Ask most Americans and I’m sure they would tell you that race relations within the United States have greatly improved; they would be wrong. Racism continues to exist openly in the South and Texas, but it is prevalent in every part of our nation. It exists in Washington D.C., and in Bakersfield, California; anywhere more than 20 people reside. Thanks to some of our nation’s leaders, it is becoming a growing problem.
Recent revelations in Ferguson, Missouri about their legal system, and at Oklahoma University regarding a fraternity, have simply exposed the extent of one of the reasons the United States is not the greatest nation in the world.
Ferguson’s police department and judicial system were exposed by a Department of Justice Report. Violations ranging from excessive fines to excessive force were reported. Those who judged the black community after the death of Michael Brown lacked the awareness of the long-term abuse levied upon one group. The anger displayed in Ferguson was a culmination of many situations when blacks had been treated unfairly compared to whites.
Do not think for one moment that this city is the exception rather than the rule. I grew up in the Los Angeles area in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many of my black friends told me stories all too similar to those in Ferguson. The difference over 50 years is that prejudice is more secretive today.
Law enforcement agencies across the nation intentionally fail to keep accurate reports regarding the use of excessive force and even deaths of black men and women. This unforgiveable situation linked with increased military-style action by the authorities has created an environment of fear and mistrust.
When a video surfaced displaying an Oklahoma University fraternity singing an egregious racial song, the nation appeared to be appalled. When the ‘house mother’ of the SAE frat house was interviewed the next day, she claimed to be shocked and dismayed. Unfortunately for the 78-year-old woman, a videotape of her singing along with the fraternity, repeatedly using the ‘N’ word was revealed. She has lived in the house for 15 years, and just like the members of the fraternity, she now has no place to live. All residents were evicted by the school president, and the national organization which granted SAE their charter rescinded it.
Today University President David Boren expelled two members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity for their part in the incident; he said the investigation is ongoing.
Prior situations not dissimilar to this at Oklahoma University have resulted in expulsions. However, the first amendment forbids punishment to this degree based upon verbiage used by an individual, no matter how repulsive. The exception to first amendment rights would occur if physical harm was threatened. Referring to a black man hanging from a tree in their hateful song will not be considered an actual threat by the court system. (The boys did not use the term ‘black’).
Do not make the mistake of believing these two situations are unusual. Those who know the facts about our nation are entirely aware that there are two Americas; one black and one white.
When I was far younger, I believed that with time, education and more familiarity between the races prejudice and racism would slowly disappear. These young men from Oklahoma University have proven me wrong. I now must admit that racism is a learned response. Without experiencing continual debasement of blacks in America by relatives, friends, and peer groups, this particular hatred could not exist.
Commentary by James Turnage