Racism is alive in America

Published: March 13, 2015

Race is a damningly sensitive matter. Lately, it’s been resurfacing and has wagged its nasty tail way too often. PHOTO: AFP

Racism is an inherent cultural vice and the University of Oklahoma (UO) is no exception to it. On the night of March 7, 2015, a group of young men belonging to the Sigma, Alpha, Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, a prominent, for lack of better term, ‘social club’, created ripples all over the World Wide Web and electronic media circles when a video captured members of the ‘brotherhood’ chanting an anti-black song.

Upsetting as the event was, it prompted the school’s president, David Boren, to not only ban the fraternity but also declare that,

‘Racism is alive in the University of Oklahoma’.

Being a witness to several such recent happenings, I would say something that may come across too radical which is that the statement holds true for the entire US. For some odd, God forsaken factors, at least beyond my comprehension, lately racism seems to have not only become a ‘highly visible’ issue but it has raised its ugly head more often than ever before in contemporary US history.

I hate to sound like a conspiracy monger but my guess is that because we have a coloured president in the White House, the depleted, prejudiced elements in the Caucasian population counter react, hype up the black and white divide and take it to extraordinary heights. I don’t have much data to back up my apprehension but it’s just a gut feeling, a bad one that lurks in the peripherals of my mind every time a race-driven challenging situation takes place.

Let’s be honest and not fool ourselves.

Beyond the political correctness that we’re so used to employing in our everyday lives, racism, for the most part, forms an intrinsic, integral part of our setup and personalities as people. There is no magic wand to turn off the racism button. To think and decisively assume that beyond the segregation, ‘separate but equal’ days, the black-white gap got bridged will only be obnoxiously absurd and not short of being gullible. There are pockets of the society that believe in the race divide and haven’t gotten over the times when the coloured folks were not only legally discriminated against but also treated inhumanely. Believe it or not, we still have segregated proms in the US that the younger generation does not necessarily approve of.

The central idea of racism is a widespread, conceivable phenomenon that has proliferated and remains part and parcel of different levels of even the non-Caucasian cultures.

Look at how Pakistan treats its minorities.

Since most of these folks belong to the lowest rungs of the society and the under privileged class, the environmental and societal balance is ensured by setting certain unfortunate boundaries and drawing lines that are in direct violation of the inviolability of integrity of human existence and rights.

The process of change and transitioning from being culturally underdeveloped to moderate or modern never kicks off or materialises because that’s how life has been for centuries in South Asia. Boren talked about the ‘subtle forms of discrimination’ in the institution that he runs. Quite in contrast to that, discrimination in Pakistan is not only blatant and heavily pronounced but is the ‘right in your face’ type. Sadly, such is the way of life more than anything else.

Two wrongs don’t ever make a right. Understood that the presence of racial tensions and feelings can’t be denied, devalued or undermined and such undercurrents ominously stare at us almost in all parts of the world, ironically, acts of racism and race based cultures are an identified phenomenon that works well in countless number of cultures. However, such realities cannot and do not work out in the US. Racism is a completely ‘no-go’ area, per the law, rule and procedures that each citizen must abide by.

Race is a damningly sensitive matter.

Lately, it’s been resurfacing and has wagged its nasty tail way too often. Social media and the ability to spontaneously report matters by virtue of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram create a cluttered situation that ends up making a massively lethal mess. Obviously bringing to light such issues encourages and instigates debate and discussion, and compels the society to remove hindrances, barriers and roadblocks and a will to resolve problems. Pushing the hard-to-swallow realities under the rug never helps. Talking it out is what helps.

America being what it is believes in having a civilised and peaceful dialogue to sort out the burning issues that plague our wellbeing. These are the hallmarks of a progressive society and add to the beauty of the United States. Bringing matters out in the open and dissecting each bit of information helps tremendously. It’s like rewriting a piece of literature over and over again that eventually ends up in a better product. Harsh realities can be encountered and faced courageously by making hard choices which alive and evolving societies have to make otherwise prospects of growth diminish giving way to retardation, degeneration and inability to ever improve or make an impact.

They say if you see something, you should say something. In other words, due diligence is a virtue of enlightened citizenship, a key element that keeps us away from falling a prey to jarndyce. Taking notice of our surroundings and talking about issues of the day is the responsibility of every aware citizen. That’s one prime aspect where the US is so smartly able to deal with and orchestrate a process of mass scale discussion. It’s the one and only way of appreciating freedom and celebrating democracy.

That being said, as partakers of this verbal and online freedom, we must act responsibly too. Parker Rice is one of the students identified as the conductor of the racist chants. He has been expelled from the university, his house is now surrounded by a mob of protestors and he is being punished for what he did.

But what about the other Parker Rice?

Social media launched a hate-mission against the ‘wrong Parker Rice’ by vilifying him in every way possible. He is just a student whose only mistake perhaps was that he was born in the same city, is a student too and has the same name that is now associated with racism. His image has been tarnished forever, at least online, because of the fact that we failed to act responsibly and did not care to check if it’s the same guy.

Talking about freedom, the University of Oklahoma incident was pretty much avoidable if we had a more disciplined cultural arrangement. One doesn’t need to scratch their head or look hard to understand that kids, for a number of reasons, in the US live unfettered and unbridled lives. Parents are too busy making ends meet. Broken homes are a common phenomenon. Divorce rate is one of the highest in the developed world. Education is not really moral or values based. Social fabric is not too stable, to say the least. In the absence of structured, well-rounded family setups, single moms can only do so much. Children grow up deprived, unable to join the dots of life and ignorant of the softness, politeness and etiquettes that are so essential for one’s personal nurturing and nourishment.

What happens in frat houses, fraternities or sororities in the name of fun and living it up can be literally hurtful and not necessarily in line with basic, respectable norms of human decency. Although there may have been a time when such clubs and cults were centres of intellectualism or avenues to exercise one’s faculties of mind they have been reduced to nothing but high sounding nonsense.

Young individuals need to channelise their abundance of energy in a civilised way and positive manner. They need guidance and support to show them the right way, a path to grow in a healthy fashion – one that makes their parents radiant and proud. Abuse of language, minds and bodies, and petty practices and behaviour become a tradition when youngsters get together and spend the loads of energy that they possess in a negative and ill-directed way. Such a commotion has to churn out mind blowing and unflattering results. There are some unique times when older, supposedly mature people join in the nefarious frat activities as well such as the 78-year-old resident of the UO frat house!

Kids involved in the University of Oklahoma incident have apologised but the million dollar question is that will this bullying, sledging and abusing ever stop?

Obviously there are neither any easy answers nor is racism going to come to a screeching halt anytime soon. A lot of parts in the US are not multiracial, i.e. predominantly white, culturally diverse and happen to be educationally backward and hence to expect elimination of racism and tolerance will be too naïve of a thought process.

Having said that, there is always hope and chances of successful damage control are bright if the society in the general sense does not shut its eyes but carries on with peacefully protesting, bringing into light the painful aspects of our existence. Peace and reconciliation groups all over the US have for long advocated inculcation of tolerant ideals amongst our children, our neighbourhoods, our households, schools, workplaces and most of all the society at large. Events that have followed the DOJ report about the Ferguson episode have shown that constant pressure and reiteration do help in changing government policies, public attitudes and getting rid of corrupt officials who literally abused public trust.

In a word, insensitive as it may sound, each race related episode is its own soap opera. Fraternities pose a difficult challenge and represent the dark side of the social milieu. Obviously opinion about such clubs is divided in an already polarised setting. There are no concrete structural design and development ideas to work with. Racialism is an enigma that the US is still trying to grapple with even after almost five decades of civil rights recognition.

The bottom line is that there is awareness to correct the crookedness and redirect the societal and governmental effort toward a better and peaceful coexistence.

Although race is more like fitting a square peg in a round hole kind of an issue, a few rotten eggs like the boys from UO cannot destabilise or disrupt the power of the people to overcome odds and prevail in a positive and spirited manner. The foundations of US society are strongly backed by swift government and media action whenever any destructive and damaging event takes place.

What matters in the end is to keep calm, don’t lose cool and think well before one opens their mouth and chants hatefully loathsome and detestable rants. And when I say that, yes, I’m  also referring to and directing my anger at the mullahs who use the power of the pulpit and the madrassas to contaminate the minds of those who are still blooming and have every right to blossom and prosper.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    racism, bigotry etc etc exists in all societies. What most of the developed world(the USA is included here) has done is that the systems of check and balance are HUGELY unbiased. You will see that the minute racism rears its ugly head the media sounds an alarm, a wake up call is sent over the airwaves and the entire nation rises to the occasion. This is what separates them from us.Recommend

  • Parvez

    It was interesting but I think you have lumped apples and oranges into the same basket. You are basically talking about discrimination in America or the black-white issue where religion is not in the forefront. Then you jump to sucker-punch Pakistan where the discrimination is blatantly religious and the motives driving this are completely different from the American scenario.
    In my view you should have restricted yourself to America and it would have been good. You could have tackled Pakistan in another article.Recommend

  • Ben

    Races, colors, tribes, beauty, ugliness etc are created by nature/ god. Some humans are beautiful, pretty, handsome, intelligent, creative, rich etc thats why they are more admired than other humans. Eg Gulf Arabs consider other muslims inferior and will never give nationality to other muslims.Recommend

  • Tenzing Norgay

    They do? Not in Bhutan. The country has a Happiness Index.
    Which they consider more important than any other index.
    The most virulent crass abject discrimination went on in Ferguson.
    US for years and years. Where the police department was up in the
    forefront with rabid discrimination against the black community. Racism
    in Ferguson had a Hydra head. Did the media sound an alarm? Wake up
    calls? Anything over the airwaves? The nation rose? Check and balances?
    Not until a black teenager was shot and killed by the police. And people took
    to the streets night after night for more than 30 days. Then the media took
    notice. Then everyone and his brother took notice. And converged there.
    If somebody like YOU is caught anywhere in Arizona, even walking down the
    street, the police can pick you up. Ask you for your visa. Your passport
    your green card. If you don’t have it on you. you will be in custody until it is produced.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    bhutan is a little country with a very small population. It is very easy to limit racism when almost the entire population belongs to ONE RACE, and are of ONE COLOUR.
    As for being stopped by the law, I will not mind such checks if I ever visit the USA. Someone stops you and asks for your ID, if he is an officer of the Law, i do not have any problem proving to him who I am.Recommend

  • Tenzing Norgay

    Wrong. Bhutan is a tribal society with regional ethnicities.
    You missed the point. There are Arizonans, born and
    raised there, who look like YOU. Mexican Americans,
    Indigenous Tribal Natives. Are stopped. Can be picked
    up simply because they have a ‘foreign look’…say an
    ethnicity about them. You step out of the house to go
    to corner store to get some milk and end up at the police
    station. Somebody has to come bail you out with your
    birth certificate. That may be acceptable to YOU. Shows
    your mindset. It would never be acceptable to an American.
    That is why this racist law is being fought in courts and will
    be eventually struck off the books.
    Actually you did not miss the point, it is your culture,
    subservient at the most, speaking for you.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    bhutan has not even 1% of “ethnicities” of the USA. Comparing the two is like comparing a household to a province. There are Native Indians in the USA, there are black guys, Haitian guys, Mexican guys, Indian/Pakistani guys, Italian guys, Spanish guys, Russian guys, Australian guys, South African guys and a lot more. Bhutan does not have this . not even a small percentage of this. The population of bhutan is so small that it makes racism quite improbable(Although not impossible as my second point shows).
    SEcondly, and more importantly, you should try to gain some knowledge about these guys https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lhotshampa before you start to say that bhutan is all warm and fuzzy.
    Thirdly, and even more importantly, we live in pretty dangerous times. It has been shown time and again that if our governments are not “proactive” in combating terror the consequences will be dire.(the Phoenix memo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Memo is a stark reminder of this). Therefore the courts in the USA realize that foregoing some civil liberties in today’s dangerous age is acceptable for the greater good. Why else do you think they allowed the NSA and others to snoop on digital traffic. So they will not let anyone disturb these laws.

    As for my culture being subservient, well, meh to that. I don’t reply to ad hominem until something really irks me.Recommend

  • Tenzing Norgay

    You are rambling. You have no idea at all. There is no head
    or center or tail to your remunerations. Just jargon you are
    repeating like a parrot. The Patriot Act is an entirely different
    matter. And a subject not in YOUR bailiwick. The US courts do
    not render judgments based on ‘foregoing’ or the ‘whim of the
    day’. They are based on facts and strict interpretation of the law. To give up personal liberty, would be a very hard notion,
    for an American. Something a Pakistani would not understand.
    And bundling up some two bit Wikipedia quotes,.. now that is sacrilegiousRecommend

  • ajay gupta

    this happiness index is all hogwash to divert attention from an absolute monarchy ina world that is increasingly pushing for democracy & equality & exploding from time to time in the quest for these.Recommend

  • AlOmega

    Rac-ism is alive. Blacks attack and kill 700% more whites in rac-ial crimes than whites.

    Everyone knows where the problem is and it’s certainly not with those who the complaint is directed…Recommend

  • AlOmega

    Nonsense! Have you ever been to Ferguson? Blacks are attacking hispanics, whites, Asians, anything they can. Just like they do in their native land.Recommend

  • ED CHAMPAGNE

    WHAT IS THE ISSUE? Race abuse, Cop abuse? Brown robs a store, pushes the owner then attacks a cop. Next the NBA goes around supporting this action!! I think cops abuse there power and many times the use of deadly force is uncalled for! IT”S NOT RACISM, it’s abuse of power!
    If the Mike Brown case is what the black community wants to use for a example of police racism toward black men , I see no support for there case and I’m shocked that many people think it is ok to hit a cop? I was raised to avoid robbing stores and hitting cops! But I was shocked when I saw so much support for O J. It is clear I don’t understand my black friends and they have no respect for me!Recommend

  • ED CHAMPAGNE

    Divide and concur, talk about race, sex, age and religion and 2% will screw 98%. This why Napoleon got into power, ISIS, HITLER. The fall of Rome , Egypt, Greeks and middle eastRecommend

  • ED CHAMPAGNE

    What defines a racist? What percentage of Whites, Black and Spanish speaking people are racist? In what way? To whom? How a white person deal with a black racist? Should the NBA work on trying to get more whites into the game? Golf needs to get more blacks into that game.
    If a White man clearly killed his Black ex-wife and a Black male friend. Then a group of Whites voted not guilty, followed by 50% of Whites going out into public celebrating the fact a white got away with murder. I guess blacks think this behavior is now OK? Most whites stood up against how blacks where treated many whites suffered abuse for doing so! Nothing like the treatment blacks faced. Yet many Whites made public stands againist those supporting rasist abuse yet many blacks feel they have a right to abuse my because I’m white! SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?Recommend

  • Tenzing Norgay

    That still beats living under the shadow of the Indian Gestapo…er…Indian occupation Army in Aunachal Pradesh.
    Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Bodoland, Assam, East Bengal,
    plus everyone must bow towards the Little Modi Temple,
    6 times a day. And memorize the names of 50 gods. Or
    else….you under suspicion.Recommend

  • Tenzing Norgay

    Wonder how they missed you. On the other hand Hindus
    can easily pass for blacks.Recommend

  • gul Zaman Ghorgasht.

    Please be careful because Hindu Indians are mistaken for blacks
    everywhere.in America. Make doubly sure evryone knows you are
    from India. Perhaps wearing a bindi on your forehead may help with
    your safety.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    1)Just because a word is long and someone spoke it in your classroom does not mean you should use it EVERYWHERE.
    You said ” There is no head or center or tail to your remunerations”. Now remuneration means payment and salary. It doesn’t have any other meanings. So only you can tell us why you have used this word here. The same is the case with Jargon.
    2) you claimed that some information is not valid because it is ” two bit Wikipedia quotes”
    what do you mean by “quotes” exactly please explain? furthermore Lhotshampa have been racially discriminated against in bhutan, are you saying that this has not happened? What is your take on the event?
    the second wiki “quote” is also verified information concerning the Phoenix memo. are you saying that the Phoenix memo also did not exist?
    3) You CLEARLY have no IDEA what the US courts have decided based on the patriot act and you have no Idea what they base their decisions on. But let us forgo this intellectual shortcoming of yours and give me one single case where the courts have decided in favour of terrorist threats and liberty while being against proactive measures.
    4)Again the ad hominem. Again a meh from me.Recommend

  • AlpaOmega

    No one mistakes Hindus for blacks. Where did you get that from?Recommend

  • AlpaOmega

    No one mistakes Hindus for blacks. Where did you get that from?Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Ahson, I hope you realize that you (and ET) may have violated the copyright law that prohibits excessive “non fair use” quoting (and in this case reproduction) without the permission of the newspaper you copied the long excerpt from.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    “Just like they do in their native land”. . . Isn’t that racist?Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    As an anthropologist once noted, if the entire world were to vanish one day and only the US survived, then all the people of the world and their cultures will be preserved here.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Mr. Norgay, after watching Charlie Rose’s wonderful interview with the intelligent and humble Bhutanese PM yesterday on PBS, your musings makes me wonder if you are a real “Bhutanese” person. Hope your trip down Mt. Everest (May 1953) went well.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Such fancy language for an ersatz Bhutanese person: “remunerations”(“maybe you meant “recriminations”?); “jargon” (maybe you just meant “words”?); “sacrilegious” (maybe you meant . . . who knows what you meant; and who cares?) :-)Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Have we exhausted all the issues in Pakistan already that we have to now corral foreign and unrelated issues to fill obligatory blog spaces in our paper?Recommend

  • Prashant

    I am starting to doubt your Tenzing Norgay claims, if you are indeed a Bhutanese, how can you be so ignorant?

    “Indian occupation Army in Aunachal Pradesh.”

    Of all the states in the North East, Arunachal is a place where you will find lesser alienation compared to other states, China is simply not an option for the people of Arunachal.

    East Bengal? Really, the place which produced Rabindranath Tagore, Shyama Prasad Mukherji, Subhash Chandra Bose and numerous others, unlike some other countries in the region where their former heroes have turned villians as soon as they asked for their rights, Bengalis still consider those as their heroes who fought for the unity of India.

    “plus everyone must bow towards the Little Modi Temple,6 times a day. And memorize the names of 50 gods.”

    Now that is more of a reflection of your intellect than facts.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Ajay, it is still a country where monarchy is held in high respect and is one of the very few countries where the Monarchs have set themselves aside to make way for democracy.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Let me guess something.

    You do not have any respect for the Bhutanese either, the reason Maximus is subservient for you is because he belongs to a particular sect of the community you yourself most probably belong to.

    “On the other hand Hinduscan easily pass for blacks.”

    Why not Indians, why only Hindus? Now who is a hater?

    You do not have the courage to reveal your name and want to pass yourself as a Bhutanese to make your point but your hatred of people whom you consider as others fails you miserably.

    Give it a better try but with a different name.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Who are you debating with, take it easy man.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    yeah. It is quite amazing that almost everyone can find a friend in the USARecommend