Dear Racists: We Don’t Owe You Our Forgiveness

Levi Pettit, surrounded by black leaders and clergy March 25, 2015, in an Oklahoma City church, apologized for his role in the racist sing-along by members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter that was captured on video and went viral shortly after being released. 
HLN screenshot

Last week Levi Pettit, one of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon balladeers who was busted singing a rousing number about anti-black terrorism, held a press conference during which he made a public relations statement disguised as an apology.

The sheer ridiculousness of the optics quickly made the spectacle go viral.

Oklahoma state Sen. Anastasia Pittman, chair of the Oklahoma Black Caucus, smiled and, at times, held Pettit’s arm, while Oklahoma City clergy and civic leaders stood protectively behind him as alert as the Fruit of Islam. You would have thought Pettit had sent up a black bat signal: the silhouettes of the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson illuminating the night sky.


The memes that followed were both hilarious and scathing. From Common and Charles Barkley to the Boondocks’ Uncle Ruckus and Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Django, black people on social media expressed their displeasure with Oklahoma’s black misleadership for coddling a racist who may only be sorry that he was caught doing what racists do.

One would think that incredulity, frustration, disappointment and, yes, anger would be perfectly acceptable responses to a black cavalry riding harder for Pettit than Karrueche Tran does for Chris Brown, but apparently not.

Political analyst and cultural critic Earl Hutchinson took “myopic” black “detractors” to task for “lambasting” Pettit. Instead, Hutchinson feels that we should be applauding the lad.

Pettit though doesn’t deserve condemnation, he deserves praise. He and his fraternity were booted from the university. His name and that of his family has been drug deep through the mud. He’ll remain for some time the poster boy for offensive and disgusting frat racial antics whenever some wayward fraternity inevitably engages in them. He could have stood on the prior statement of apology and regret that he issued after the tape went viral and set off a national howl. He could have easily melted into the student woodwork somewhere, completed his studies, and gone on about his business. But he didn’t. Instead, he went very public with his apology and pledge to action.

Despite the lambaste of him and the racial put downs and myopia of the detractors, this is an important step forward.

Pettit did the right thing when he spoke out and so did the black leaders who stood behind him, encouraged and ultimately embraced him. For that, I applaud and will continue to applaud Pettit.


Well, Hutchinson can applaud to his heart’s content. But this is exactly the same turn-the-other-cheek philosophy that has gotten us to 2015 with the rate of police killings of black Americans nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.

Jonathan Capehart also went on record as demanding that people accept Pettit’s apology with “open minds and open hearts,” a little over a week after his flimsy attempt to debunk the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s call to arms, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Unfortunately, if he’s willing to cherry-pick a Department of Justice report to delegitimize a revolution sparked in response to the state-sanctioned killing of unarmed black people, then opening his heart to a bigot with a bare-bones apology is probably par for the course.


Contrary to the narrative that’s being shoveled by some African Americans, Pettit has done nothing but go on a P.R. blitz for Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Of course he’s pushed out front—the better to distract from the organization behind him, my dear.

Please note that he refused to say where he learned the chant. He refused to incriminate the grand wizards who trained them. What we are seeing is the protection and coddling of systemic racism, and for our clergy, our cultural critics and our politicians to sign off on that is a slap in the face. Are we so hungry for scraps of humanity that we accept anything?


Why on earth should we applaud clergy who stand behind a white man who sings about hanging “n—gers” from trees? What part of black liberation theology is that? When forgiveness is drenched in our blood, how do we win? How do our children win?

We do not get gold stars or extra credit for forgiving those who hate us. Somebody lied. Our worth and our humanity shouldn’t be inexplicably tied to our capacity to forgive. And our response to prejudice and bigotry should not be a carefully modulated tone. There has to be room for black rage, black frustration and black discontent if we are ever going to move forward as a country. If white tears were going to work, this racism thing would have been fixed a long time ago.


There is no need to play save-a-white-boy, not when our babies are being gunned down in the streets. We don’t have to join the chorus telling him, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Pettit is going to be just fine.

Black America’s emotional energy is better served making sure that we are, too.

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