Last night, I watched VH1’s Sorority Sisters. It’s a new reality show following a group of women in Atlanta who are all members of various black sororities. This summer, a teaser was released and the good respectable black folks of the internet were whipped into a frenzy. Boycotts ensued and the teaser was removed from Vimeo.
Then, in a surprise move, VH1 announced just last week that Sorority Sisters would indeed be making it to prime time, with the popular Love & Hip-Hop New York as the lead-in. The good respectable black folks of the internet were shocked–indeed, horrified–to see that their petition had failed despite all their best efforts. I like reality television so I knew right from the beginning that I would be watching. VH1 in particular invests in their unscripted programming in ways some of the other networks do not, so hopefully the production values would suggest a strong investment.
The show itself entertained me. What sets it apart is that I didn’t have to be a housewife, doctor or doctor’s partner, music mogul, or even wealthy to truly connect with the cast. They were all college educated people who were involved in Greek life. That’s me, too.
I think what makes the show work for me is also why it has frightened so many of the Greeks out there: it is familiar. It is personal. It is revealing.
The paper/made debate was brought up as a tangent to the issue of perps. Is she really a soror? Is she lying? Why is she evasive? Is she real? This is the black Greek culture. This is not surprising at all–it’s just now in the public sphere.
The struggle to accept white members of BGLOs was on full display. So was the teasing of the lone Lady Sigma. This is not new.
I can tell you as a guest blogger for Divine Nine Lover, the aspirants who are in college now already know this culture. We put it on full display right in front of them. I know because they ask us all the time “Why should we be discreet when we know everybody’s business already?”
I get it. I feel them. That horse is already out of the barn.
And I know my “nieces” and “nephews” will be watching this show and will have more questions, and I’m here for it. I think perhaps we underestimate this younger generation. They code-switch well. They know, generally, what’s appropriate and what’s not, just like with any other reality show.
But what’s bothered me has been the response from my fellow Greeks, even before the first episode dropped. You had some people outlining how to conduct a boycott of the show’s advertisers.
How the hell you gonna boycott a show you haven’t seen yet when some of your organizations won’t even let you wear letters to protests?
Listen: I am in favor of any structure which sheds light on the truth. It is my opinion that Sorority Sisters shows the truth of membership in a Greek letter organization. It won’t always be pretty and prissy.
Some sorority members have terrible attitudes. So do some fraternity members. We are not all Martin Luther King–nor do some of us want to be.
Some sorority members are burlesque performers. And you know what? Some fraternity members are very successful porn stars. I am here for it.
Some brothers and sisters are white–and maybe, just maybe when we see Shanna’s story unfold, the members of our orgs who have problems with white members can get over it, and the ones who treat white members like a special accomplishment can get over that, too.
My life as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha has not always been great, and I tell my truth as often as I am able. When I published my first novel Lazarus in 2005, the reactions from my brothers were mixed. Only three people in my alumni chapter supported me with a purchase. I was surrounded by brothers at Howard University and told the founders would be rolling over in their graves because of me. Another brother blocked my website from the university’s servers. And even at the Centennial convention, a brother spent twenty minutes telling me how he couldn’t support a novel about gay people. (But at minute 21, he sho-nuff bought one.)
I say these things not because I am bitter, but because I, too, have been boycotted. I was Alpha’s inconvenient truth: an openly gay member who was always openly gay who wrote books with gay themes. Brothers were not feeling that, me, my books, nothing. No, not all brothers. Many outside my chapter and outside my area were very supportive and still are. I made some of the best friends of my life in the frat at that time, because real people attract real people.
But to just say from the very beginning that you won’t support a show about sorority women just for the possibility that it might portray the sororities in a negative light is hypocritical and reeks of respectability politics.
Oh no, can’t show this on TV!
It will embarrass us!
It will make us all look bad!
Sorority Sisters doesn’t make sororities look bad. It is a reflection (and possibly amplification) of just….life.
Obnoxious. Sensitive. Naive. Sisterly. Loving. Evil. Greedy. Compassionate. Wise. Salt of the earth. Head in the clouds.
That’s what I saw.
I see the same things when I watch Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta. Yes, home of Joseline Hernandez and Stevie J and Mimi and the Shower Rod.
You don’t see the sensitivity of Joseline under her coarse exterior? You don’t feel a kinship with who she is and what she’s been through? When you see the “Puerto Rican Princess,” don’t you see your own sister?
Maybe that’s the problem. We’re so busy “othering” the reality stars who didn’t go to college, who didn’t pledge, who are just common and ratchet and therefore beneath us, that we miss their own humanity and our kinship with them as human beings.
No show of this kind will be everything you want it to be. There will be drama. There will be larger-than-life personalities. But please don’t characterize this show as the worst thing to happen to Greekdom. Fraternities and sororities have far worse problems with which to concern themselves.