What Can We Learn From the OU Frat Video?

With the worldwide outrage over the racist fraternity video from the University of Oklahoma starting to simmer down, perhaps it offers an opportunity to reflect, not just as possible friends or former classmates of those involved, but as a community.

Of course, the video — as ugly and disturbing as it was — led to the shuttering of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at OU and the expulsion of two students by university president David Boren. It also prompted a series of campus rallies and protests.

The parents of recent Highland Park High School graduate Levi Pettit, Brody and Susan, can be commended for their swift condemnation of their son’s on-camera role in the racist chant. Jesuit grad Parker Rice also issued a statement of apology, as did Jesuit president Mike Earsing. We haven’t heard anything from HPISD.

At any rate, the incident has served to reinforce certain stereotypes about the Park Cities on a national scale, and it raises some intriguing questions. Was the media coverage fair? Is there a larger point here about lingering racism in the Park Cities that’s worth discussing? And can local residents learn anything that could change us for the better going forward?

This morning, we received this open letter from a Park Cities resident of Indian descent to Pettit’s parents that’s both thoughtful and powerful. It might be addressed specifically to them, but we think it’s more valuable as a memo to the entire community. The letter is below, and we welcome your feedback.

 

An Open Letter to the Parents of Levi Pettit

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pettit:

Please take a moment to read my letter. It will hopefully give your family some idea of what I have had to live through and I hope it actually opens a door for someone else.

Do you know what it’s like being an ethnic minority living in the Park Cities? 
Do you know what it’s like being discriminated against by your own neighbors?
 Do you know what it’s like to be labeled as a criminal only because of your skin color?

Because I do.

“Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” That is the Highland Park High School motto. I am a graduate of Highland Park High School. I have lived here almost all my life — from kindergarten at Hyer, to middle school and HPMS, to finally graduating from HPHS with my brother in 2010. I am also a graduate of Austin College and came back to live in the Park Cities. These past several days have been very disheartening and disturbing. I was disappointed and saddened that my fellow graduate could say such hateful things. I want you to know what my family has been through, so maybe you could at some level understand the depth of the pain my family and I felt.

From the time we moved to the Park Cities in 1998, myself, my mother, my father, my brother, and three sisters have all experienced racism from our own neighbors, classmates, YMCA soccer teammates, store owners … the list goes on. In 1998, not even having been in our new home for more than a week, our neighbor came to the front door to greet their new neighbor (my family), but when my mother answered the door, she was not greeted with a warm welcome to the neighborhood — instead she was mistaken for the cleaning lady and our neighbor asked my mom if she could speak with the owner of the home (this happened three times). My parents’ philosophy is that there is integrity in all types of work, so after the second time this happened, my mother would answer the door as if she was the housekeeper.

My brother and I were the only kids on our block to not be invited to block parties and birthday parties. I was the only kid in my class, many times, who was not invited to birthday parties, not invited to movies, excluded on the playground at times, and discriminated against in the lunchroom. Do you know what it’s like to be the only first grader not invited to a pool party? Do you know what it’s like to stand in front of the window, glued to the glass, looking at a water slide that you’ve never seen in your life and being the only kid on the block not allowed to go? And what was my crime? What did I do that was so wrong? Because I was brown and because my family was brown?

I had someone tell my sister that she couldn’t be the line leader in third grade because “n—–s” cannot be the line leader. At my soccer games, when my brother and I were in elementary school, my parents were given the cold shoulder by many other parents and excluded from parental and community activities in the Park Cities. Another mother in the neighborhood told my parents, to their face, that they would never be members of the Dallas Country Club because of our skin color and religion.

Recently when I visited my best friend at the University of Texas at Austin, I was told that I couldn’t enter a frat party with him because I was a “haji,” which is a racist term referring to brown people insinuating I was a terrorist. But my friend is not racist, and he stood up for me and told them that I was going into the party no matter what the frat members at the door were saying.

However, through all of these trials, there were many that I encountered in the Park Cities who are kind, loving, generous, and most importantly “colorblind.” Some of my best friends in the world are white HP graduates. My home is Highland Park. It is where I grew up, it is where I consider my roots are, and it is where I want to raise my children because I am hopeful of the future. My three sisters are 6, 8, and 10 years younger than me, respectively, and are currently enrolled in the Highland Park school system.

I am grateful that now things have improved greatly. My parents are friends with the parents of their classmates, they have great relationships with many parents of my sister’s friends, parents of their volleyball and basketball teammates, and are now more active in the community because over the past 10 years our community has changed greatly for the better. But we must also be wary and cautious because prejudice is still present in our neighborhood even though it is less than what it was.

If we do not teach our children to see everyone as the same (no matter what color, race, gender, sexual orientation) then we will be doing a disservice to not only our children, but also the people of the Park Cities and the whole global community. My parents could have moved to a more ethnic neighborhood, but they did not. They chose to live here and they made me a better person for it. The video I saw was deeply disturbing to see because it is a reflection of my neighborhood, my community, my neighbors, and I know everyone is not like that. But the media and the national news paints only with broad strokes, so now we will all be labeled according to this.

I have already had people call some of my friends called racist in gas stations and restaurants for doing absolutely nothing but simply for wearing a HP Scots T-shirt. This is not what I want my community known for, because both you and I know that we have one of the best places to live and raise a family in North Texas. I love Highland Park, but I don’t love the prejudice that has been cultivated into many of the children growing up in the Park Cities, whether it is overt, subtle, blatant, or whatever the methods are. Your son got caught, that is the simple truth, and unfortunately, your son is a product of your raising him. But I have hope. I have hope for your family that it will see that it has a problem and will deal with it head-on and not hide.

Come meet me and my family and you will see how much we are alike. Come see that the same dreams and aspirations you have for your son, my parents have for me and my siblings. Don’t be afraid; we are just like any other American family!

I am writing this to share my experience as a brown, New York-born, Dallas-raised, third-generation Indian living in the Park Cities with the best parents a son could ask for and the most amazing siblings in the world. I am living the American Dream and I entered to learn and I will go forth to serve. I’m a human being, an Indian, a Hindu, a passionate Texas Rangers fan and MFFL — Mavericks Fan for Life. Thank you for your time and I can only hope to hear from you.

Respectfully,

Sathyadev Kikkeri

“We are a nation of communities … a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” — George H. W. Bush

 

 

23 thoughts on “What Can We Learn From the OU Frat Video?

  • March 12, 2015 at 12:19 pm
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    Same old same old, this happens anywhere in the country in neighborhoods with high concentration of incomes >200K.

    Not excusable by any means but HP/Dallas in general should not be singled out. Take a look at neighborhoods such as River Oaks in Houston, The Dominion in San Antonio, Westlake area in Austin.

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  • March 12, 2015 at 12:39 pm
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    This was an extremely thoughtful and well written letter. I hope people continue to reflect and perhaps make progress.

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  • March 12, 2015 at 1:30 pm
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    Kudos to the courage of Sathyadev for writing a poignant letter, and to Park Cities People for asking for openness amongst readers. May we have the same courage to examine and question our own convictions and privileges.

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  • March 12, 2015 at 2:21 pm
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    I have always wondered what the Town of Highland Park motto of ……”an American Community” meant. As an Italian American, and resident of Highland Park, I can honestly say the motto has bothered me because our town, in reality, is far from a reflection of the diversity of our country or Dallas County. My great great grandparents came here on a ship (and I thank God every day)….. and subsequently, my grandparents worked very hard, and became, through hard work, very respected caring loving people worldwide.

    Sathyadev’s letter is not only powerful, but very moving. We all need to learn to love each other, and some neighbors, (and I’m speaking specifically about my experiences in HP….and not to anyone in this open letter) need to grow up and stop the hate, the gossip, the rumors, and the snobbery. For those that I have been blessed to meet here in HP, I have appreciated their friendliness, and they have been nothing more than a powerful inspiration in my life, very humbled, and kind. Much appreciated.

    Best wishes.

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    • March 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm
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      Sam, out of curiosity, why do you refer to yourself as an Italian American rather than simply as an American? It would appear that you were born and raised in the US. Do you hold dual citizenship? If not, why the reference to Italy? I am of English descent, but I don’t call myself an English American. As a matter of fact, I never personally knew anyone who called themselves such a term. Having been born and raised in the US, I have complete loyalty to America, and I will only refer to myself to as American.

      As far as people being hateful, snobby, or tellers of rumors, that is their prerogative. It isn’t within your purview to preach to other adults re. how they “should” behave so long as they don’t break the law. Then, if they break the law, it is a matter for law enforcement.

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      • March 14, 2015 at 6:27 am
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        Tex, your post was far more preachy than Sam’s. Why do you feel the need to tell Sam he shouldn’t acknowledge his Italian heritage as part of his American identity? How is that possibly an offense to you — or for that matter, any of your business?

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        • March 15, 2015 at 9:36 pm
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          “Why do you feel the need to tell Sam he shouldn’t acknowledge his Italian heritage as part of his American identity?” – DanaRB

          I asked Sam a few questions. I did not tell him how he “should” act.

          “How is that possibly an offense to you — or for that matter, any of your business?” – DanaRB

          I did not express offense. I asked Sam why he identified himself the way he did. Whether (or not) that is any of my business is a matter for Sam and not for you.

          Ciao!

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          • March 18, 2015 at 3:23 am
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            Tex, will you ask the Feds why Black Americans are systematically referred to as African Americans? They’re not given a choice.

          • March 19, 2015 at 2:26 pm
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            No, I will not ask the Feds.

          • March 19, 2015 at 7:34 pm
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            Point taken. That ‘color’ doesn’t matter. Yet, Sams’ does? Is it cause he’s Euro? BTW, I’m rather like Sam. Sicilian. With dual citizenship. Was just wondering what your take is on the darker hue(s) who are.not given a choice. Not surprised you do not have one. So typical.

          • March 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm
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            I did not say one word in attempt to denigrate Sam’s character. I asked Sam questions. If Sam does have dual citizenship (as I asked), then that answered my question on that matter. If Sam were strictly an American citizen, I would question why he called himself Italian American rather than simply an American. As far as Sam advising other Park Cities adult residents re. how they “need” to behave, I do not believe that is his place (or yours or mine) to do so as long as they didn’t break the law.

            “Was just wondering what your take is on the darker hue(s) who are.not given a choice. Not surprised you do not have one. So typical.” – Guest

            You have absolutely no warrant whatsoever to lump me into any category of people and attempt to characterize me accordingly. I did not respond to your query because my views are irrelevant re. the questions I asked Sam. Since I directed my earlier questions to Sam (and not you), my views are none of your business.

            Have a nice day.

  • March 12, 2015 at 6:22 pm
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    Many thanks to Mr. Kikkeri for writing a very insightful and informative letter. Yes, this can happen anywhere in the country. That is exactly why it is important to reflect on the thoughts and experiences of the writer. This should not be happening at all in this country.

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  • March 13, 2015 at 2:09 pm
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    Well said, Sathyadev and thank you, PCP, for posting this letter. These past few years I have found myself more and more defending my residency in HP. Between the rape allegations, the freshman girl and her near death experience at the concert, the machete-wielding santa decapitator, the bomb threats, and last but not least the book banning, This community that deems itself so far above the others has made headlines far too many times. If each of these things would happen in south oak cliff would they have made headlines or is the demographic that populates the PC held to a different standard? Is Park Cities’ schadenfreude too good for the media and those outside of the community to pass up? Or is it that rape allegations, near over doses, threats of violence at school and distrust of school administration and curriculum experts are not news when it involves economically marginalized citizens such as a large population in south dallas? All acts of racism, violence, rights violations and hate should be equally reviled from every member of our society. A what point will we stop with rationalizing, blaming, excusing, allowing and accepting. More importantly, what will each of us do to promote a peaceful and equal society? WHAT WILL YOU DO?

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    • March 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm
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      Ernest – I think you are looking at this with one set of filters. Yes the PC has been placed in headline news with events that no community would be proud of, but there are headlines of good things – from sports, academics, community service to fund raising. If you look for evil you will find it just as much as if you look for good. PC will always be held to a higher standard and placed under a microscope with any negative news. The negative news just garnishes more attention than the positive for the PC.

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    • March 13, 2015 at 11:42 pm
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      I have a daughter that has autism and have experienced the same treatment of exclusion as was highlighted in this heart felt letter. It hard to tell a neurological typical, (what ever that is), son why he wasn’t invited to share in the bounce house down the block or the birthday party next door when the rest of the children in the neighborhood are all participating. It is also hard for my sweet care free acting daughter to learn to interact and interface with her peers when adults can not even have any understanding and compassion. Lack of understanding of others goes way further than just skin color.

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  • March 14, 2015 at 11:17 am
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    My name is Jannu Acharya, I am a 16 year old sophomore at Westfields HS in Virginia. My cousin is Sathyadev Kikkeri and I am proud to say that I’m part of his family. It hurts to read what my uncle, aunt and cousins went through, and it disgusts me to know that racism is still alive. HP is a great community filled with wonderful people (and food), along with a great schooling system. The OU video does not do HP any justice and I hope that no one will ever think down of HP, all because of the actions of some HPHS grads.

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  • March 14, 2015 at 11:27 am
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    In oct the KKK demonstrated in my home town of Rockwall. In Missouri there is social unrest, racism is with us clearly. Our social consciousness has been awoken again. We need to foster healing, equality.

    There is a song by James Taylor, dedicated to Martin Luther King.

    Let’s recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women, living on the earth. Ties of Hope and love. Sister and brotherhood. That we are bound together in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong. We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead. We are bound AND WE ARE BOUND.

    Mr Kikkeri, I thought at one point that we had made good strides against racism. WE HAVE NOT. I stand with you sir.

    Humbly we recognize we have a problem.

    The more I think about it. The harder we must all be in pursueing pureness of heart in an honest attempt to understand each other. Ultimately we all come from different perspectives. We realy have to want to break those barriers down.

    I for one am no longer on the sidelines.

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    • March 15, 2015 at 9:38 pm
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      L’America viene prima.

      Translation: America comes first.

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  • March 16, 2015 at 1:04 pm
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    Thank you for sharing that thoughtful letter Sathyadev. Obviously as parents, friends, and a community we need to do better

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  • September 18, 2015 at 12:30 pm
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    To: Sathyadev Kikkeri,

    Since reading your open letter, you have been on my mind from time to time. I hope and pray that you never allow “a few” hurt your spirit, and simply understand that some folks do what they do because it makes them feel powerful. All said and done, you are probably so much better off without the neighbors who did not include you.

    I’m sure it will make you grow as an individual, and probably make you wildly successful in your future ventures. Turn your experiences into a positive energy that propels you to exceed.

    As you can find in this blog, a certain blogger has issues with me calling myself an “Italian American.” In a funny sense, it’s stupid (like his blog name) because we all have a genealogy/ethnic background from various countries. And now we understand why some hide behind alias blog names. I’m a third generation Italian. My grandparents spoke no English, and grew up picking cotton on their parents farm in Bryan, Texas. My grandfather became, through hard work, an international businessman second to none. A cotton picker who ended up dining with members of the Saudi Royal family, and friends with John F. Kennedy, to name a few. I have relatives that have fought for this country in past wars, some still missing in action in the Pacific.

    In my opinion, it’s simply a funny snobbery that has taken root…..just laugh and move on. I’m amazed at times because I’ve run in a few elections in HP, and only to find that my opponents supported group(s) ended up violating election laws and fined, and on a different occasion, running a PAC’s telephone line directly into HP town hall so that town employees could answer their phone. And some times I think how low some will go.

    Besides blogging here, I pretty much mind my own business on my street. And would you know too, that I’ve been yelled at by someone I never knew and about something I had no earthly idea about. Not long ago, another neighbor belittled me because I would not allow her unsupervised (and I’m assuming and hoping) grandchild come onto my property and pet my dog that was behind a secure iron fence.

    I just happened to look outside and caught a glimpse of this child’s arm trying to reach through my iron fence for my dog. It was scary to me, so I opened my door to find this neighbor several yards from the child on the sidewalk. I can remember saying, “please ma’am get you child” out of frightful concern, but to only be berated in front of my home, and repeatedly called “pathetic.”

    It was unbelievable that this happened, yet to be degraded because I was scared for the safety of this young child. Further, I have had rumors and lies spread by another neighbor that boiled down to pure hate, and someone whom I honestly can say that I don’t know. She even called the HP DPS and told them that “I had my sprinklers on ALL the time.” Wow!

    My point is….. you just have to ignore them because you will be given double for your trouble. If you ever need a friend Mr. Kikkeri, you are always welcome to call me.

    Moreover, as a person who cares about this community, I am sorry, and truly sorry, that you had to experience what you did. Good luck to you man.

    Sam Tamborello

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  • September 30, 2015 at 2:00 pm
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    I want to thank the real doozy classy lady neighbor who lives down the street from me for loudly and publicly letting me know Monday (and in front of my home) that……. “I was not a lifetime Park Cities resident like she was, and that I was from Houston.” I guess since I am an out of towner that I don’t count. Better look around you. Times are changing.

    She also told me that….”I did not have a job”…..and “that I was going to shoot dogs.” Mrs. “Nosy” neighbor, please shut your mouth because if you are part of the HP Crime Watch organization and HP Community League, then you express a sorry example for our town.

    You should take a good hard look in the mirror, especially your azz.

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  • October 2, 2015 at 10:29 am
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    To: Mrs. J.B. in the 4600 block of Southern Avenue. Tell us folks who are “not a lifetime Park Cities resident” like you…. and as you told me. What makes you so much better? So what if I am from Houston like you said to me hatefully.

    I guess since you have a problem with out of towners, then apparently you have a problem with the thousands of folks relocating here from the West coast. Don’t like them either……hey? You willingly came down to my home, to blast me publicly, so here we are on the PCP in open transparency.

    Who else do you have problems with. Well lets see. You said I didn’t have a job. I am a businessman and investor, so I’m not sure what your crazy statement was and or is about or motive. Tell us folks? What business is it of yours if I have “job” or what I even do with my time. Chuckle. Typical, defamatory “don’t have anything else to do with your time” garbage.

    What do you do for a living? Since you have a problem with Houston folks like me and out of towers, maybe you should not take their money? Fess up. What do you do for a living? I see you driving a white SUV with a sign on it?

    And the craziest thing I’ve heard from you this past Monday, September 28, 2015, was something about… “I was going to shoot dogs?” You need to talk with someone professionally about your public rumoring and lies. Seriously, the only folks you probably need to worry about your dogs are with the HP DPS carting them off to a shelter that told me they were a kill shelter several years ago. I’ve tried to change this for years, ma’am, so don’t publicly state your lies that “I shoot dogs.” Maybe you should go out and put your “I support the HP Community League” candidate sign in your front lawn like in the past.

    Get some help.

    Reply

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