In the news today is a headline about the closure of a chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity after a video was leaked showing its members singing a virulently racist song:
There will never be a ni**er at SAE
You can hang him from a tree
but he’ll never sign with me
There will never be a ni**er at SAE
As Inside Higher Ed reports, SAE is “touted as the only national fraternity founded in antebellum South,” and fittingly its chapters around the country have histories of racist and anti-semitic actions:
2014: Clemson ‘Cripmas’ party.
Not to mention their widespread history of sexual assault, despite their creed of ‘The True Gentleman‘:
Why are we reporting on this here? In connection to our previous post on white supremacy at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, it’s worth noting that Avery Brundage—around whose largely unprovenanced Asian art collection the Asian Art Museum was founded—was not only an SAE member, but a president of the Chicago SAE alumni chapter. In “Avery Brundage and Racism,” Maynard Brichford notes that SAE’s National Laws stated in 1931 that “any male member of the Aryan race” was eligible for membership, and excluded any person whose parent was “a full-blooded Jew.” Between 1921 and 1960, Brundage was the subject of no fewer than four SAE fraternity magazine articles.
All this to point out that white supremacist structural racism—and the racist cultural events it produces—does not come from out of nowhere nor does it happen by accident. It is of a historical and structural continuum, and deeply rooted in institutional memory, alive and well here in San Francisco.
His connections to anti-semitism can be traced back to his university days, where he presided over a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter which operated with an official policy (emphasis added):
“In 1931, the fraternity’s National Laws stated that ’any male member of the Aryan race’ was eligible for membership, and provided that no person who has a parent who was ’a full-blooded Jew’ was eligible.”
As president of the American Olympic Committee, Brundage’s fraternization with Hitler and his emergence as the “preeminent American apologist for Nazi Germany” around the Berlin Olympics in 1936 are well documented. Shortly after Jesse Owens foiled Hitler’s intended demonstration of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals, Brundage suspended Owens from the AAU, an act which thereafter “barred Owens from competing in any sanctioned sporting events in the U.S.”
Two years after Brundage played an instrumental role in preventing a US boycott of the Berlin games, his construction company was awarded the building contract for the German Embassy in the United States because of his “sympathy toward the Nazi cause.”
By 1953, a year into a twenty year reign as president of the International Olympic Committee, Brundage came to favor the elimination of women from Olympic competition.
While he had no objections to the Nazi salutes at Berlin in 1936, Brundage reacted furiously when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists at the Mexico City Olympics as they demanded, among other things, the ouster of Brundage as IOC president. Under Brundage, the IOC ordered the suspension of the athletes and spread rumors threatening to strip them of their medals.
Few were interested in examining why anyone would feel compelled to challenge an International Olympic Committee that coddled apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, didn’t hire black officials or would be led by an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite, Avery Brundage.—Dave Zirin, The Nation, June 2012