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A Metastasized Injustice: Why the #BlackLivesMatter Movement is Un-American and Why the Problem of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is Far Worse than We Imagined

Black-Lives-MatterWith the protests of the #BlackLivesMatter movement still fresh in our social media feeds and the blood of Tony Robinson revealing the racial divide in the cosmopolitan town of Madison, Wisconsin, we now hear the ringing chant of racism from Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). Though the words are not all intelligible, the chant appears to be: “There will never be a n—– SAE/There will never be a n—– SAE/You can hang ‘em from a tree, but it will never start with me/There will never be a n—– SAE.” While many had hoped this emerging American generation would be the first ‘post-racial’ generation, it appears now that race and ethnicity are, again, at the center of our American story and not for the right reasons. From places in the South where many would expect overt racism to thrive to the extremely progressive city of Madison-racial division and strife is ubiquitous.

As a Black man and as a member of a Black Greek organization, none of this surprises me. As a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., my brothers and I have been dealing with discrimination against Blacks on the college campus now since before our founding in 1911. While I was a student at the University of Michigan in Dearborn, Michigan, our chapter led the fight to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a university recognized holiday-a hard-fought fight and one that we finally succeeded in. That was in 1990! Over the years because of my race, I have been denied access to jobs, stopped on the streets and in stores by the authorities, rejected by peers and colleagues in a variety of contexts, and have beaten bloody on more than one occasion. All of this has been for nothing more than for being ‘other’ than. No, nothing about Ferguson or Madison or New York or SAE surprises me at all. Racism is not a new problem and it is not a problem that has suddenly metastasized-it has been with us all along. In fact, before the events that have re-launched the race dialogue in America, I often wondered why things weren’t worse than they are.

The real question facing us now is why in 2015 does racial hatred and injustice endure when most Americans sing the song of inclusivism, tolerance, and diversity? For the love of God and country-we actually have a Black man in the White House-can’t we do better than this!?!? The answer is no. President Obama’s election for many cemented the misconception that we’ve finally transcended racial inequality and can move past division. The reality, I believe, is that the new American narrative we are trying to convince ourselves of is an unsustainable myth. Here it is:

The New American Myth: “We live in an America where finally the color of your skin is trumped by the content of your character and if we all work hard and invest in our community and world, we can live into the American dream of prosperity. We are all equals and should respect, learn from, and appreciate others-particularly others who are different from us. Diversity is a positive characteristic of community and, in fact, there is something wrong with people who do not experience or desire diversity. All people, regardless of their gender, race, religion and other past naturally segregating characteristics now have access to the same American dream of prosperity and freedom. We have transcended the old narrative of a racialized America.”

This is a myth. Our universities propagate this myth through forced ‘tolerance’ policies that actually do more to separate peoples than bring them together. Only the truly naïve can believe that merely tolerating others can lead to mutual empowerment, appreciation and learning. No, tolerance is the enemy of diversity but is nearly always championed as the pathway to inclusivism. Black Americans for the most part know this through experience. Despite the bold words on applications for financing, job applications, and social clubs like fraternities and sororities, the reality is that there is little empowerment, appreciation, and mutuality. The goal for most institutions is a nice picture to post on a website showing different skin tones and hair from smiling, naïve twenty-somethings before they realize the reality of the collegiate context.

Now, while I do believe Black lives matter (and am disturbed that we have to continue to actually assert this), the reality is that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is actually un-American. It is as un-American as Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and as un-American as electing a Black president. The insistence that Black women and men have inherent value and something to contribute to the fabric of our nation is un-American in that while it coheres with the American myth it does not cohere with the American story-the reality that plays itself out in our schools, places of business, churches, universities, and neighborhoods. This is the true America. Racial injustices have not metastasized, there has merely been a metastasizing of awareness by a new American generation after a long-era of believing the myth of equality.

The devaluation of Black lives should not surprise us-it is nothing new. It has been normalized in the private spheres of dominant culture since Black lives were introduced to this country. From time to time I read through my great great grandfather’s slave papers. Burrell Avery was the property of a Kentucky slave owner but fought for our country in the colored infantry-believing that he was fighting for his freedom and a better America. I am grateful for his sacrifice and believe much of what I enjoy is because of him, because of Lincoln’s courage and Dr. King’s bravery. None of these things, however, are the solution. A million activists laying in the streets, shopping malls, and train stations of America cannot accomplish more than what has already been done. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is now a part of our American story but just like a soldier’s death, a president’s war, or a dreamer’s speech, we are powerless to address the true problem-the problem of the human heart. A racist chant by the members of SAE is also a part of our American story and in this chant is the true song of humanity.

Better laws, a forced equal access, more financial resources, and greater awareness can never change the heart of darkness in women and men. Philosopher and theologian Miroslav Volf, in his work Exclusion and Embrace, articulates exclusion as the destruction of the pattern within God’s created order of differentiation.[1] Part of why racial injustices continue is because the human heart is bent on destroying God’s idea of differentiation. We want to erase differences-this is why the American myth of tolerance and inclusivism is so evil-it seeks to erase differentiation, not to seek empowerment, celebration, and mutual interdependence. Embracing people in their ‘otherness’ is God’s idea and something that can be achieved through the person of Jesus Christ. Paul says in Ephesians 2:13-16, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” (NRSV). The American dream can never make one new humanity where there was once hostility-only Jesus Christ and what He has done on the cross can do that.

 

[1] Volf, Miroslav. 1996. Exclusion and embrace: a theological exploration of identity, otherness, and reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (67-68)

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