The below essay was originally typed in the comments of an editorial called “Greeks Exclude By Class” by Laura Owsiany in the The Hoya. It has been edited for greater clarity. [Read more…] about A Rebuttal to the Anti-Greek Life Sentiment at Georgetown
In February, I was asked to be a judge for a youth step show at my alma mater, Georgetown University. As the founder of the GU Step Team (GUST) I was honored to come back and participate.
There were three teams: Dem Raider Boyz, the Lady Raiders, and the Lady Legacy Step Team. I enjoyed the show and photos are below:
But I did want to bring some things up for people to consider when coaching teams or sponsoring step shows.
Always teach the history before you teach the choreography. Stepping is an African American art form, first and foremost. In its present form, it comes from African American fraternities and sororities via many other cultural traditions. If any stepper does not know this, they should not perform.
There is a difference between boys’ teams and girls’ teams. They should compete in their own divisions, not against one another.
You can have too much of a good thing. Consider dividing your team into smaller squads. Yes, large squads are impressive, but smaller squads are more versatile.
Stop appropriating traditional steps from fraternities and sororities. Instead, go on YouTube and find videos of great choreography, period. Beyonce does it. So can you. Incorporate moves from different time periods into brand new percussive steps.
You don’t have to grit. And some teams are calling it the “stank face” which is even worse. Gritting comes from the black fraternal experience and I am not comfortable with youth emulating it. There’s a time and place to learn what gritting means and why it’s done. High school is not that time.
Finally, know that there is life after stepping. Stepping is a form of dance, and dance is an art, so that makes you an artist. Take those skills with you to college and consider joining a dance troupe. And obviously there are professional step teams and dance troupes to join after college, too. if you are good, keep going!
I am looking forward to my next youth show. Hopefully there will be many more teams that are ready to handle the stage.
Yesterday, Dr. Frances Becque posted a brief essay on her website about the Sigma Alpha Epsilon situation at Oklahoma. I had huge problems with it when I initially read it, but I decided to wait a while before I posted my response. I have immense respect for Dr. Becque’s research and promotion of fraternalism.
However, her essay is a prime example of what I spoke about yesterday on the issue of people of color being able to trust that white people won’t be racist in closed company, among other things. Yesterday, I spoke mainly about the aggressors. Today I will speak about bystanders.
What troubles me most about Dr. Becque’s post is not that she fails to use the word “racism” in the entirety of the post. (What I liked about the response of both SAE and the President of OU is that each was quite clear that the acts we saw on film were racist and bigoted.) No, it doesn’t surprise me at all–I am used to white people, well-meaning and otherwise, removing the “race card” from play even though it’s the only card that’s been dealt.
I suppose I could also be upset that she refuses to label those young men “men” and instead makes an intentional point to call them boys, as though to absolve them from the ownership of their words. (And let’s be clear that it’s not the words that hurt–it’s the environment that the young men perpetuate that hurts their chapter, their campus, and their community. Racism hurts black people, but racism also hurts white people.)
And sure, I could be upset at Dr. Becque’s appeal for calm, to remember that these “boys” are not “monsters.” (One could make a very strong argument that racists are monsters.)
What troubles me the most about her essay is that I’m not troubled at all. It’s just another symptom of white supremacy and patriarchy manifesting itself in the Greek community, perhaps where it spreads most efficiently.
To paraphrase Iyanla Vanzant, let’s call a thing a thing. White men who exist in white spaces that empower them to be racists are monsters. White women who empower those men in those spaces are bigger monsters, because they have the ability as parents to raise them right in the first place, but choose to coddle and protect them, to preserve the very patriarchy that continues to subjugate them.
I have no empathy for racists. It is not my job to fix racism. It is the job of white people to fix racism.
So fix it.
Stop empowering racists. Stop trying to appeal to a sense of calm when your “boys” are the ones in chaos. We will continue to march. We will continue to protest. And we will continue to call racism out where it happens and where it is coddled.
Black people can tell if a white person is the type who says nigger when he thinks no one is watching. We know and we warn others about you. –Me, on Facebook last night.
Over the weekend, a story emerged about a chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon which was suspended due to racist behavior which was caught on film. For what it’s worth, I was impressed with the swift response from SAE’s National President Brad Cohen, who said “They will be dealt with.”
And dealt with they were. Chapter closed, members evicted from the house, and expulsions are sure to follow. Mr. Cohen’s response doesn’t seem to be the standard response of corporate embarrassment and brand protection. It seems to be genuine disgust. I appreciate that and I wish more fraternal leaders could be trusted to have similar responses.
But the problem is that white people are racist and I can not trust a white person I don’t know to not be racist.
My lack of trust in white people (men in particular) is not unfounded. It is not unreasonable. It is based in the reality of a racist and patriarchal society that was not designed for black excellence. These young men on this bus already have all the privilege in the world. It wasn’t enough to just be white in a space affirming of whiteness. They had to affirm their superiority and their exclusionary beliefs.
Thankfully there was at least one subversive person on the bus who filmed and shared it.
I am glad that the #SAEhatesme movement has begun on social media, but I hope people understand that this is not solely about Sigma Alpha Epsilon. This is about any institution of all-white (on some campuses) or mainly white (on many campuses) people that gets to decide their own membership. When picking a pledge class, a chapter may not be chanting about never taking a nigger, but what’s going on inside them when they do vote? Are they challenging themselves about why they are voting no on a candidate? Are they really checking their privilege?
Further, are they asking themselves why people of color are not rushing their chapters in the first place?
Do they know that we don’t trust them to do right by us?
I am a Brother of Alpha Phi Omega, one of the most happy-go-lucky fraternal organizations on the planet, and even in our own existence, there have been chapters which have donned black face and had jungle-themed fundraisers. Although this was decades ago, it is definitely documented in our national newsletter.
No institution of white people is immune to racism. But ultimately, my mistrust of white people is not my problem because it is not steeped in racism. It is an evidence-based emotion, signed in the blood of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, with a bullet as the exclamation point. It is on film. It is in print. I don’t trust a white person to not call me nigger behind closed doors.
This is a white person’s problem, not mine. I’m good. I don’t have work to do. White people do. In the words of Olivia Pope:
Earn me. Earn my trust. Show me that you won’t lynch me. Show me that you will teach your boys not to shoot me. Show me that you want me in your fraternities and your country clubs.
Until then… just leave me alone.
My name is Rashid Darden and I am a novelist. I am also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Acting independently from my fraternity and the members who have chosen to boycott, I plan to exercise my own rights:
I will be watching the remaining episodes of Sorority Sisters this Friday night on VH1 from 9:30pm onward.
As I’ve already stated in an earlier essay, I believe that the backlash from the show stems primarily from the dangerous and alienating respectability politics of black folks. Since that essay, and since subsequent shows have aired, I have been witness to the devolution of values of the members of fraternities and sororities who are against the show.
I’ve seen women exclaim gleefully that they couldn’t wait for their sisters to be expelled from their organizations. The cast members of the show have spoken about the death threats they have received, but fraternity and sorority members only said “Well if that were true, the police would be involved.”
Spoken by people who have never been impacted by cyber bullying and harassment.
Perhaps even more insidious than the aggressive attacks against these women is the acts of the bystanders joining the protests. People joined the boycott because it was the popular thing to do. I had friends who supported the boycott who admittedly only did so because they don’t like shows which air “dirty laundry.”
I also suspect that there were those who were adamant about supporting the boycott because it positioned them to be quoted in national media as an expert in Greek life, to perhaps boost their sales or notoriety. Can’t knock the hustle, I guess.
Meanwhile, I have seen a great deal of non-Greeks support the show. They say to me that they are glad to see that real people are members of these organizations–not just the St. John suit-wearing, mink-flaunting, middle-aged socialites, but real women who have bills and kids and kids’ fathers–just like them.
Behind all of this backlash, some will be suspended. Yes, some will be expelled, but hopefully not without deep conversations about sweeping codes of conduct and broad codes of ethics. Conversations need to happen about why some members are given the harshest penalties while others skip off into the sunset, saved because of their high positions in their organizations. Saved because of the political heft of their chapters of initiation. Why can a man who steals from one chapter be expelled from an entire national fraternity, but a national leader who steals from his entire fraternity is not? Why justice for some, but not for all?
Let’s be clear: These women are not being punished for the show. They are being punished for the attention. Had this been a no-budget YouTube series, this would not have been an issue.
But these are conversations to be had within the organizations. Perhaps the lessons learned from Sorority Sisters will be the impetus that all organizations need to create policies which recognize and reaffirm that disclosure of one’s membership does not tarnish a century-old legacy. Indeed, tarnish doesn’t happen overnight.
Perhaps the legacies first began to tarnish when that first person decided that their organization should fund their travel rather than paying for it out of pocket.
Perhaps the legacies first began to tarnish when that first person voted “no” on a candidate because they were suspected to be “funny” or a “confirmed bachelor.”
Perhaps the legacies first began to tarnish when that first person turned their nose up at a young man or young woman who came to college at a nontraditional age.
Sorority Sisters has not made the public think less of Greek letter organizations. It has given us, the members of Greek letter organizations, an opportunity to check ourselves.
We are not perfect. And how we have handled Sorority Sisters reflects our imperfections. The reaction has saddened me, to be honest, especially in the midst of so much in the world we could be working on.
It’s funny to me how none of the conversations I’ve observed have mentioned how our organizations could get a handle on Sorority Sisters and use a second season of it as a vehicle for changing the culture of Greekdom itself. Kefla Hare’s (Alpha Phi Alpha) appearance on Road Rules Australia truly made me look at Alpha in a different light when I was in high school. Before him, I considered Alphas to be arrogant, out of touch, and pompous. Kefla’s appearance on MTV and his representation of a real Alpha made me reconsider. Put Kameelah, an AKA who appeared on Real World Boston in that category also.
This generation deserves to see itself in April, Cat, Adrene, Shanna, Priyanka, MeToya, Joy, Lydia, and Veronica, with all of their efforts to be good, to be better, and to be real. We are not our sisters’ keepers – we are our sisters. We are our brothers. Whether they look like we look or act like we act, we are still them and they are still us.
Thank you, Sorority Sisters, for showing us as we really are–on your side of the television and on ours.