Color Matters: What the OU SAE’s Taught Me About Racism
Crimson and cream. Two colors I’ve been proud of ever since I signed my acceptance letter to The University of Oklahoma.
Until this week. This week on OU’s campus, a bus full of white students shouted a hateful chant and the nation woke up to the fact that racism is not safely in our history books.
This week we may be celebrating the 50th anniversary of March to Selma, but racism is clearly not extinct. It’s been writhing behind closed doors, lurking in private conversations, and just waiting for the perfect combination of alcohol and Snap Chat to let it loose.
This week it reared its ugly head at an SAE date party and was crushed swiftly by the strong leadership at OU. But honestly, it could have surfaced elsewhere. The handful of chanting boys does not represent an entire school or fraternity, but it certainly is not an isolated case of racism.
I’m appalled, embarrassed, and saddened by the off-color song chanted so gleefully by my fellow Greek brothers. But more than anything, I’m grateful.
Because when darkness is brought to light – truth and love win.
“For it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 3:12-13
I didn’t want to write about racism this week. It is ugly and hateful and not something I really like to think about. And, frankly, it’s a reality I rarely have to face.
At Coppell High School, 90% of my graduating class was white. My sorority at OU had one half-black member during my four years as an active. And today I attend a church, work in an office, and live in a neighborhood where white is the predominant color.
My experience with real, hateful prejudice is, quite honestly, limited to movies like Remember the Titans. I’ve never been on the wrong end of an off-color joke and have rarely felt like the outsider demographically.
Those silly fraternity boys in the video and many of you reading this blog are in the exact same ivory-colored boat.
There are important lessons to learn from this embarrassing situation. But if all we learn is to be careful about what we say, we’ve completely missed the point. This is not a message about taming the tongue.
It’s not about what we say. It’s about how we see.
I believe the lesson we must learn from OU/SAE is this: Color matters and too many of us are colorblind.
Here’s what I mean…
In my professional life I’m a marketer and my company is currently in the process of refreshing our brand. A few weeks ago we sat down as a team to determine the exact colors of our new logo. I figured it would take 5 minutes. How difficult can it really be to choose a color, right? Red and grey. Done!
Well, it’s been a month and we still haven’t made a decision.
Apparently, there are more than 50 shades of grey. The latest Pantone Color Guide showcases over 2,058 solid colors and my team has analyzed every, single variation of red and grey in that book.
Why? Color matters. The colors we choose will represent who we are as a company for years. They evoke certain emotions and change slightly depending on the medium they appear. Too dark and the logo renders funny on a computer screen, too light and it’s hard to print, and too much metallic adds extra expense.
Until recently, I hadn’t thought much about color. But this week I definitely cannot ignore it.
Each color in that Pantone book, every shade, is unique and beautiful in it’s own way. And the differences are important—they add beauty, style, variation, and light to our lives and the world.
The sad thing is too many of us—regardless of race—have learned to see only a limited shade of colors. Too many of us see black and white or only one shade of purple.
Being colorblind is not something to be proud of.
It’s a known fact that the human mind is programmed to categorize. Our brain is constantly working to create shortcuts in order to better understand the world around us, so we group like-things together and build assumptions around them. It’s completely natural but can be dangerous and hurtful when it comes to human beings.
When it comes to people we build shortcuts too. As an instant gratification society, we want answers immediately. So, when we see flamboyant, we think gay. When we see bad drivers we think Asian. We see a beautiful wife married to an older man and think gold-digger. We see glasses and book and think nerd. We see a lower-income, Spanish speaker and think illegal alien.
Don’t believe me? Every single one of those stereotypes was ripped straight from Modern Family. 21 Emmy Awards means those “categories” are striking a cord, people.
The problem is, when we think this way, the world around us begins to look two-dimensional. Our perspective becomes lazy, flat, and colorless. And that’s just a short jump away from critical, narrow, and hateful.
The Beautiful Truth
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
But the beautiful truth is—we serve a God of love, not a god of labels. In God’s economy, “all are one in Christ Jesus.”
The world God created it not black or white, Caucasian or Africa-American. It’s not gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, immigrant or citizen, Democrat or Republican.
We are all divinely, uniquely created with a purpose and equally worthy of love and respect. And all who seek Christ for salvation are one in Him.
In the book of Revelation, John describes the physical appearance of God and his illustration blows my mind.
Revelation 4:3 says, “The One who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.”
I cannot comprehend what God actually looks like, but I’m sure of this: He is tremendously colorful.
If humans were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27)—then we have the freedom to be colorful. In the body of Christ there are thousands of shades of black, yellow, red, white, and even purple. We have got to be willing to embrace our uniqueness, the vibrancy of one another’s individuality.
We have got to stop limiting God’s rainbow to the few colors we’ve learned how to see.
So how do change our white washed perspective?
Seek, first, to understand.
Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” If you don’t understand someone don’t label them. Ask questions. Get to know what makes them unique. Always assume the best.
We have to get out of our little bubble. We must fill our eyes with truth and the reality of a very colorful world.
Consider this: Several colors must be mixed together to create black ink.
Share the rainbow
One of the things that upset me most about the situation with OU’s SAE chapter is that NO ONE STOOD UP BEFORE. What they did was aweful, but this is partially just a sad story of two naïve eighteen-year-olds trying desperately to fit in. With alcohol in their veins they repeated a chant that had undoubtedly been ranted before at “private” chapter meetings and behind closed doors.
We cannot allow racism to continue to poison our conversations. Off-color jokes and derogatory terms or labels must stop with our generation.
Let us be people who are brave enough to stand up boldly against bigotry. And instead, let’s celebrate the beautiful uniqueness of our brothers and sisters.
Let’s be people who see in Technicolor and teach others to do the same.
Because color matters.