After a historic weekend where one of the country’s perennial football powerhouses welcomed a nearby historically black university, African American alumni from both colleges are incensed by viral pictures showing white fraternity houses draped in signs that are insensitive at best and racist at worst, disparaging the nearby HBCU.
I believe it was the indomitable Benjamin Franklin or who said: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and white people being white.”
I’m paraphrasing a bit.
But the quote illustrates the fact that the indefatigable audacity of whiteness is as unavoidable as biological imperatives or legal mandates. Whiteness never naps, nor does it ever pass up an opportunity to show its supremacy.
So when thousands of black college students and graduates gathered on the campus of Auburn University to celebrate Black Alumni Weekend, of course whiteness showed up to crash the party. And, like it’s biological mandate requires, it did it in the crassest, rudest way possible.
On Saturday, the 7th-ranked Auburn Tigers welcomed the Alabama State Hornets for the first game between the two schools in their history. The game between the Historically Black College and one of the state’s largest predominately white institutions also served as the backdrop for Auburn University’s Black Alumni Weekend, an annual event started by a group of Auburn’s African American alumni, which include this writer.
Because the two schools are less than 60 miles apart, the idyllic Auburn campus was transformed into a temporary cookout as black college students and graduates from across the state of Alabama swarmed the ‘Loveliest Village on the Plains.’
After the festivities ended, former Auburn student Matthew Fields posted pictures of two separate fraternity houses with signs displaying disparaging comments about Alabama State University.
The first, taken in front of the Sigma Pi fraternity house, said: “ASU GRAD RATE 27%, CHANCE OF WINNING 0%,” while another display at the Phi Sigma Kappa house boasted: “G.E.D. > A.S.U. DEGREE”
Students and grads from both colleges expressed disappointment at the signs.
Dewayne Scott, a member of the Auburn Alumni Association’s Board of Directors and founder of the War Eagle Society, the university’s black alumni group, told The Root: “I feel the banners while even being used in the past are in poor taste and are beneath the character of a Auburn man or Auburn woman.”
In a statement, Auburn University said: “Auburn University is committed to upholding a nurturing community supportive of fundamental dignities and promoting integrity, responsibility and mutual respect. We take seriously all reports of potential student conduct policy violations and investigate them fully to uphold the values and standards of the Auburn family,” according to the Opelika-Auburn News.
Some black students have pushed back against the charges of racism, contending that signs disparaging opponents are a tradition among Auburn Universities white fraternities and not a sign of bigotry, as some have alleged. Some have argued that the graduation rate posted on one of the signs is accurate, while others point out that that HBCU alums often roast each other’s schools.
Although some might find the jabs hilarious, it must be noted that Alabama State University offers the opportunity of a college education to students who might not traditionally get one elsewhere. According to the New York Times, in 2015, students at Alabama State University had a median family income of $30,300 per year, the lowest of any 4-year college in Alabama. Twenty-nine percent of ASU students came from families that made less than $20,000 per year, second-lowest in the state
Meanwhile, Auburn students come from families that earned a median income of $143,000, the second-highest median income in Alabama. Nearly two-thirds of Auburn students (65 percent) came from, families who make more than $110,000 per year, according to the Times.
The difference between the two schools is that they serve two different constituencies. According to College Factual, Auburn’s student body is 6.6 percent Black and 80.8 percent white. Perhaps this is why the Auburn University, funded by a state whose population is 26.8 percent black and 69.2 percent white, needs to attract more African American students.
And perhaps this is why Auburn invited Alabama State to play in the first place. Considering the reported $515,000 payday Auburn is reported to have paid Alabama State, that could go a long way in helping students at Alabama State, whose entire athletic scholarship budget was $565,820 in 2013-2014, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. And a game against Alabama State University might help Auburn attract and retain a more diverse student body, which is the entire point of having a Black Alumni Weekend in the first place.
But that would be a lot to spray paint on a bedsheet and hang on a sign. It’s not as catchy as sitting in a multi-million dollar frat house and poking fun at the black kids.
But instead of disparaging the white, privileged cabal of boat-shoes-wearing frat boys, I’d like to offer an alternative slogan:
Sigma Pi and Phi Sigma Kappa: Graduation Rate: 99%
Chances of not being entitled, racist douchebags filled with whiteness: 0%
Or as Benjamin Franklin once said: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid ... Unless you’re white, in which case, both come naturally.”
I may have added a bit at the end.
Correction: 8/12/2018, 1:57 p.m. GMT: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the Phi Sigma Kappa banner to another fraternity that is actually not operating at the university.