Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Racist SAE Fraternity Chant Is Said To Be An Old Chant That Is Sung By Other SAE Chapters & By Other Fraternities

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents selected comments from the discussion thread of a March 11, 2015 Yahoo article from "Good Morning America" ABC News. That article is about the racist song that was sung on a party bus March 8, 2015 by members of the historically White fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

That song -which is usually referred to as a chant- was secretly taped on March 8, 2015 and then given to a Oklahoma University Black student organization who posted it on social media. Another video of the same incident which was filmed from another angle has also surfaced on social media.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, and sociological purposes.

The subjects of race, racism, songs, chants, and Greek letter fraternities are of interest to me, and I believe, also of interest to some other pancocojams readers.

I'm reposting these selected comments on this blog because I believe that online comments can be of historical and folkloric value and comments on Yahoo discussion threads can be difficult to retrieve.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Click for a video of this racist song/chant.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon shuts down U. of Oklahoma chapter after racist video
CNN News, Published on Mar 9, 2015

(CNN-)A fraternity fraught with scandal quickly shut down a chapter in Oklahoma when a video surfaced that showed members singing a racist chant with the n-word.
The chant is actually a repetitive song that is sung to the tune of "If You're Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands". The words sung are:
"There will never be an "n word" in SAE. [2x]
You can hang them from a tree
But they'll never sign with me.
There will never be an "n word" in SAE."

From "Sigma Alpha Epsilon Racist Chant Was 'Taught to Us,' Fraternity Member Says" By ABC NEWS

Two video tapes have surfaced on social media of members of SAE at OU singing racist song on the bus on the way to a party....

Former fraternity members have claimed the same language was used at other colleges, but the national headquarters denied being the source of the chant, which referred to lynchings and keeping African-Americans out of the fraternity...

In separate statements, the two men who have been expelled from the university have mentioned that the song was ‘taught to us,’” the fraternity said in a statement released late Tuesday. “However, as has been maintained in previous statements, the national fraternity does not teach such a racist, hateful chant, and this chant is not part of any education or training"....

This post quotes a very small number of comments from the discussion thread of the article whose link is given above. There were 424 comments in that discussion thread as of 6:00 pm EST March 11, 2015.

Most of these quoted comments refer to allegations that the racist chant that was sung by SAE fraternity members without their knowledge and later posted on social media is an old chant that is known to other chapters of that fraternity and to other fraternities. Other comments that were posted to that discussion thread are also quoted in this post.

All of these comments were published on March 11, 2015. The oldest comments are given first, except for responses. These reposted comments may not be in consecutive order.

These comments are numbered for referencing purposes only.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive listing of all comments in this article's discussion thread. Nor is it meant to be a comprehensive listing of all comments from that discussion that refer to this song/chant being sung in other SAE fraternity chapters or in other fraternities.

1. Hotlanta
"They were taught that chant. So sad."

2. Just a thought
" "it was taught to us" "

that's not an excuse""

3. Rick Ford
"Hmm all these people singing about hanging black people from trees are not racicst... hmm"

4. HAL 9000
"I founded an SAE chapter 30 years ago and that song NEVER came up. We have all races in our chapter which I am still very much involved with. In addition SAE waived their pledge program a year ago (I don't agree with as I think you should earn it) to let anyone in. Generalizations like this are what keep the media's ratings up."

5. David
"Doesn't matter if the song was taught to you. You have a brain and should decide between right and wrong and know your own moral convictions"

6. Marc M.
"Oh, so they didn't know it was offensive and wrong? Please."

7. GeorgeJackson
"Blame it on the alcohol. Boo hoo. "The song was ‘taught to us'". Boo hoo. Own up white people. Until you stop making excuses and take responsibility for the virulent racism and bigotry that permeates your entitled and privileged community, we will always have a race problem in America. "

8. Rocco 2
"The fraternity was founded in 1856 at the University of Alabama a red state does not say much about this fraternity. I would not be surprised if those racist words did not come from them perhaps because of all the federal government had to do for the university to admit black Americans to that school. "

9. Gigantor
"I lived in the dorms in graduate school in Chicago Illinois. I heard bigoted comments when the "guys" got together away from class. They called blacks "boogens" and other stuff. It was not about hate though. It was more about joking and acting stupid. Still biased and racially motivated so it made me feel like an outsider since I am a minority--hispanic. Racist comments should not be condoned no matter the intent. In order to really understand the minority view, you almost have to be in "the minority." The "majority" often don't see this.....they don't empathize."

10. DaveK
"My college is in a northern state, and that song's typical of my local SAE chapter before it was banished from campus and the chapter house bulldozed."

11. Go And Get Yourself A Shotgun
"Don't for one second think that this is an isolated incident. My father was a Delta Upsilon back in the early 60's. Being the racist old fart he is, it is not uncommon for him to start singing old frat songs that are racist. These songs were made up long ago in a different time. They are slowly dwindling away with history but this is a perfect example of how some are still alive. Back then they truly had meaning. I believe in today's world they are merely looked at as comical entertainment for privileged white kids. Now excuse me while I tune in to Tosh.O for some modern day racist comedy."

12. Jan S
"Speaking of would helpful if the race inciting analysts on tv would comment on the hip hop songs full of horrible lyrics about women, white people, white cops. That seems to go unchecked. "

13. Tommy
"Jan S - You're comparing a racist chant to artist making music. Granted, the lyrics may not promote positive race relations; but, a lot of it used in context with the story being told in the song. What happened on the bus was wrong, plain and simple. You sound like a kid saying, "Yeah, but, they do it, too". Grow up. Rap songs vs. racist chants.......big difference."

14. Commenter
"I heard it in Arkansas 40 years ago. It wasn't SAE, for what that matters. Bottom line is that this chant/song has been around longer than any of the kids involved, so obviously someone taught it to them.

I don't think that matters, though.

It's interesting that while kids have a normal tendency at that age to question authority and generally not do what they are told, and yet they went along with something that was wrong and distasteful forty years ago, because someone taught it to them. …"

15. Spirit of Steve
"BS I heard that chant on a California state campus 36 years ago after a rival fraternity warned me, they said check it out, they are Hiltlers Youth is that what you want? I checked it out, did not like it and rushed another larger National that was very diverse. This stuff is passed down from older members through their legacies and SAE knows it. Not only do they cover on that but cover on exactly how blacks are in that fraternity. The spokesperson says they dont know like that is difficult info to gather. ... its not 1981, in 2015 and you could have info readily available for press but NO you gotta lie about that too."...

16. kurt
"First of all, SAE is the largest national fraternity, so you did not join a "larger" fraternity. Second, I was an SAE in California 15 years ago. We had multiple black members of the fraternity, as well as asian members, latino members, gay members, etc. Not only have I never heard of this song, it would be really awkward singing it if we did with 4 or 5 black guys there. While they are all chapters in the same fraternity, most chapters have absolutely zero communication with each other. Most of the other local chapters we actually avoided each other because they didn't get along. after decades of existence, chapters develop individual identities, including rituals, etc. Also, is it really scandalous that SAE doesn't have racial statistics at the ready. They have 15,000 active members, and well over 100,000 living members. Never do they ask members' their race. It is not exactly easy to get info from 100,000 people, most of whom you have no current contact info for, or even who is still alive and who is dead."

17. Reply
Spirit of Steve
"I said "another large fraternity" not a larger Kurt ...and it was 34 years ago. I not only heard that chant but at that central coast calif school visited their house in rush and definitely saw their confederate flags proudly displayed on the walls ... dont call me a liar when you do not know the WHOLE ... okay?

Now for my rebut to your experience, some are racist not all, and this stuff is passed down through legacies and YOU KNOW IT"

18. jerry
If it was JUST the N-WORD, no one would care. It was the LYNCHING and WE WILL NEVER HAVE ONE that are the problems."

19. jag
"The song was, directly, taught but the predilection to use it may not have been, They may have been taught by family and school that such behavior is wrong but society taught them differently. From a very young age, they recognized that they had privilege not afforded to members of other races. Further they learned that it is, very often okay, even beneficial to them to not only use that privilege but to disparage groups that don't share it. I think of that as indirect teaching and, you know, experience is often the best teacher."

20. P
"This racist kid is lying, I've been a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon since 1997. We have a leadrship school conference every two years where brothers from chapters all over the country meet in Evanston Illinois. I was one of many blacks that attended leadership school in '98 and I met white, black hispanic and asian brothers from around the country. This song was not taught to them by anyone except for maybe other brothers from that chapter. We are a diverse brotherhood and have been for a long time now.
Editor: The comment about lying refers to the comment that one of the people who was expelled from the University for leading this song made that it was taught [in the chapter of that fraternity].

21. TaylorH
"Multiple SAE chapters use that song"

22. Kol
"UT is now coming out with reports that the SAE chapter there used this song. that would be quite a coincidence that they made up the exact same song."
UT = University of Texas

23. P
"I'm SAE for over 20 years and black and I've never heard this song"

24. Commenter
"P... the fact that you've never heard the song kinda underscores the fact that MOST people know that it is unacceptable. I suspect most whites under 40 probably never heard it, either. It's in poor taste, it's offensive, it defies Roget for enough words to explain why you and many never heard it.

But the fact is, it is a very old song, and they sang it.

And the remedy was swift and appropriate.

Now your grandkids will never hear it, either."

25. rab02d
"SAE, you're not fooling anyone saying this is an isolated incident at just this chapter. This just happens to be the chapter that got caught and blasted on social media."

"SAE alum 1967 - 1971 Arkansas; never heard that song and there certainly was more racism at that time in history. Who knows the Origin of this song. Bottom line it is not right. Those beliefs need be stripped from our thinking."

27. Johnny Laronson
" this frat was originally formed in 1856 in Alabama but this is the first time any racist statements have been made? Yea, I believe that."

28. Nina
" "Taught to us" My son was less than 3 years old when he could sing, "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands". How he learned it we don't know, he had yet to go to college.
did they have "racist 101"?"
The tune that that racist fraternity song uses is the same tune as the children’s song “If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands".

29. DooDahMan
"What happened on one campus may not reflect what happens in another chapter. Their national organizations responded swiftly in disbanding the offending chapter."

30. E
"I wonder what chants the The Divine Nine uses to keep white kids out?"
"Divine Nine" is an informal referent for nine historically Black fraternities and sororities. Read the comment given as #35 and the response given as #36.

31. ThatGuyOverThere
"So if it had been a black fraternity on the video would it still be an issue? "

32. Chris
"Yes, it would."

33. Rick56
"IF is an important part of your statement.
IF 3 or 4 thousand whites had been lynched, then yes, it would be as big a deal
IF white had been denied the right to vote for decades, yes, it would be as big a deal
IF whites had been enslaved for hundreds of years, yes, it would be as big a deal
IF someone comes up with a comparable tape, yes, it would be as big a deal
IF you find one, get back to us..."

34. Sara
"Typical defense mechanism - Displacement. Focus on the issue, not your what ifs."

35. Patsy Lee Oswald
"one thing that none of the stories about this has mentioned is that, at the university of oklahoma, five of the fraternities (out of 18), and four of the sororities (out of 15), are black-only.
there are nineteen black-only fraternities in the u.s., and eleven black-only sororities, while there's not a single white-only fraternity or sorority in america.

(the fraternities: alpha phi alpha, iota phi theta, kappa alpha psi, omega psi phi, phi beta sigma
the sororities: alpha kappa alpha, delta sigma theta, sigma gamma rho, zeta phi beta)

36. Commenter
"As stated, you do not know what you are talking about. First of all, the "black only fraternities and sororities" were started in the early 1900's when blacks were not allowed to join white fraternities. Therefore, the majority of the members are black for that reason, but there are members of different races in the organizations. I would think SAE was white only but that is not the case, but a majority of their members are white.

Your simple half-hour search demostrates you do not know what you are talking about."

37. Commenter
"We don't talk about anybody in our songs"
I think "We" here means "members of Black Greek Letter Organizations" (BGLO).
As a [long inactive] member of a BGLO-Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (1967), and a person interested in BGLO cultures, including our chants, I agree with what I think the commenter is saying. I've never come across any BGLO chants that mention White people or any other race or ethnicity-including Black race or skin color.

I have come across commenters to BGLO step videos in which non-members of that organization stepping mention that one of the step team is White or Asian or another race/ethnicity that isn't Black. However, those comments appear to be often written with a mild sense of humor to point out something that is unusual - for instance, these comments in a video's discussion thread of a Greek Roll Call:
kZay7, 2012
"is that an asian delta I see lol"

Phill Damon, 2012
in reply to kZay7
"shes Cambodian or I think that's the Korean one"
Furthermore, my sense is that the sorority or fraternity chapters that have non-Black members are proud of that fact.

I don't think that the commenter was referring to the BGLO tradition of fraternity chants that diss [insult] other BGLO fraternities and sorority chants that diss other BGLO sororities.
For what it's worth, I've not come across any BGLO chants that refer in any way to non-historically Black Greek organizations.

Note: That said, one area where some historically Black Greek letter fraternities show insensitivity in their chants is by name calling other fraternities groups "sissy". Ironically, the historically Black Greek letter fraternities that call others "sissy" are also called that by other fraternities. However, I've never come across any of those chants which included any promotion or support of discriminating against gay males for membership in the organization doing the chanting. Nor have I ever come across any chants in which the organization promoted or supported violence against those fraternities which were described as being "gay" or against gay people as individuals or as a population.

38. nglJeffrey
"The national organization is trying to duck this but that chant is well known throughout SAE, not just this one chapter."

39. Carol
"That's a lie. My son is a member of this fraternity at another university and he has black fraternity brothers. I'm sure they'd have a problem if this was a "well-known" chant throughout SAE."

40. Jimmy Doogan
"The racism is probably a product of geography vs. fraternity. I was an SAE in Colorado, we had black members and our songs were about womanizing, not racism."

41. J
"Ok. The national office didn't teach it. But they absolutely knew of it. And they have for years. Notice their statement didn't deny knowledge of the song, which is undoubtedly sung at EVERY chapter. And notice the national office didn't say they warned or educated chapters against such activity. This will come back on the national office. No doubt about it."

42. Commenter
"It's not uncommon for fraternities to have drinking songs that have been around for 50+ years. These songs can be unique to that chapter and have nothing to do with national. While times have changed, there songs haven't."

43. Commenter
"so nobody ever has to take responsibility right? cause it 's just a drinking song, right? and times have changed, right? were you even in this country this summer?"

44. Doom
"So you were "taught" a racist song. Does that mean you have to continue singing it and pass it along? Why not be a trailblazer and bring that group of spolied racists brats out of the dark and into the light? What a weak excuse. Of course the old, "it's not really my fault" #$%$ is everyone's defense anymore."

45. Sarah Goodwoman
"Not allowing membership because of the ethnicity of a person is racist. When someone says a negative generalization of an ethnic group it is racist. These things are racist for they are acting like another ethnic group is inferior to their own ethnic group."

46. bryan
"I am an SAE from Oregon State University. I was never exposed to any form of racism during my time there. We did every other thing known to man but never even talked about race. We considered the fraternity an honorable place with a great history. We are taught what it means to be a TRUE GENTLEMAN which does not include racism."

47. Dubious Dawg
"LOL - You should hear what Alpha Tau Omega and especially Sigma Nu and Phi Kappa Tau chant (sing) about Delta Gamma and The African American Student Union. LOL What SAE was chanting was both tame and lame."

48. C
"I am not an SAE, and my frat had some songs that today would get us in trouble, but I have heard that chant before from other SAE chapters. Not sure where it started, but it did not start at SAE OU."

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  1. Here's another comment from that same Yahoo discussion thread whose link is given above:

    Jonas , March 11, 2015
    "cell phone cameras, exposing the filth America has hidden for decades one video at a time."
    It should be emphasized that at least two people on that party bus filled with SAE fraternity members and their female guests secretely recorded the video of that racist song.

    My thanks to them for taking that action rather than joining in that song and doing nothing.

  2. Here's one more comment from that discussion thread:
    Jonas, March 11, 2015
    "i like how whenever this stuff gets exposed people try to dig up unrelated incidents to justify their bigotry. this line of thinking, segregation, discrimination, long existed before "the knockout game", "crack", "rap" and all the present day excuses used to justify a mentality and behavior that has carried on for over a century. its comical at this point. you'll have to try harder to excuse the traditional racism that is being continuously exposed day by day."
    From the rest of that quote, the "I like how" actually means "I don't like how".

    That comment may have been sparked by comments in that discussion thread and also by comments made by on television, particularly on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. Here's an excerpt from a followup article about the comments on that show that blamed rap music for that historically White fraternity's racist song which not only used the n word but also promoted discrimination against Black men and lynching Black men.

    'Morning Joe' Host Walks Back Segment Blaming Rap For Frat's Racist Chant
    ByTracy WalshPublishedMarch 11, 2015, 5:50 PM EDT

    "MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski engaged in damage control Wednesday afternoon after her fellow panelists on "Morning Joe" ignited an Internet firestorm by blaming rap music for a racist chant by white fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma.

    In an appearance on the MSNBC show "The Cycle," Brzezinski said the real villains of the story were the frat members who were caught on video chanting the racist slurs. She called the video "disgusting and disturbing." ...

    She added there was "an important conversation to have" about the use of racial slurs in hip-hop music, but stressed that she was not drawing a "moral equivalency.".

    Brzezinski, who is white, criticized the rapper Waka Flocka Flame, who is black, on "Morning Joe" earlier in the day for canceling a concert at the university when his own music was "garbage, full of N-words, full of F-bombs."

    The rapper "shouldn’t be disgusted" with the students, she said. "He should be disgusted with himself."

    The segment was quickly mocked on Twitter, inspiring the satirical hashtag #rap albums that caused slavery.

    Click for an article about that hashtag.

  3. nancyjones, the writer of a March 12, 2015 dailykos diary entitled "Frat Songs" wrote:
    "I heard ΣΑΕ brothers chant the racist chant that they're currently and justly being taken down for way back in 1980.[at Georgia Tech]

    cheminMD, a commenter to that diary wrote:
    …"The chant they they recited, and yes, it was recited, handed down from class to class, not some ad-libbed dittie from the edgy comedian in the group, indicates a pattern of discrimination."

  4. Update March 28, 2015
    According to a Talking Points Memo article whose discussion thread link is given below, members of OU learned that racist SAE chant four years ago when they attended a leadership cruise that was sponsored by the national fraternity.

    Here's a comment from that article's discussion thread in response to the question "How many members of SAE fraternity are Black?"

    "I saw the figure reported somewhere earlier today - nationally, 3% African American, 20% non-white overall. Which is higher than I expected.

    Interestingly, the founder of the OU chapter in its present incarnation (it had been shut down in the late 80's after a hazing death I think) is Indian-American. His take on this is worth reading every word.
    But here is a taste:
    I could say that the actions of a few are impacting the whole. But, let's not kid ourselves. Racism, elitism, hazing, these all seem to be more systemic than localized; and, the culture needs to change, it needs to be overhauled, comprehensibly, and not just swept under the rug....for the few years following 1995, the Oklahoma Kappa chapter of SAE, at the University of Oklahoma, was a solid house, that welcomed men of all races, ethnicities, etc....But, that house of the 90s no longer exists, and apparently has not existed for many years. That being said, I would rather see the whole thing gone than have to ever be associated with bigots!"
    While the number of People of Color who are members of that historically White fraternity is relevant to this discussion, what is more relevant is how members of that fraternity view and value their race and view and value the race/ethnicity of People who aren't White.

    I haven't found the statistics, but I'm sure that the number of White people in historically Black fraternities and sororities isn't high.

    However, as I mentioned in the above pancocojams post, in my personal experience as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc and in my (albeit informal) research of Black Greek letter organization chants, step shows, and strolls, I have yet to come across any BLGO chants or routines that are racist or demeaning of any ethnicity or any population other than gays (i.e. a fraternity referring to one or more rival fraternity/fraternities as being gay.)

    I strongly believe that BGLO should address that homophobia, which is reflective of the anti-gay feelings that are still found among a sizable number of heterosexual African Americans.