Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Their Jingle

It is important in this era of global terror to reflect for a moment on American terrorism.  The young White fraternity boys of Sigma Alpha Epsilon have helped us remember the lineage of terror that has reigned in America since its origins. While we are making a collective fuss about the racist rant of these young White college students, we should not overlook the history that they were so fondly remembering…. hanging Black men and women from trees in America.

Their fraternity was founded at the University of Alabama in 1859, six years before the end of slavery and 97 years before the University of Alabama reluctantly admitted the first Black student, Autherine Lucy in 1956. What the White boys of SAE were singing was that…

There will never be a nigger in SAE.
You can hang em from a tree
But they’ll never sign with me,
There will never be a nigger in SAE.

Greek letter organizations are steeped in traditions. It is likely that song is not new to SAE.  That said, in this era of American finger pointing at the world about its terrorist and inhuman proclivities we should pause and reflect. We should pause and reflect on one of the cornerstones of our American past that the SAE boys have canonized in song.

These images, that the SAE boys were singing about, are from the 1930’s and 40’s (see Without Sanctuary).  That is in our living memory.  Some of the people in those pictures may well still be alive. They stood around watched and took pictures of themselves while Black men and women were hung from their necks and bound and burned alive. That is institutional and national memory of terrorism and brutality. 

I do not really care what happens to the White boys from SAE.  What they have done is shed some light on the barbarism from which they have come and which continues to plague our nation in so many ways.  One of our prophets born of that torturous time, James Baldwin, left us a counter to the SAE jingle…

In the private chambers of the soul, the guilty party is identified, and the accusing finger, there, is not legend, but consequence, not fantasy, but the truth.  People pay for what they do, and still more for what they allow themselves to become.  And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.

That is true of SAE, just as it is true of America.


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