I also live in the deep south, and I used to think the same thing. It turned out it wasn't the circles I ran in, or my town being cool, or any of that. It was that I was pretty blind to it. I didn't personally experience it, because why would I, and so I didn't take any notice of it.
Racism is utterly pervasive here. It's part of every conversation about politics or social causes. It's hiding under every zoning board decision, behind the doors of every institution, built in to the fabric of our society.
In every town and city I've ever lived in, there's been white parts of town and black parts of town, and the overwhelming feeling among white folks is that the black parts of town are not safe to even travel through. This is in total disregard of any actual crime statistics that may support or detract from this claim. In fact, when I've looked at the numbers for one of the cities I lived in, looking at the crime rates for things I've heard people specifically state they worry will happen to them in black neighborhoods (mugging, rape, assault, gun violence), I found that the occurrence of these crimes was actually higher in their own neighborhoods. Some of the black neighborhoods had a higher crime rate overall, but these numbers were heavily weighted in favor of domestic disturbances and drug-related offences. This was not true of all neighborhoods, or city-wide, but it was true of some of the neighborhoods I specifically looked at because of things I'd heard people who lived there say. I had access to a lot of this information and help interpreting it while I was a clerk for a lawyer who represented the Department of Family and Children Services.
Speaking of which, another thing that was true in every county our office represented - there were a fair number of complaints and investigations of abuse in both white and black families, but overwhelmingly it was the black families that faced protective orders and other judicial interventions, while the white families largely had their cases handled without court orders, using counseling and classes and other 'soft' means, while more black families faced the heavy-handed orders of the judge. This led to a disproportionate number of those children being taken into state custody, because it was harder for their families to comply with the financial requirements of their court order. I was on the legal side, so I mostly saw the cases of black families, but every time I went to the DFCS office it was full of white families who were getting their case plans dealt with outside of court.
Even as a musician, hanging out with lots of other musicians and artsy people, racism is there. It would not be possible for me to be who I am and do what I do if I were not white. It just wouldn't. I would not have had the same opportunities, been able to meet the same people and enjoy the same general expectations that I know what I'm doing. I teach at a music store, and there's a black guy that works and teaches there, and he knows a lot more about the electronics and inner workings of the guitars and gear than I do. But when we're both sitting in the shop, both looking at the customer, 90% of the time the customer addresses their question to me. And when I direct them to him for an answer and he gives one, amazingly, they usually look right back to me afterwards to validate his answer.
It's not just the overt stuff, like casually using the N-word or obviously discriminating. It's the cultural stuff, the lack of understanding or desire to understand, the casual disregard for facts in favor of learned notions, the unconscious difference in expectations.
I've seen a lot of the overt stuff, too, mind you. I played in a bunch of country bands with old white guys (and sadly a lot of young white guys) who were prone to the N-word and lots of racially charged talk about welfare queens and 'reverse racism' and other nonsense. I even heard the old 'slavery was good for them, it civilized them' chestnut trotted out a few times, with total seriousness. Even in regard to people whose abilities they respect and who they have a good relationship with: one of these bands had a fellow who played bass with us for a while, and he and the bandleader had great respect for each other and worked together outside of music as well, but the bandleader in private would without any hint of irony talk about how much it helped the band sound that "we have a n****r bass player, because they really have a different rhythm than us and it gives the band some jiggle at the bottom."
Yeah, racism is alive and well in the deep south, I'm sad to report. I would not have been surprised had the fraternity incident happened at either of the universities that I attended. Something similar easily still could.
I'm totally in agreement with Selena about the solution, though - being around people all your life makes them easier to understand. And really, just making an effort to understand makes a big difference. Most of the racism I've seen in my life seems to be a result of just not listening, not paying attention to the other person's culture enough to get past the perspective of one's own culture. Every culture has an ingrained image of what the surrounding cultures are like, and it's that perspective that prevents a lot of people from actually meeting other people on their level.