"He is a good boy."

[Content Note: Racism. Video may autoplay at second link.]

Yesterday I mentioned an incident at the the University of Oklahoma in which members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity were caught on video engaging in a racist chant, which included a slur and eliminationist rhetoric, the point of which was to celebrate that the frat would never admit black members to their chapter.

Since the video surfaced, the university's president severed the school's ties with SAE; the national leadership of SAE has announced it will close the OU chapter; the university legal staff is "exploring whether the students who initiated and encouraged the chant may have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination"; and two of the SAE members who have been identified have been expelled from school.

These are all good and necessary steps.

And, naturally, there is plenty of resistance to accountability, as well. Because anytime white "boys" do anything terrible, lots of white people mobilize to defend them. Or to make sure we know they're just a couple of bad apples, not reflective of systemic racism.

So we get shit like this:
[Former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer] spoke to local Oklahoma City news outlets about the issue he says he has "a vested interest in." He believes the university shouldn't punish the entire fraternity for the actions of a few members.

"I understood that supposedly they were called bigots that lived in this house, none of them could live on this campus. I haven't seen the interview, but if that happened and occurred, that's no different from what those kids did on that bus," Switzer told KOCO in Oklahoma City. "Throw a blanket over these kids that are here and say that they're bigots? That's unacceptable."
Sure. Because obviously these fraternity members acted in a vacuum. They invented all on their own the idea that their fraternity would never admit black members, and wrote a song about it, and sang that song in public, without fear of consequences. Sounds legit.

Meanwhile, one of the expelled members' parents are publicly apologizing for him (because nothing says maturity and meaningful accountability by having your parents apologize for you):
"As parents of Levi, we love him and care for him deeply," says the statement, which has also been posted on this website. "He made a horrible mistake, and will live with the consequences forever. However, we also know the depth of our son's character. He is a good boy, but what we saw in those videos is disgusting. While it may be difficult for those who only know Levi from the video to understand, we know his heart, and he is not a racist. We raised him to be loving and inclusive and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close-knit group of friends."
There's more, in which they note how sad they are for their son, before apologizing "to the community he has hurt...to the entire African American community, University of Oklahoma student body and administration," and finally thanking their friends and family for "your kind comments and prayers."

He is a good boy who made a horrible mistake. But they know his real character, and he is not a racist. P.S. They have black friends.

This is a problem for all sorts of reasons, but primarily because privileged people have to stop insisting that they know someone's character, or heart, or spirit, or whatever abstract part of a person's humanity they invoke, based on how they are personally treated by that person.

I'm sure a white man who despises black people enough to sing about violently harming them can be a perfectly great dude to other white people. Why wouldn't he be? He thinks white people are superior and deserving of his respect.

A white person who interacts with another white person is not the best judge of that person's character when it comes to how that character is expressed around people of color. And we need to stop pretending that it can ever be otherwise.

This is a constant narrative that gets built across multiple axes of oppression to protect white men. A white man is "no racist" because other white people have never been treated shitty by him. A white man is "no misogynist" because other men have never been treated shitty by him. Etc.

This isn't meaningful. People who will never be harmed in the way that a white man harms people see no evidence of his harmfulness. WHO CARES.

All of which is an extension of the obnoxious and unproductive pretense that only monsters are racist, instead of starting from a point at which we recognize we're all socialized to be racist. Because if we acknowledge that we're all racist, and only learn to unwind that socialization with extraordinary effort, then we won't imagine that it matters, not one little bit, how a white person treats other white people, when we're talking about how that white person treats people of color.

Especially when they think no one is watching.

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