Frat boys made a racist video that went viral. Many think they're getting off too easily.

*trigger warning: this post alludes to sensitive, racist content.

A disturbing video starring University of Georgia fraternity members went viral last week, reopening an important discussion about racism and inclusivity.

“Pick my cotton, b****!” a seemingly intoxicated University of Georgia college coed jeers, while hitting one of his pals laying under the covers in a bed. The group laughs hysterically as the phrase is repeated more than once. “You aren’t using the right words," chides one of the boys, to which the ring leader excitedly responds “Pick my cotton, nig***!”


This blatantly racist, 30-second encounter was recorded by four members of the southern university’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and started going viral on social media on March 22. Sadly, it’s just the latest example of flagrant racism caught on camera involving members of a national fraternal organization.

Hours after the release of the video, both the fraternity’s national headquarters and UGA’s StudentGovernment Association responded appropriately to the situation.

They revealed that the Xi-Lambda chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon had been suspended effective immediately, and also confirmed an investigation was underway regarding the boys in the video.  

The fraternity’s national headquarters noted they were "disgusted, appalled and angered by the remarks shown in the video. TKE will not tolerate any actions such as these that would bedefined as racist, discriminatory and/or offensive." They specified that while the incident did not take place on the chapter’s premises, the four boys in the video were promptly expelled from the organization.

The University itself did respond to the student government, also confirming that it “condemns racism in the strongest terms.” They continued, “Racism has no place on our campus. We will continue our efforts to promote a welcoming and supportive learning environment for our students, faculty and staff.”

In order to take the first step in opening up the conversation about racism between students and administrators, the school announced on Monday morning they would be hosting a discussion about racism on campus dubbed “In Solidarity.”

But is that response enough? Some students don’t think so.

It’s possible the University needs some more time to formally investigate the incident before taking more severe action against the individuals depicted in the viral video, for legal purposes. But in general, are fraternity and university officials really doing enough in response to such heinous and despicable act of racism, considering that these types of instances seem to be a reoccurring theme in colleges and universities across the country?

“It is just unfathomable that stuff like this is going on at the school I go to, learn at and attend. We are extremely outraged and offended by the ignorance on a modern-day college campus,” Obinna Ibebunjo, a senior and member of the historically black fraternity Omega Psi Phi at UGA, told the NewYork Times.

“They were suspended from the fraternity but they were not reprimanded by the school, so it was a slap on the wrist. We think colleges are moving to a more liberal state and being more progressive, but just the fact that you would record it and post it is extremely ridiculous.”

The university’s NAACP chapter also formally responded to the “inappropriate and derogatory” video, blaming the educational institute. “This video only touches the surface of the long history of racism that has existed on this campus and within the state of Georgia. We hope that the university will take action,” they wrote in a statement released Saturday.

This is far from the first incidence of racism in the Greek system.

While it’s likely racism has been prevalent in the Greek system dating back to its origin, it has become more publicized in recent years. With the advent of media and the fact that almost everything gets caught on camera, it’s nearly impossible to sweep these instances under the rug these days.

In 2015, Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s University of Oklahoma chapter was shut down and two students were expelled when a shocking video of fist-pumping students chanting, "There will never be a ni**** at SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me," made the rounds.

Additionally, just last year 15 members of Syracuse University’s Theta Tau engineering fraternity were suspended and the fraternity was expelled after the release of a video in which they used racial and anti-Semitic slurs and mocked people with physical and intellectual disabilities. The students went on to appeal the suspension, however, the decision was upheld in January of this year.

So how can we prevent blatant racism in our youth? It’s starts with having perhaps uncomfortable, but necessary conversations about discrimination.

It’s clear that we aren’t doing enough as a society to educate our children that any racist, discriminatory and blatant hate acts are not okay. While it might seem that we have made great strides in regard to inclusivity, we still have a long way to go.

While taking an aggressive and unapologetically strict approach to disciplining any students who engage in such acts is a step in the right direction, they would no doubt happen less if kids learned they were wrong long before leaving home for college. Taking preventative measures — possibly by opening up the conversation about inclusivity when kids are younger and more impressionable — is crucial in order to keep situations like this from happening again and again.  

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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