Race Together is a new initiative and partnership between Starbucks and USA Today. They are hoping to get their customers talking about race. Race Together hopes to tackle racism through conversation and there is much to talk about with the recent death of an African American Mississippi man, Otis James Byrd, the alleged assault of a African American UVA student, Martese Johnson and the death of yet another unarmed bi- cultural teenager, Tony Robinson, in Madison, Wisconsin.
All of these cases are open and under investigation. Mr. Byrd was found hanging from a tree and while it is suspected to be a lynching, the cause of death has yet to be determined. Mr. Johnson is facing charges of public intoxication and obstruction of justice while he is accusing state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents of police brutality. The family of Mr. Robinson is calling for peaceful protests.
Whether with Starbucks and USA Today, in school auditoriums, places of worship or around the kitchen table, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about race together. Don’t allow it to keep us from speaking to each other when there is so much that is being left unsaid.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma released a song (although anonymously) that the university’s president, David Boren, called “disgraceful” in a speech this afternoon. Apparently headed to a party, the young men decided to prepare themselves for a good time by chanting these words: “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.” They pledged racism.
During my evening commute home, Lonnie Hunter, a Christian radio host at Praise 104.1, said that the display of unity and progress demonstrated during the 50th anniversary celebration of the march to Selma had somehow taken a few steps back, reminding him that things had not changed at all. Really? Who are you walking with? Are you journeying with these young men who have made it clear that they are not on the road to reconciliation?”
And what does it say of us when incidents like these overshadow the fact that the president did not join in with them. He did not sing along but is singing a different tune that includes the dissolving of the school’s relationship with the fraternity not just the chapter, the members of the fraternity being given until Tuesday to move out of the house, the call for the expulsion of the members of the chapter and the consideration of what legal action can be taken against the students. The president did not hesitate in standing in solidarity with the students saying, “I have a message for those who have misused their freedom of speech in this way. My message to them is: You’re disgraceful. You have violated every principle that this university stands for.”
His response doesn’t sound like he’s joining their racist harmony. No fist pumps of support there. So, what are we hearing and are we even listening to the change? If it is the same old song, then we might want to question what we have tuned into.