Harvard Sigma Chi Update #2: An Email from the National Chapter

November 4, 2010 — 6 Comments
(Random people at the Harvard Sigma Chi house…thanks google images)

After my post on the Conquistabros and Navajos party at Harvard, I fired off a few angry emails to the National Chapter of Sigma Chi, linking back to my blog. When the apology came out in the Crimson last week, I assumed that was it. Yesterday, however, I received a personal response to my angry email from an officer at the National level:

Dear Ms. K,

I am sorry you were offended by the chapters theme party. While the theme was felt to be insensitive, I can assure you the men of the Harvard Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity meant no harm by it. I too have a native lineage and I can assure you the chapter will be dealt with appropriately at the local level. It is my understanding that they have already issued an apology for their insensitivity, and I am sure they will think twice about the message their themes may relate in the future. 

Sincerely, 

(I took his name off because I don’t want to totally humiliate him)

So I’m not going to completely tear it apart, and I do realize he was trying to be nice–but there are a couple of things I’d like to point out that are classic responses to racist acts in society’s current framework of “colorblindness.”

First, the phrase “I’m sorry you were offended” instead of “I’m sorry they were offensive” (which, to be fair, Sigma Chi totally did use the second phrasing in their apology in the newspaper) implying that I’m being “overly sensitive,” rather than that there could have been an actual problem. This is then putting the weight of “proof” on the subject of the racist act, rather than the actor, which happens all the time in incidents of this kind.

Then, “I can assure you…they meant no harm by it”–intent, it’s effing magic.

and finally, the “I too have native lineage”–minimizing my identity and my response as a Native person. That’s actually the common response to anyone confronted wearing an “Indian” costume, “but I’m Indian too! My great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess!” It bothers me to no end, because there’s no easy response. I can’t just be like “no, you’re not.” I usually think of something along the lines of “you may have Native heritage, but I have close ties to my community, and I know my elders would be very upset by your [comment, costume, etc].” But the dismissing of my opinion because you’re “native too” doesn’t help anything.

If you want more info about “Colorblind Racism,” this is a great book we’ve been reading for my Critical Race Theory in Education course: Racism without racists: Colorblind Racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Definitely a great resource.

But am I glad he emailed me back? Absolutely. Am I surprised at the language in the email? Absolutely not. Anything else would have been far outside the societal norms we’ve set for dealing with issues involving race. One step at a time.

Earlier:
Harvard’s “Conquistabros and Navajos” Frat Party
Harvard Sigma Chi Update: They’ve Apologized

Adrienne K.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06746164758130418467 iroquo1s

    I agree & disagree with your assessment.

    I agree on all the portions of the message you highlighted but I would also add this phrase: “While the theme was felt to be insensitive…”. Not that it WAS insensitive, but a few people just FELT it was. It’s not a feeling Sigma Chi dimwit, the insensitivity is a reality.

    As for why I disagree, I think this insincere pseudo apology isn’t specific to race relations. Some of the wording is specific but not the tone or tricks used in the apology.

    People do not know how to properly apologize because they don’t know how to be responsible for their words or actions. Apologies for any purpose tend to be couched in this language of “I didn’t really do anything wrong but you think I did so I’m sorry” or the more frequent “I may have done or said something I should not have, but there are really good reasons why I did – primarily caused by you – but I’m going to say I’m sorry anyway.”

    A TRUE SINCERE apology is: “I’m sorry. I should not have done/said _______. I will try to ensure I do not do/say this again.” That’s it – nothing more. This form of apology however means the one apologizing admits they did something wrong & that they are completely responsible for it. Not very many people, governments, agencies, companies, etc… have the integrity to ever admit to making a mistake.

    Instead people apologize with language that either creates excuses for why they acted a certain way shifting any blame/responsibility from themselves or with language that indicates that there was no wrong done but since someone else is being a pain they’ll say they’re sorry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06633231503315269549 AJC

    What iroquo1s said.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12623215565673008494 B

    It bothers me to no end, because there’s no easy response.

    I hear you. That happens in every -ism, I think.

    “I’m a woman, and I’m not offended by that rape joke!”

    “I’m a lesbian, and I’m not offended by someone saying “That’s gay!” (meaning uncool or bad in some way)”

    “I’m black, and I’m not offended by people using “ghetto” as an adjective!”

    And so on.

    And so I think of this post at Shakesville, which lays out why these things aren’t simply a matter of opinion, and suggests that since you are someone who makes it her business to study racial issues, you are FAR more qualified to say what is racist than someone who does not study such issues.

  • http://8mph-ansible.livejournal.com/ 8mph-ansible

    Spot on takedown of the nonapology. Personally I call bullshit on supposed “native lineage” and remotely actual consquences befalling the chapter.

    If I’m wrong on the former then my money is riding on distant Cherokee or Sioux great xtimes grandmother. (And again I ask myself:Where are all the ‘Indian PRINCES’ at anyway?)

    -Ani8

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15795824092723414187 Aidan Dunn

    Great analysis of the “I too have native lineage” response — that has always bothered me, but I’ve never heard anyone articulate WHY it’s messed up, as well as you just did.
    Thanks!
    :-)
    Aidan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12015852046857277742 Reema B.

    Thank you for sharing. I especially liked the part where you explained what’s messed up about the rhetoric behind “I too have native lineage”, you’ve done so very eloquently. As an Arab and a Muslim in a post 9/11 context, I connect with a lot of what you post here in your blog.

    I was always curious about Native American tribes, cultures, traditions, and religions/spiritualities, especially as I think that as an International student in Boston I have that duty to learn. I’ve only recently begun to get a small idea and would love to learn more but these appropriations you speak of in your blog do not help curious people like me even though they may claim to be “honoring Natives”.