Four days ago, I was just a guy. A husband, a father, and a son. Four days ago, I was Anonymous. I liked Anonymous. Now, I’m “The LAST BLACK SAE.”
I hate that name.
By now you know, a fraternity I was involved with was caught on camera chanting a horrifically insensitive chant. My outrage birthed a letter. An essay describing my grief and disappointment in something I lost. Not a house, not letters, but a culture I felt somehow purposely placed to help create. But that is not the story I’m getting to tell.
“Mr. James, now let me get this straight, you were the last Black SAE, right?”
“What was your initial reaction to those videos?”
I get it. That’s exciting television. I was “interesting” because a letter I wrote showed that I had a “unique perspective in this tragic situation.”
Here’s the thing though, we don’t agree on what the tragic situation was. Those words in that chant were deplorable. That is fairly obvious and has now been beaten to death. What’s tragic is there was a time at 730 College where a group of guys that nobody else wanted made the conscious decision to be something more, and that legacy has been erased.
See, by the time I got there, we knew we had something. We were from small towns. Large cities. Some people had money. Some people didn’t. Yes, there were only two African-American men there at the time, but there were men of Middle Eastern decent, Latino Americans, Greeks (the real kind), some guys from Altus, a Venezuelan (fact-checked), etc. And, yes, a whole lot of “white guys.”
No, we did not walk in those doors all at the same level of progression. Not about race. Not about probably much of anything.
But we chose to educate each other when our ignorance came out. We would check each other, like gentlemen should, when one steps across a line. You know, that whole speaking with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy thing. Whatever any of us went through, and we went through a lot—we went through it together. We thought maybe this Fraternity thing can be real, and even though we may be different in various physical ways, we can see each other as one.
We bought in—and it worked! We did something amazing because eventually we stopped looking at each other and seeing labels. A tiny glimpse of The Dream as I believe it was intended.
Then the Nightmare.
Now, the new label: LAST BLACK SAE.
I hate that name. It started to squeeze the life out of me. You see, by nature, I am an extremely private individual. I’m an introvert. I have never liked the spotlight or attention. Yet, there I was. There was a weight to it.
But then something happened.
Someone helped me realize that out of this response to my very personal disappointment, I’d been given a voice. For some reason, even though it is something I try to avoid, I have been placed in a spotlight.
I have your attention.
So here is my intention:
Let this start real conversations about race relations in America. Don’t settle for the same conversations we’ve been having.
In these politically correct times, we have been arguing about which labels to use to describe each other. We argue about who can use which labels and when. But that has gotten us nowhere.
So let’s attack the labels. When we keep focus on the label we never see the people behind them.
To have a real conversation, we need a real education.
So this is what I am doing with my moment:
This special moment in time I’ve been given when a tragic situation led this father, husband, and son in front of your television screens, iPhone screens, tablets—I am giving it to someone else.
My brother-in-law sent me a link to a video on Race and Understanding Labels given by Chaplain Michael Polite from Andrews University. Once I saw it, I knew: This is what I have to do.
Here is our education. Here is the start of a real conversation.
Please watch this video. Give it 15 minutes. Look at our labels, even the ones we hold so dear, with new eyes.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.”—T.S. Eliot