Current Events Identity

SAE, Exclusivity, and the Reformed Black Experience

John Richards

Seven words have seared the American conscience over the past week. There will never be a Nigger SAE. An eleven-second viral video from white, Oklahoma University fraternity members making jocular references to lynching Blacks made us revisit a common theme early in 2015—race in America. As Jarvis Williams wrote earlier this week, the chant summoned troubling images from our country’s dark past. But it also suggests a troubling trend in our country’s imperceptive present.

SAE’s Exclusivity

Founded in the antebellum South, Sigma Alpha Episolon (SAE) is the largest fraternity in North America. Let that sink in. The national organization’s website touted it as being “…[f]ounded in a time of intense sectional feeling” and initially “confined its growth to the southern states.” It also cited the number of members who fought with Confederate forces as part of its founding values. (Editor’s Note: The organization has since removed this information from the history page on the site).

Though the national organization has reprimanded and closed the Oklahoma University chapter, this was no isolated incident. In 2013, the Washington University chapter was suspended when pledges recited racist lyrics to African Americans as part of their initiation process. In December 2014, the Clemson University chapter was suspended for holding a “Cripmas party” complete with gang signs and costumes designed to reflect the cruel, gang-infested reality minority kids in tough urban neighborhoods experience daily. Similar incidents occurred with chapters on the campuses of Baylor University, Oglethorpe University, and Valdosta State University. The growing number of SAE incidents implicitly confirms the lyrical truth from the video: There will never be a nigger SAE (Well there was one prospect, but he died of alcohol poisoning in a hazing incident on the campus of Cornell University). You don’t have to sing a song for it to reflect your organization’s DNA.

What About Black Organizations?

Rightfully so, Blacks were up in arms after viewing the video. Demands for the chapter’s suspension and a swift response from the university were met within days of the video’s release. I salute the Black community for this new kind of social advocacy, hitting the pavement in 140 characters or less. But incidents like this should also give rise to some introspection in the Black community.

In 1906, the first of the major nine Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO) was started on the campus of Cornell University. These organizations were created to provide and promote brotherhood and sisterhood for Blacks attending college. But there was something deeper at play in forming these organizations. These young Black men and women weren’t welcome in other established, White Greek Letter Societies. So they did what African Americans did. They created their own. Richard Allen did it when he left a segregated Methodist church he attended to establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The same can be said of several African American civic organizations, ranging from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to Jack and Jill of America.

Do these Black organizations sing the same tune as SAE, with slightly different lyrics? You might not find a viral video, but the numbers don’t lie. These organizations are for us, by us. They are exclusive, both in theory and praxis. Sure, this needs to be discussed alongside the idea of white privilege and the need for Black advocacy, but I wonder if there’s an internal hymn that croons similar disgusting tunes. There will never be a White Kappa Alpha Psi. There will never be a White Delta Sigma Theta.

Exclusivity and RAAN

But wait. I’m the managing editor of the Reformed African American Network—a network created in the spirit of those I just lambasted. RAAN is an organization created to give a voice to the voiceless, to pass the mic to those who lack a platform, and to offer community to Reformed Blacks. It appears to be a network “For Us, By Us”.

That is where the comparisons end. RAAN has a clear reconciliatory mission. RAAN wasn’t formed in spite of our Reformed brothers and sisters, but in a beautiful partnership with them wrapped in the gospel.  We recognized that Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) wasn’t enough. A narrative was missing—the Black narrative. The Young, Black, and Reformed (YBR) audience needed a platform.

There’s a cultural trend to attach exclusivity to our platform, but the RAAN platform is far from exclusive. Though content on RAAN serves the African American audience, we generously (and joyfully) feature other brothers and sisters in Christ in articles, podcasts, and other content. RAAN is less about a Greek Organization’s Letters and more about understanding letters of the New Testament written in Koine Greek —and maybe five English letters (TULIP). RAAN is less about spotlighting race in ways that exclude others and more about inviting everyone to the table for some good soul food and fellowship. This is the kind of inclusive dialogue missing with organizations founded on exclusivity. And it’s the kind of inclusive dialogue that makes me a proud member of the RAAN team. And I’m proud to say, There will ALWAYS be a White/Latino/Asian-American member of the Reformed African American Network. Maybe one day, by God’s grace, that reconciling message will go viral.

2 thoughts on “SAE, Exclusivity, and the Reformed Black Experience

  1. Joseph

    A child of God should have no part in fraternities, sororities or freemasonry. Check out a reformed view at

  2. Mark Mollenkof

    While content on RAAN may cater to a young reformed African American audience (and praise God that it does}, I as a 59 year old reformed white man, regularly read your articles and listen to the interviews and yes even some of the rap (keeps me young and hip!) with great interest. I commend you on a dynamic website, insightful gospel centered content and thought provoking interviews. I promote RAAN whenever I can and only wish more members of my race and denomination would take notice of the great work you are doing. Isn’t reconciliation what Jesus and the gospel are all about whether it be spiritual, racial, cultural or political?

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