Protests against racist policing practices in Ferguson, Missouri and all throughout this country have largely been peaceful. Yet the shooting of two Ferguson police officers last week—a shooting that has not been clearly associated with the protests—has been used to discredit an entire movement, to cast a whole wave of social justice activism as violent and sinister.
A few states away, in Oklahoma, a video showing a white American fraternity chapter singing with reportedly drunken glee about how excluding and enacting violence on black men has laid bare anew a core truth about race in America: being white means never having to say you’re sorry.
The actions of the University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers have resulted in the university cutting ties with the fraternity, but for the most part, the focus has been on the men in the video. Not on their fraternity brothers, or on other chapters of the fraternity, or on the gender- and race-exclusive institution of Greek life. For a largely black protest movement, the ripples of damage spread, touching the entire body of the movement. For the white men of SAE, the laws of physics are different, and the ripples don’t spread in the same way. The conservative gospel of “individual responsibility” is, in this case, a luxury that white people enjoy, but that black people are denied.