There’ll Never Be Niggers in Their Boardrooms Either

Who Is Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Who Cares?

PICTURE_RUSH

If the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon had not been videotaped singing “there’ll never be a nigger in SAE…” then all signs indicate that they were well on their way to lucrative careers. It is likely they would have assumed incredibly desirable, powerful positions in government, education, the arts, sciences, policy, law and virtually every other realm of power in American society.

You see there are some very powerful men in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Extremely powerful. A 2003 Forbes article revealed that the country is running largely on the strength of men who passed through SAE or similar fraternities. Fraternities which are all male and nearly all White.

“The numbers certainly seem to back this theory up. A mere 8.5% of full-time university undergraduates are members of either a fraternity or a sorority. Not only have fraternities been the breeding ground of those 120 Forbes 500s chief executive officers, they also have spawned 48% of all U.S. presidents, 42% of U.S. senators, 30% of U.S. congressmen, and 40% of U.S. Supreme Court justices, according to data from The North-American Interfraternity Conference.”

If no one had released that video then those boys and girls would have sang their melodic embrace of “lynching” all the way through graduation. And let’s remind ourselves of what lynchings were, shall we? Lynchings were Sunday-after-church-service-festivities where Black people were hung from trees as parts of their bodies were cut off and passed through the crowd of laughing White men, White women and White children. Lynchings were when pregnant Black women like Mary Turner were hung alive and had their babies cut out of their stomachs and then killed. Lynchings were when Black kids, women and men had the life tortured and drained out of their Black bodies.

And these White men and women were on a bus, imbibing alcohol, signing with joyous abandon that they’d rather see a nigger hang from a tree than sign into membership of their fraternity.

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And who are we kidding? Even though they were caught on camera, with names like Parker Rice and Levit Pettit (two of the ring leaders of the racist chant who have since been expelled from school) and backgrounds like theirs, once the dust settles and the public moves on to the next “Look! There go the racists!” (Heeey Donald Sterling!) moment, these boys and girls will soon form the freshman class of a future crop of congressmen and women in state and federal halls of government near you.

 

But Why Should We Care?

I think we need to look past the urge to give into an immediate rage over the singing band of racists and their racist den mother. Because it’s important for us to realize that in a few years people like Parker and Levi (an all the other White students whose faces we couldn’t see on the bus) will soon be reviewing resumes and making hiring decisions for companies and HR departments at institutions that Black employees will be applying to.

Parker and Levi will be in charge of approving company diversity policies. They will be the senior folks our kids will have to file complaints about discrimination at work with (that is, once our kids reach the breaking point and can no longer tolerate the institutional racism and discrimination they will face while working for people like Parker and Levi). The Parker and Levi’s of the world are the people who will review mortgage applications and small business loans. They will decide whether or not to give Black and Brown people loans that are essentially guaranteed to end in foreclosure.

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This bus full of smiling, singing, racist White people will review car loan applications. They will review medical insurance claims. They’ll be doctors who have to decide how to administer treatments—and who gets the more sophisticated medical intervention and who is left to their prayers and outdated methods. They will become judges who get to preside over cases involving Black people. They will get to determine food policy and which neighborhoods get what produce. They’ll own grocery stores and will get to say which communities get access to fresh healthy foods and which get tomatoes so old and rotted they make mother earth cry.

Which brings me to my next point:

What’s it like to work with people like Parker and Levi?

What is it like to be employed in the same office as colleagues who sing about racial terrorism for fun on the weekends?

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Would you trust Parker, Levi and their bus full of singing racist bandits to be good bosses to work for?

Would you want Parker, Levi and the crew to be able to make decisions about the trajectory of your career?

Would you want them deciding what foods are available in grocery stores that your family and community shop in?

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Would you want them to be the doctor examining your children?

Would you want anyone one on that bus giving you legal counsel or presiding over your case?

Well I hate to break it to you. People just like Parker and Levi are probably already making these and other decisions for you on a daily basis. That’s how institutional racism works. And that’s why We Need To Talk About White People And Their Racial Issues.

As I’ve said before, institutional racism is simply what happens when people who are motivated by racial beliefs (either mild or extreme) who do not prevent those racist beliefs from impacting the decisions they make or the power they exercise on a daily basis at the job and other places where they have power to take action:

The courtroom is as fair as the judge presiding over it.

The police precinct is as fair as the police officers that are working within it.

The corporate boardroom is only as fair as the CEO and corporate officers controlling it.

Now replace the word “fair” with “racist.”

The courtroom is as racist as the judge presiding over it.

The police precinct is as racist as the police officers that are working within it.

The corporate boardroom is only as racist as the CEO and corporate officers controlling it.

See how that works?

Likelihood-of-Imprisonment

We now know that Black Harvard graduates only have as good of a chance getting a call back (let alone land an actual job) as a White kid who graduates from a state school. Think about that. Knowing that we have to be “three times as good just to keep up,” if we accept that Harvard is one of the best non-HBCU colleges that America has to offer, think about how much that Black Harvard graduate is bringing to the table.

And yet that Black graduate is going to likely spend the bulk of his career shrinking him or herself in order to fit into groups permeated with people who think like Parker and Levi. That Black college grad has a strong chance of ending up like the Black people referenced in this week’s episode of Being Mary Jane, where from behind her news desk Mary Jane Paul (played by Gabrielle Union) makes the following statement:

I’d like to turn your attention to a 2014 study from the Center for Talent Innovation which reports that an alarming 40% of African Americans admit to feeling like outsiders in their corporate culture, as compared to 26% of Caucasians. And despite corporate America’s attempts to create a more diverse working environment, a staggering 35% of African Americans claim that they need to compromise their authenticity in order to conform to their company standards of demeanor or style.

Now think about what all the Black graduates who didn’t go to elite schools like Harvard have to face. The book Internalized Racial Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups explores the mani fold issues present within the psyche of groups that face this type of discrimination (full disclosure: my husband is a contributing author to this book). I’m not getting into the details of those issues now but encourage you to check out book like that one or Dr. Joy DeGruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

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The Real Issue Here

It’s way bigger than seeing a bunch of White adult college students singing songs about racial terrorism on a bus to a party. It’s about what it means when we subject ourselves and our kids to working in spaces that are largely influenced and shaped by interactions with people like Parker and Levi. We need to be very clear about what lion’s dens we are sending our kids and ourselves into when we acquiesce our power in order to make money working for White people who think like them.

But what’s really scary – is that Parker, Levi and the other kids on that bus probably have Black “friends” or know Black people. Black people who sit next to them in class. Who eat lunch and work with them in group work for school. Black people, who but for this video, would never know how Parker and Levi really feel about them.

As we get closer to another round of graduations and another round of hand wringing over whether or not Black graduates will be able to find jobs like the White students their skills are either equal to or better than (news flash: they won’t), we need to remind ourselves that Nike makes money meeting wants needs in Black communities. McDonalds makes money meeting wants needs in Black communities. Grocery stores make money meeting needs in Black communities. Dentists make money meeting needs in Black communities. Doctors make money meeting needs in Black communities. Lawyers make money meeting needs in Black communities. Corporations the world over make money meeting needs in Black communities.

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So can we.

After all, in the words of Marcus Garvey, “What Africans have done Africans can do.” We’ve gainfully employed ourselves and met our own needs in the process before (remember pre-integration anyone? Pre-slavery?). We can do that much and so much more now.

Remember, The Unemployment Numbers are Encouraging Unless You’re Black. If you’re Black, despite how brilliant you may be the following is true when you limit your options to working for people who are socialized to think and behave like Parker and Levi:

Although we are told that education is the key to success, black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as other graduates, while African-American college students are about as likely to be hired as white high school dropouts. Even worse, white convicts have about the same chances of getting a job as blacks without any criminal record. Meanwhile, a black woman make 64 cents for every dollar a white man earns, and a black man makes 72 cents. White women earn 77 cents for each dollar white men make….Part of the problem is that black workers tend to be the first fired when the economy tanks…Further, job discrimination continues to plague black people. Everyone has heard of the employer bias against people with black-sounding names. And hiring managers are more likely to believe black applicants are drug users.  In addition, African-Americans face jobless discrimination in cases where hiring managers weed out unemployed candidates, given that black workers are unemployed at twice the rate of white workers. As a result, blacks find themselves over-represented in low-wage jobs rather than in higher-paying professional positions….According to the Urban Institute, black families lost 31 percent of their wealth between 2007 and 2010. Hispanic families lost a staggering 44 percent of their wealth, and whites lost 11 percent…Black people are behind, not because we are lazy or fail to work hard or pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.  Systemic racism and economic inequality remain at crisis levels in the U.S., and that is the heart of the problem. And the problem is only getting worse, so bad that it caused Thomas Chatterton Williams to ask recently in the New York Times why more blacks have not left the country in search of greener pastures.

We know that Soon, Not Even 1 Percent of Fortune 500 Companies Will Have Black CEOs. Do you know how long it would take to decrease the gaps in wealth, employment and self sufficiency if we wait on people like Parker and Levi to see and value us? Do you know how long it will take for us to make any progress so long as we tie our economic sustainability to the likes of Parker and Levi?

In the words of brilliant Black women everywhere:

“Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

This is why Parker, Levi and groups most of us have never heard of (like SAE) matter. Not because we can say, “Look! There go the racists!” But so we can analyze what these incidents mean for those of us who live in a world governed by the institution of White supremacy, and govern ourselves accordingly. There may never be another “nigger” in Parker & Levi’s fraternity. But while we are distracted by their antics, people who agree with Parker and Levi are keeping highly qualified Black people squeezed out of positions of power in a daily basis. People who think like them are negatively shaping #BlackLives on regularly.

We need to govern ourselves, out business affairs and our future accordingly. Because when people show you who they really are, you should believe them. Thanks Parker and Levi for reminding us that racism comes in cherubic, red cheeked, baby faces, screaming about killing Black people for fun. Oh, and a suit and tie. Because nothing says “professional” like a racist in a suit and tie…

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Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or available here for e-book download! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest youtube videos!

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