Racism And Greek Life

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Racism And Greek Life

I got asked by some comedian friends about my thoughts on the Oklahoma SAE story. That felt a little weird, but I’ve written for a site called about rape, death, and Taylor Swift, so I guess I’ve put myself in the position to be asked. It’s like being the one Jewish guy in a fraternity: You’re basically the house rabbi. If I had a nickel for every time I was asked a question about Jews, I’d have a ton of nickels, and I’d save them appropriately in a Roth IRA. I just don’t know what opinion there is to have other than, “this sucks.” It sucks in the “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” way that I’m pretty sure echoes the majority of Greeks and Greek alumni.

It’s not only the action, it’s everything that comes with it in 2015. The people who lazily write “think pieces” about fraternities and their racism issues while they casually ignore that there are people of every race involved with Greek life. There are armchair activists racing to the top of Judgment Mountain to write a “racism is bad” post on Facebook. Of course there should be outrage, but it all feels a little easy. Today, it isn’t just the people who commit the crimes who get in trouble; it’s every group these people represent. So when a southern fraternity is explicitly racist and spews hate speech, it affects every box that this group checks off: Greeks, southerners, Oklahomans, men, and white people. All of these groups are all a little more racist to everyone they come in contact with, and that really sucks.

But that’s the thing — we all don’t suck. I would say most people associated with Greek life are currently throwing their hands up and trying to form some sort of opinion that rationalizes why a group of people would be gleefully singing such crap. I tried the other night. I rambled on about how these songs have words that I can’t believe these kids connect to any real sort of hatred. In a very extreme example, I tried saying that if every time they sang this song, a black person died, they’d have known the severity and wouldn’t sing it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who bumbled along in such extremes because at the end of the day, I’m really trying to protect myself. I’m trying to tell anyone who sees me as a former “frat guy” that I wasn’t on my own bus with my own friends doing the same thing. In a time where the criticism lands on a group over the individual acting in extremes, you’re a guy who could have been on that bus. These guys aren’t you or your brothers, but they represent some piece of who you are or where you came from. Just ask any SAE across the country how many times he’s said the phrase, “they’re different at every school” this week and you’ll realize how far this spreads.

Every week, the internet serves us these strongly-worded reactions to extremes, whether it’s blaming all Muslims for the actions of ISIS or al-Qaeda or convicting an entire race when a criminal happens to be black. The vast majority of the free-thinking world exists outside of these extreme examples. The world is nuanced and can’t always be packaged into tidy generalizations. This story shouldn’t be a surprise — racism exists — but it also shouldn’t be the launching pad for a tirade against anyone who has worn some Greek letters. The more we lazily swim with the current of “these people are this way” and “those people are that way,” the more we create these very particular niches. We act less like a country full of people just trying to live our lives and more like a group of bros, hipsters, nerds, blacks, and whites who live near one another and just have to put up with it. The finger-pointers are giving out jerseys so you have to hope your team isn’t the “bad guy.”

A lot of pledge programs have this rule: If one person messes up, so does the whole group. The same goes for life. Oklahomans, southerners, Greeks, SAEs, and white people are all wearing the burden of this stupidity because one of “theirs” did something bad. That rule works for a pledge class because it makes them accountable for one another and brings them together as friends. In real life, that attitude is just an easy way to distinguish between “us” and “them,” “good” and “bad,” “black” and “white.” And it seems like a giant step backward that’s too easy to take.

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Jared Freid (@jtrain56) is a New York City-based comedian who has been featured on MTV’s Failosophy and is the host of The JTrain Podcast presented by TFM.

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