They are, thankfully.
But our state’s past haunts us, shadowy memories easily unearthed, whenever reminders of our worst actions are dredged up for the world to see.
It’s happened last week when the student newspaper at the University of Alabama, The Crimson White, ripped the scab off the gaping wound that is racism within the school’s sororities. It was, as one media critic has said, “damn fine reporting.”
It’s 2013, America has a black president and a black attorney general and, in no particular order, it has had black secretaries of state, black four-star generals, a black national security adviser, two black surgeon generals (both from Alabama, one from Anniston) and a black secretary of education. It’s insulting to even think about it in those terms.
People are people.
Yet, the University of Alabama’s sororities display an embarrassing example of modern-day Alabama, not just the past. Lilly-white sororities shun black students in an archaic attempt to keep their membership lists racially pure. The whole world knows that now. Thanks. The university’s quickly announced efforts to bring modernity to its hallowed Greek system are noteworthy, but the vital question remains unanswered: Why is this still going on more than four decades after the campus was integrated?
On Twitter, Alabama’s reputation — the state’s and the school’s — is getting trashed as if Wallace himself has returned to protect the sanctity of separate races. Don’t think this is just a minor issue over in Tuscaloosa.
“The University of Alabama still has segregated sororities? Shocked to discover Alabama has universities.” (@indecision)
“Alabama sororities not allowing black girls?? But you’ll cheer for your football team, who’s half black? Awful.” (@ChelsaMessinger)
“This situation is insane. Marchers protest segregation in Alabama univ. Greek houses.” (From @samantha_bryson)
“UGH: Today in post-racial America: University of Alabama sororities won’t let black women pledge.” (From @DiorVargas)
“Finally! Alabama ends segregated sororities after public shaming.” (@VikingKnitten)
“Alabama sororities blame racist alumnae when blacks rejected.” (@buildyourresume)
“Roll Tide. RT @Jezebel: University of Alabama sororities still won’t rush black women.” (@rakesofmallow)
That’s what people are saying this week about Alabama’s namesake university.
Few are talking about the response from President Judy Bonner (who’s ordered the sororities desegregated) or the Student Government Association president (who’s altered the student seating arrangement for Saturday’s football game to promote inclusion, not exclusion).
Instead, the topic is a lingering and virtually sanctioned policy of racism within the University of Alabama’s Greek system.
Roll Tide, indeed.
Playing the blame game is knee-jerk easy, if not useless. It hardly matters if it’s the Greek alumni who demanded the white-only system or the sororities’ current leadership. Bonner acted swiftly, but don’t forget the long list of school presidents before her who didn’t stop this indefensible practice. It’s not as if no one noticed the last 50 years that Alabama’s prominent sororities were uniformly and undyingly white-only.
What does matter is how the world sees us — the state, its people, its universities — and what we do about it from here. Bit by bit, every part of Alabama gets dinged whenever nasty remnants of evil thoughts are uncovered. This week, we’ve all lost. Reputations have been damaged. Alabama is being linked, with strong evidence, without credible argument, to racism. Again. It hurts.
Count this as a quintessential example of why those who fight strongly against all forms of racism must keep up their fight. The bigots can’t win. The stakes are too high. But those bigots, thanks to cowardice and the Internet, still hold a pulpit that reaches far too many. Case in point: Sunday night, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in Atlantic City.
She was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and joins a long line of Miss Americas whose racial backgrounds have not been Anglo-Saxon white. Nevertheless, extremists have filled social media this week with sewage that condemned Davuluri, who is of Indian descent, of being an Arab, a terrorist, or worse.
We can’t let the Neanderthals prevail.
In Tuscaloosa, give muted credit to those who have begun to right this wrong. The change is long overdue. Because of our past, Alabamians must strive to be leaders of this unrelenting campaign to eradicate racism. We must, and can, be better than what people say about us.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.