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Ryant Taylor

Shutting down those who protect racists

There's no such thing as "being too sensitive" when we call out a ignorant, privileged person.

“There will never be a ni--er in SAE. There will never be a ni--er in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni--er in SAE.”

Students from the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter chanted these words on a bus last week. Since the video was uploaded, exposing this blatant display of racism, university president David Boren released a statement through the university’s Facebook page condemning the way the fraternity members “misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way.” President Boren banished SAE from their campus and two students who helped lead the chant were later expelled from the university.

For some, the backlash against the students on the bus and the punishments administered by President Boren seem like overkill. An op-ed by Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today says “it was also a betrayal of the duty of fairness that he, as a university president, owes to every student enrolled in his university.” He goes on to say that those who react so harshly should see this as an opportunity to understand free speech in a way that they are not accustomed to.

The truth is that we live in a country that works hard to protect white people, and more specifically, those in the middle or upper class. When slavery was legal, the free speech of slaves whipped, beaten and raped, was not taken into consideration. The same can be said for protesters in favor of civil rights, an end to voting and housing discrimination, equal funding for schools, women’s suffrage and so much more. Even today, the rights and free speech of  #BLACKLIVESMATTER protesters are constantly violated, as evidenced in the report presented by the Michael Brown family to the United Nations last November.

Yet we don’t hear any mentions of these free speech violations from individuals with large platforms like Reynolds. We don’t hear him say that the SAE members on that bus, if gone unchecked in their ignorance, could go on to raise kids, make racist jokes at the dinner table and work high level jobs. They could likely continue to perpetuate racism because they are protected by their privilege, and maybe down the road have a grandson who throws a brick through a black family’s window because their ignorance was never questioned.

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Certain forms of free speech are valued more and protected more than others. Problems of racism, sexism and ignorance are not new to greek life. During Spring Break, I attended a meeting at the University of Washington’s Black Student Union. On Feb. 25, the group organized a student walkout of classes to demand university reforms and had racist profanities yelled at them by individuals on SAE property.

SAE is a fraternity that arguably began with racist ideals, seeing that many founding members have Confederate ties. Last week, Oklahoma State University’s student newspaper reported that the university’s SAE chapter had a Confederate flag hanging in their window. The flag mysteriously disappeared after photographic evidence surfaced on Twitter.

Beyond racial issues, white male privilege tends to trample upon other human rights, such as gender equity. Reynolds called the recent uprising against rape culture and sexual assault on college campuses a “rape hoax” in a December 2014 op-ed for USA Today and accused activists of inciting unfounded hysteria.

We need to stop making excuses for those with white skin, money, and/or institutional power, and start making the experiences of those marginalized be the guiding voice towards change.

When an apathetic, privileged person is called out on their ignorance, we must not be misguided by their claims that we’re “being too sensitive.” We must recognize the validity of our own emotions and experiences — we need to start kicking ass and taking names.

I, as a black person in America, am not afforded these privileges. Why should I sit by and stay silent when I know that highly publicized displays of racism are not isolated? As a minority, it is my duty to know that mindsets of those in the Oklahoma SAE video are the same mindsets of workers that follow people of color in stores or the police who simply see minorities as worthless vermin.

Ignorance is born quietly and sometimes naively, but when unchecked, it gains legitimacy and self-righteousness. So we cannot allow these events, comments or actions to go unchecked, because when they do, we allow the power that they have had in the past to be present and to move into the future. With this realization, we will end white privilege, one reality check at a time.

Ryant Taylor is a senior studying English, a coordinator for the Ohio University Student Union, LGBTQA commissioner for Student Senate, and an activist on campus. Email him at

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