Being in a Fraternity and Being Stupid Is Not a Legal Defense, But It's Often a Fact

Expressions of shock and awe over the OU racist frat boy episode remind me of a party we attended when our son was a junior or senior in high school. This very wobbly lady trying to walk on grass in spike heels came up to me -- cross-eyed drunk, windmilling with both arms to keep her balance. She said with a spit-spraying lisp, "I was just talking to some of the other parents, and they tell me the children have been DRINKING!"

I don't know what I said. I was mainly worried about her and what I might be called on to do. I was thinking, "There, there, it's no cause for incontinence."

The best picket sign I have seen in demonstrations here in Dallas, where the chant-leader and another guy on the bus are from, said, "Racism is Learned." No kidding. And the hard thing is that somewhere it has to be unlearned.

Some people writing about the OU/SAE fraternity incident can't resist going into that fraternity's confederate antebellum roots. But Derrick Clifton on identities.mic did a great piece a couple days ago listing all kinds of incidents, including some black-face parties arguably even more vile than the SAE bus chant scene, that have taken place in fraternities all over the country, north, south, east and west. It's really not about geography. It's about white people.

I remember asking the African-American girlfriend of a colleague about fraternities in Texas. She was a recent graduate of one of our better institutions of higher learning, and for some reason -- maybe because she was beautiful and charming -- she had socialized with students of all ethnicity and classes. I asked her if some of the white fraternities were worse than others for racism. She said yes. All of them.

But she was curiously philosophical about it, I thought. I seem to remember she was a military kid. They're just different. They come back to the U.S., and everybody here is a Martian -- white, black, whatever. She told me I needed to remember that all young males newly away from home are idiots, regardless of race, creed, even regardless of I.Q. That's the scary thing about them. They're soooo stupid.

Look how they get themselves caught. I know they get the racism from their parents. But if you went to those very parents and said, "Let's you guys get drunk on a bus and let people make iPhone movies of you singing KKK songs," even the dumbest most racist morons among the parents would say, "Maybe not."

Young people are that stupid. They expose what their parents at least know to hide.

I'm not making excuses for the kids on that bus at OU. Before I could do that, I would have to take off my white-man-hat and put on the hat of a black father sending his son or daughter off to college. In addition to all the normal stress and pressure of college itself, how would I feel if I knew that my kid was also going to be attacked by jeering racist ass-holes straight out of 12 Years a Slave?

What basic respect could I have for an institution that allowed that to happen to my kid? You're an institution of higher learning what? This?

I'm definitely not for letting things slide. Letting things slide is a basic component of racism. It's how it continues. Keeping the lid on, not talking about it, that's how evil hibernates.

But I don't think all those kids on that bus should be named. I just don't. Something in me rebels against giving a kid a tattoo for life that early in life.

The kid from here who led the chant in the video, the one who went to Jesuit: that cat is just out of the bag news-wise. A screenwriter once explained to me how you know which role in a screenplay will be played by the biggest star. It's whoever's face is in front of the camera the most. That lad was the star. It's just media physics.

See also: "(Updated) Frat Boy Leader of Racist OU Chant Is Dallas Jesuit Grad, School Says."

The other guy from here who has been named, he was in the star's vapor trail. There wasn't an especially good reason why he had to be named. That's why you never want to be in situations like that; you don't get to ask for good reasons.

I hope neither one of them wastes a lot of time pondering the question of fairness. Fairness goes out the window the minute you sing a song about lynching with the n-word in it. Forget fair. You just shot fair.

If somebody manages to come up with a serious investigation of the bus incident showing that some kid named Johnny Doe from Detroit taught the other kids the song and then pulled a gun on them and made them sing it, then, sure, Johnny Doe should be named. One doubts that's how it went, but if it did, then let's get the young Mr. Doe out here front and center for the cameras.

But for the sin of being young, drunk, really stupid and there, I don't want to see the rest of them named. I don't think they have to be. I believe they will turn this incident over in their minds for the rest of their lives. I know they will. It will be whispered on pillows to girlfriends and wives, muttered at campfires to fishing buddies, probably expensively explained to a shrink or two, and I firmly believe in the end it will be told as a saga of growth, awakening and courage, not just as a whiny little anecdote about how I got screwed.

The larger arc of history moves to the good in this, no matter how many awful moments we may find along the way. Young people should be allowed a chance to fly that arc if they can, not get nailed to the ground before they start.

I go back and put that black-father-hat on. If my son or daughter were insulted with that kind of behavior, would I be all weepy-eyed about giving those little shits another chance? Hell no. But I'm not weepy-eyed about it now, even with my white-guy-hat on. If they get named anyway, I'll be fine with it.

I just wish. They're young. And I just wish.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze