because, although they’ve reported this story, the other 99% of their content is misogynistic, mindless and—ironically enough—racist?

Because here’s the truth:

This is not about a fraternity.

This isn’t about Greek stereotypes or universities or bad publicity or anything else.

This is about something so much bigger.

This is about the people on that bus who watched their peers sing that disgusting, racist song and did nothing.

The people who sat idly by—people who thought they shouldn’t rock the boat by saying anything because it’s easier to do nothing than to speak up about injustice—are the reason an entire chapter was shut down instead a few individuals being disciplined.

And as much as I want to criticize and ridicule them for it, I can’t. Because I understand their discomfort—no one wants to be the prude who can’t take a joke, or the stiff who can’t relax and just let the stupid be stupid and ignore it.

But it’s time to push that aside. It was time to push it aside more than 50 years ago. We can no longer sit by and pretend nothing is wrong as racism hides its ugly, ugly face behind masks made of our jokes, our conversations and our attitudes.

We have to call it out for what it is.

We—the bystanders, Greek or otherwise—are the reason racism still has a seat at our table. Hatred may be the root of the problem, but silence is the reason it’s allowed to stay around.

So it’s time we speak up and tell racism it’s not welcome at our table any more.

Then we’ll sit and listen to others around the table tell their stories and share their pain—no matter how long it takes—no matter how tired we get.

And then we’ll clear the table, roll up our sleeves and get to work so we can fix this thing once and for all.