Hang out on the Internet long enough and you are going to run into all kinds of stories, memes and videos about the Illuminati, a secret society of powerful men who run the world. Don’t make the mistake of typing “Illuminati” on YouTube. You’ll be deluged with results and fall into a virtual rabbit hole. Radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is notorious for promoting stories about secret organizations that want to enslave ordinary, working folks with a one-world government. Jones, who never met a conspiracy he didn’t like, believes, among other things, the Sandy Hook School massacre was staged by the government as an excuse to crack down on gun owners. He also believes the government is putting chemicals in orange juice that turn children gay. One of Jones critics said there are plenty of real problems to worry about, things like climate change, rising sea levels, mass incarceration, the never-ending war on terror, etc., without obsessing over imaginary problems like the Illuminati. Many of these real problems are also out in the open. I thought about this when I was reading news stories about the video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) members at the University of Oklahoma chanting a racist song. I went to school alongside fraternity boys at Oklahoma State University (OSU), so I wasn’t surprised they held racist views. SAE predates the Civil War and prides itself on being founded in the antebellum South. Its members have a long history of making racial comments and have been known to proudly fly the Confederate flag. However, what surprised me was the power of the fraternity. I have always been slightly baffled at why young men clamored to join these elite organizations. I’ve heard stories of fraternity hazing rituals, which sounded like sexual assault. A 2013 Bloomberg story described a SAE pledge who endured hazing rituals which sounded like the punishment handed out to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He was made to stand in a trash can full of ice water while reciting the fraternity creed. At the same time SAE members were hosing him down with water, shouting insults at him and playing ear-splitting rock music. Pledges were also made to wear diapers and women’s clothes. So why endure this torture? Apparently because of the power of the SAE network, who are well represented in the fields of finance and government. Bloomberg said LinkedIn lists more than 3,000 SAE members who work in the financial sector. Salon.com writer Katie McDonough reported 85 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are fraternity men. SAE also counts OSU alumni billionaire T. Boone Pickens, one of the wealthiest men in the country, as a member. Other prominent SAE members include President William McKinley and writer William Faulkner. Tapping into this network has its benefits. According to Bloomberg, SAE member Jeff Librot applied for a job at a Montreal bank, and a banker sent him an email bearing SAE’s secret motto. And here is where the problem becomes glaring. America likes to bill itself as a meritocracy, a place where anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, become a millionaire and rise to the top through hard work. I wonder if anyone still believes that, especially when the power of Greek organizations is revealed? It’s pretty evident the best person doesn’t always get hired for the job. How are working class or middle-class children, minorities and women supposed to make it to the top when they are shut out of powerful networks like the kinds forged in the Greek system? Less than 3 percent of SAE membership is non-white and I wonder what they had to endure to stick it out. Women are automatically shut out of jobs and funding opportunities because they are excluded from the good, old boys club. And is it any wonder why Wall Street pulled some of the financial stunts it did when it’s run by frat boys, who encourage and tolerate racist behavior? According to the New York Times, Wells Fargo targeted black people with high-interest subprime mortgages which they nicknamed “mud people” or “ghetto” loans. Unfortunately organizations, like SAE, have been around for more than 100 years and they don’t look as if they are going away. When authorities try to crack down on Greek organizations, they use their power and influence to make the charges quietly go away. The families of students killed in hazing rituals get hefty settlement checks. Female students who are raped at frats run into a brick wall when they try to get colleges to press charges. Some rape victims have said the backlash from reporting the rape was actually worse than the rape itself. Appearing on Bill Maher’s “Real TIme,” Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, co-founders of End Rape on Campus, said on campus, the acronym SAE stood for Sexual Assault Expected. Salon also pointed out universities are reluctant to punish fraternities because they don’t want to upset wealthy donors. Salon said “In 2013, 60 percent of donations that topped $100 million came from fraternity members." So to all you conspiracy theorists, don’t worry about the all-powerful Illuminati, worry about the powerful all-male, mainly white organizations in plain sight. They are real and have an inordinate amount of power.
Clavell Jackson is the CEO of URoast, a company that produces personalized online roasts. For more information email email@example.com or go to www.facebook.com/uroast.