Racism is alive in America

Published: March 13, 2015
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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.