MANSFIELD: Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining


The continuing uproar over the video depicting a group of University of Oklahoma students, all members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, singing a racist song about not allowing black students to join their organization is, in a counterintuitive way, good for America. And here’s why: Race is the one conversation our nation is deathly afraid of engaging in.

But the lyrics to the dirty little ditty, “You can hang ‘um from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me, there will never be a ni**ger in SAE” leaves no wiggle room — it’s blatant, in your face, over-the-top racism in all of its centuries-old ugliness — and addressing the incident forces us to examine ourselves as Americans and ask, “Are we really who we pretend to be — and tell the world we are — as a nation?”

David Boren, the president of the university absolutely did the right and honorable thing in coming down hard on the fraternity, expelling two identifiable members seen on the video and booting SAE off the campus. He didn’t do a lot of consulting of legal minds; he knew what he saw on the video was wrong and acted accordingly. Even the national office of SAE expressed outrage, in spite of the fact some of the students seen in the offending video claim the racist chant was taught to them by older fraternity brothers … a claim that has a ring of truth to it.

But now, some publications (including the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an editorial) are saying, “not so fast, there are First Amendment rights involved here.”  And of course the fraternity has now lawyered-up, ready to go to court to protect the rights of drunken frat boys to sing racist songs. We can fully expect the case to make it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court … which I think is excellent.

While this case won’t rank up the legal/racial scale as high as the landmark 1890 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, or of the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, it will force us to confront the bogeymen still lingering in our national closet … as well it should since the incident is not nearly as isolated as apologists of such behavior would have us believe. Racism literally abounds on some university campuses around the country, and everyone knows it.

With this case in the spotlight, whenever those on the right accuse blacks of “playing the race card,” the response is to simply reference this outrageous incident and say, “You own the deck of cards … so we couldn’t play that card if you had not dealt it to us.”

The silver lining of course is, the longer the case is in the public eye the more we have to deal with the racism that spawned it, and, consequently, the more we are confronted with our ugly past, the swifter we’ll be able to overcome it.

[Photo: Rob Zachritz]



From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting




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