Earlier last month, the University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was disbanded after a video of some of its members chanting, “There will never be a exploded on the web. This past week, a former member of the fraternity involved in the video apologized for his actions, citing that he did not fully understand the damage his words could cause. His explanation, though feeble at best, highlights a major issue within our generation.
Millennials have lived under an umbrella of post-civil rights activism, where racism is something of the history books, not something of the present. Our whole lives, most of us have been taught about equality and tolerance leading us to be, what is supposedly, the most progressive generation yet.
However, on any given day you can hear racist jokes being shared among friends and the n-word being dropped by middle class white girls who are in love with Lil Wayne and A$AP (but it’s OK because it’s part of a song — oh, and as long as you take care not to drop that hard “R”). People call each other “Oreos” or “coconuts” because black and white are no longer just colors or races, they’re personality types too. And we justify it because to many of us, racism is not that big of an issue anymore therefore we make jokes, almost as proof that we have moved so far beyond it.
This kind of lifestyle is what permits people like those who were part of the fraternity to chant obviously bigoted statements then come out and say, “I think I knew they were wrong, but I never knew why or how they were wrong.” This fake world that we live in, where everything is “equal” and discrimination is not a concern until a black kid gets shot by a white cop, is what consents us to turn a blind eye on a problem that is still very alive within the nation. In the same way you cannot treat an illness you don’t know you have, we cannot treat this cancer of prejudice if we refuse to acknowledge it.
In our cocoon of tolerance, we forget about the constant inequalities that still permeate our lives today through forms of institutionalized racism, the things that don’t always make the news because they are ingrained into the fiber our society. Like the fact that the median white household is worth $91,405 as opposed to the median black household of $6,446 or that even though there are five times as many whites using drugs as African Americans, the latter are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of the former.
To be fair however, when things like Ferguson, Eric Garner or the SAE chant do happen, we get angered and upset even if we are lazy to respond. Our version of combatting it is to send out a tweet or two and an Instagram post either shaming those involved in the incident or with a hashtag of solidarity (sometimes both if we’re feeling really passionate). We then pat ourselves on the back for our role in advancing social justice and then return to our comfortable, “equal” lives.
We are a reactive generation. Not until something big happens do we take action or say anything about inequality. This needs to change and we need become more proactive and intentional about racial justice. We cannot be lazy activists. Sure steps have been made toward fairer lives, but if we remain complacent, as many of us are prone to do, the progression will only just plateau, and we will not eradicate racism rather just live in our own, comfortable versions of it.