The fraternity-from-hell-gift-that-keeps-on-giving now is giving me flashbacks.
This is the now-former Sigma Alpha Epsilon housemother at the University of Oklahoma, caught on video saying That Word over and over again as she laughs, with loud rap music playing in the background. The Internet Outrage Machine tells me this is Beauton Gilbow, who hypocritically lamented the sad state of affairs on the Norman campus and said she knew nothink, NOTHINK about any racist goings-on at the SAE house.
The Internet Outrage Machine, as it is wont to do -- and let me emphasize there's plenty to be outraged about in this whole outrageous mess -- takes just one sliver of a story, the one most likely to cause good people to lose their s***, and runs with it. That's because the Internet Outrage Machine's collective mental age is no greater than the chronological age of the World Wide Web itself, and young people usually aren't good at perceiving nuance.
So, we're told this is Beauton Gilbow, bigot and evil frat-boy enabler.
I know better. This is Beauton Gilbow, a vision from my youth. Beauton Gilbow, someone who reminds me of my parents and any number of aunts, uncles, cousins and acquaintances as I grew up in the Deep South as Jim Crow faded away and whatever we have now started to take shape.
Gilbow, from the sound of her, probably grew up in Oklahoma or the South. And I know a little bit about the culture that formed her and imprinted on her heart and mind a whole host of attitudes, assumptions, unthinking Pavlovian reactions and expectations.
If her upbringing was anything like mine -- and at age 79, I assume her experience was mine on steroids -- she had been well-marinaded in a thoroughly toxic culture before she even reached the age of reason. I'm sure it's possible to completely undo that kind of psychological imprinting, but I'm not sure it's possible without violating many of the Geneva conventions.
AS I SAID, this whole thing is giving me flashbacks. I don't like them. I don't like reflecting on how many of my childhood memories, how many of the silly schoolyard songs we sang, how much of The Way Things Were was thoroughly, unthinkingly and hatefully racist.
Here's a blast from my Red Oaks Elementary past, what we thought was a hilarious takeoff on the Daniel Boone theme song from TV:
Daniel Boone was a man, he was a big man,Folks who grew up in the North -- or should I say grew up in the North and didn't hear the N-word 200 times a day amid a culture where racism and segregation, both de jure and de facto, was as pervasive as the air you breathed? -- generally get to remember their silly childhood songs and rhymes with a certain wistful fondness. If you're a Southerner seeking to rise above your upbringing, trying to do like Jesus said and love your neighbor as yourself, that luxury is forever denied you. You get to remember with a sense of regret and shame.
But when the bear was bigger, he ran like a n***** up a tree
Double that if you forget yourself and find a silver of wistful fondness trying to climb over the wall you've built around it over the decades.
Truly, if you're under 40 and not from where I'm from, you have no idea how pervasive -- how normal -- that word, the N-word, was. It's true enough that many white folks in the South were raised by parents who forbade them from using that word because it wasn't nice . . . because polite people didn't talk like that. I was not among that fortunate number.
And even for those who were, "n*****" was everywhere. In the air, in the culture, in the hearts of too many.
FOR FOLKS of a certain age and from a certain place, "rising above your upbringing" isn't something that happens. It's a life-and-death struggle forever. When you have a certain thing pounded into your consciousness from birth, deprogramming is a lifelong task. Some see the need to look hard into the mirror every day that God in heaven sends. Some drift along, thinking they're just fine -- or not thinking much about it at all.
And then one day at an Oklahoma frat house in 2013, somebody sticks a smartphone in your face and you try to be funny and hip for the young idiots you're supposed to be watching over.
(Insert mushroom cloud here.)
Suddenly -- maybe -- it dawns on you that you should have spent a lot more time looking hard in the mirror than trying to impress a bunch of college kids who, having been born sometime during the Clinton Administration, have no damned excuse that I can think of.
Today when I saw that video of Beauton Gilbow, septuagenarian, I saw my childhood and a bunch of people I knew and loved. And I wanted to cry.
I wish I saw more tears over this and less click-bait exploitation of this from the Internet Outrage Machine. Hateful, racist college kids don't come from nowhere.
It would be a lot more helpful, actually, if we took some of the energy required to be exploitatively outraged and put that toward figuring out why we're no further from Selma, 1965, that we seem to be a half century on.