Honesty is only solution to Chi Omega racial incident

Tony Cox

April showers bring May flowers, and it seems that T.S. Eliot’s “cruelest month” is bringing us a bit of racial tension as well.

There is, of course, the controversy surrounding members of the Duke University lacrosse team. The evidence so far is iffy, but the situation has received international attention for obvious reasons: Three white men, playing a preppy sport at one of the most elite schools in America, are accused of assaulting an underprivileged black stripper who happens to attend a historically black college. It’s as if “The Bonfire of the Vanities” has come to life.

And then there’s the race drama playing in our own back yard, as Chi Omega sorority has come under fire for offering a “Blackest Member” award to a white girl at the organization’s spring formal. The event was held in the Student Center Ballroom, and witnessed by Candice Poole, a black student catering the event. Needless to say, Poole was offended and notified university administrators about the incident. Consequently, Chi Omega has been placed on social suspension and may lose its charter, essentially closing down the chapter.

Did Candice Poole overreact? No, I don’t think so. If something similar happened to me, I might be inclined to simply shrug it off. Then again, I’m 100 years removed from the indignities that my ancestors suffered, whereas Poole might have parents who faced discrimination at the hands of Jim Crow. So her actions were justified.

However, we need to avoid blowing this incident out of proportion. No one with an ounce of common sense would say that presenting such an award, especially at an on-campus event and most especially in the company of a black student, was a bright idea. But if we attempt to oversimplify the problem and reduce the problem to a simple black and white – er, I mean, clear cut – issue of racism, we will miss its larger implications and we will fail to learn any lessons from it.

The “blackness” of the white sorority member in question was apparently an inside joke that existed among an interracial group of friends, and evidently it posed no difficulties to their friendship. That’s perfectly all right – in fact, I think for an interracial group to be able to joke about race is a step forward. We all poke fun at our friends for certain things – physical characteristics, mannerisms, dietary preferences – which interpreted in the appropriate light can, strangely enough, help build the bonds of companionship. Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “A true friend stabs you in the front.” Being able to poke fun of someone without them becoming angry is one of the surest signs of friendship. So why should race be any different?

Furthermore, this is yet another opportunity for the black community to take notice of its own image. Of course the members of Chi Omega were not justified in their actions. But all stereotypes are rooted in some measure of truth, and the stereotypes that inspired this incident will only persist until the whole of black America demands accountability from those who make such stereotypes possible.

There’s no doubt that this episode is a sad and strange one, but only an honest and forthright discussion will lead to a conclusion that will keep such things from happening in the future.

Tony Cox is a senior philosophy major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]