Monday, March 9, 2015

SAE Just Showed Us Why There's Not Enough Love For All of Us

Disclaimer: If you have not read this BLACK SAE's post, do that first. Seriously, his is more relevant, closer to the issue.  His takes priority over mine. In fact, here's a video too.

Disclaimer: I am a Christian. We are supposed to look at deeper issues than race. Me and Jesus are working on that. Until we get it worked out, this post will be written and read.  As Anne Lamott told us writers: "Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth."  Knowing me, there will be an equally expository and self-deprecating piece on a faith-based reaction later on.

Disclaimer: If you don't intend to read ALL of this, do me a favor and don't read any of it.  If you're Caucasian American, something near the top will piss you off.  Not "it might," it definitely will. So either commit to your decision to be pissed off, or don't even read beyond here.

Disclaimer: I will not name any organization beyond the one whose reputation we no longer have to protect because they are done for.  I am doing this for several reasons: 1) One of my best friends is Greek to her core and she gets very upset when I discuss this. 2) I, personally, did not have a single blatant racist experience at college. In fact, I knew some very interested and sensitive advisors.  I know that if I start naming orgs, then they pop up in Google right along side the most guilty party.  I'm not mad at them; I am just participating in the national discussion.  3) I'm a teacher and I hate playing into people's laziness.  If you want to know where I went to college, it's in the public domain, as is the name of the organization I was (am?) a member of. But I would argue that it doesn't matter.

Disclaimer: I represent absolutely no one. I am just a Latinegra telling her story.

Some terms you should know:
PWI/PWC/PWU - Predominantly White Institution/College/University; everything that wasn't founded by a person of color.
NPC - National Panhellenic Conference - the governing body of (predominantly white) female Greek social organizations
NPHC - National Pan-Hellenic Council - the governing body of both male and female Black Greek organizations
NIC - North-American Interfraternity Conference - the governing body of (predominantly white) male Greek social orgs; the larger version of IFC - Interfraternity Council
Rush/Recruitment - the process of choosing or being chosen for a Greek org
BSA/BSU - Black Student Association/Union - an organization on a campus that unifies African American students on that campus and usually stays connected to the BSA/BSUs of other nearby colleges/universities. These organizations were originally formed as shelters for Black students at PWIs (perhaps those who did not want to be sheltered in the NPHC Greek system). For obvious reasons, BSA/BSUs don't exist at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (while NPHC orgs were originated at HBCUs and thrive there).


Once upon a time, I was born into a college-educated, well-spoken, well-read, well-traveled family of not all Black people.  My uncle married a white lady back when it was a big deal.  Her family lives close to mine, so from the second I was born my cousins were all the colors of the race spectrum.  My white cousins and I used to love to confuse people by telling them we are cousins and then explaining how.

Once upon a time, I was smart and snobby - oh wait, that hasn't totally changed - and I had expensive tastes.  I wanted to go to a "good school" with other smart, driven people who understood how brilliant I was.  I also wanted to be close to my friends (primarily the mixed one I was in love with, and the 2 white girls I was friends with, and the black guy I could never get to date me); wanted to rise through the ranks of leadership and accolades just like we had in high school.

I picked a private PWI.  Because I was an idiot.  Most socially conscious people already know that the university's status as private is at least partially why it's a PWI. It's hella expensive.  I am getting a second job next week in order to work at paying it off.  Most expensive decision of my life.

At Any University America, you have pre-school activities for incoming freshman.  They throw you several parties, all of which say, "Thanks for your money! Here's all the fun stuff you can do with it!" But they leave out that "all the fun stuff" will cost more money.  At Any University America, NPC and IFC Rush (see the terms above) is one of the pre-school activities. So you sign up for classes and dorms and buy parking spaces and books, but before you ever set foot in class you decide if you want to be Greek. I find this ridiculous.

NOW, at Any Large Public University America, the NPHC (see terms) members are standing at booths and stomping the yard (yes, that is a real thing) during orientation week, telling poor, naive, misguided Black kids like me, "Hey girl, you don't wanna rush those organizations. They don't care about our community. Wait a year, keep your grades up, come to our mixer next month, and rush for us next semester/year."

But at my tiny, private university in America, there were not enough Black students interested in any one NPHC org to charter one, so there was no Black Greek presence on campus.  Not only that, but there was another Black girl in an NPC org there.  I saw her and said, "Yes! Someone who gets me!" Plus my friends from high school were all Greek - one white girl in the org I subsequently joined, the mixed guy and the black guy both in another org on campus.  I went to that university to be with my friends.  Why not go big or go home? I didn't have a Black community to save me. And I didn't think I needed saving.

After all, there's quite enough love for all of us. There's quite enough joy and quite enough laughter to chase away gloom, for my sisters, all my sisters are in this very room.

From the first second I walked across the threshold to the last alumnae event I went to in an attempt to continue being sisters with women who I had very little in common with, every woman I met in that house respected me as a human, as an intellectual, as a member of the same organization. They treated me like a sister to the best of their ability.  All problems (there were not many) were a result of simple, natural personal conflicts (they didn't love my best friend's personality either and she's white) that occur regardless of race and class. I do not hold a single one of the women who were members at the time I was a member at fault for anything anyone else has ever said or done. They were sweet. They almost made me believe that racism was past.  In that room, for three years, there was quite enough love for all of us.  I even met several girls from other chapters of this org and they were all lovely to me as well. 

Second semester freshman year, I started dating a senior from one of the state universities who was also a member of an NPHC org.  From the first moment I mentioned it, he never stopped lecturing me about how being a member of an NPC org made me some kind of race traitor.  I heard that from the next guy I dated too - a graduate of the same university, but in a different NPHC org.  I heard that from the most recent guy I dated - a graduate of a different large public university, but from the same NPHC org as the first.  The point is: the bewilderment was pervasive. Why in the world would I give them all my time and money and fancy dresses and photos?

I was so naive.
Why not? I asked.
We're all human. I said.
This is 2008. I said.
They like me. I said.
They think I'm smart. I said.
They put me in office. I said.

My junior year, the BSA at my school started becoming much more actively involved in campus happenings and I was drawn in.  I felt the tension immediately.  Ask my best friend - who was pretty high on the totem pole of our org; I started talking about "black stuff" a lot all of a sudden.  Junior spring, I went with BSA to the Big Twelve Conference on Black Student Government.

Talk about CHANGE MY LIFE!
Here's a statement to make all the Black people mad at me too: I was so pleasantly shocked to find out that there were large quantities of Black people who were just as smart, organized, and driven as me - they just all went to other (cheaper) schools!

I got knocked down several notches that week, that year.  If I'm not the smartest Black kid in the U.S. there must be another reason or set of reasons why I am the smartest (okay, okay, fourth-smartest) Black kid I know.  Maybe it's regional.  Maybe it's because they were all smart enough to choose cheaper schools.  Maybe it's because they were so smart they got full-rides to east and west coast schools instead of staying in the dirty south where most of the racists are hiding.

Maybe the answer is not simple.

Maybe I wasn't as smart then as I thought I was.

At Big Twelve, I started understanding for the first time how institutional racism works. How the white sorority girls at all schools act afraid of the Black athletes who speak American Black English Vernacular and listen to their sweary, offensive rap music way too loud. I started understanding how I could listen to our music, and speak our language, and still want to change the world.  I started seeing that there was value - more value - in sisterhood and brotherhood among my actual sisters and brothers than among white people.  I started seeing who had my back.

When I transferred universities, I met a few girls who were members of an NPHC org who also tried to convince me to denounce my white org.  I didn't hold any real allegiance to them any more.  But I wasn't ready to let go of the idea that I could represent some kind of shift in the world, where I could be in that white org because my friends were, because they wanted me as their sister.

And until Sunday night watching SAE chant about lynching niggers who can't join their organization and Monday afternoon reading this mean-spirited, prejudiced, and hilarious response that I understood their point.

Why did the SAE members chant that? 
Because every single thing comes down to who has your back and whose back you have. SAE wanted us all to know they don't have any niggers' backs. None of us. Not one. Ever.

Not if we want friends to party with on the weekend.
Not if we need a lift because our tire went flat.
Not if they are the cop and we are driving 10 miles over the speed limit to our friend's house to take them medicine because they are sick.
Not if we need a job.
They will never have our backs. We're just niggers.

Why did that prompt me to tell my story?
In this article linked above, Dante wrote, "How many other frats saw that video and their first thought was 'WHEW! Thank God they didn’t catch our shit on video too!'?" and I laughed, before realizing that is the question I've been asking myself for 5 years. Will James (see the first posted link, which you should have already read) is sitting somewhere putting on a fake smile for his baby boy because his "brothers" were nice to him just like my "sisters" were. I was reading that article and crying, because I know exactly what he meant.  I know it with hundreds of dollars and hundreds of photos and a dozen semi-formal gowns, and a song that promised me there was quite enough room for all of us.  But can I say with any certainty that my (former) org will never make national news for singing something racist? You can say yes, because in general women are classier than men.  You can say yes, because we are smarter than to film ourselves being stupid.  But until you can show me the founding documents where Ethel and Beth and Odette (not the founders' real names) stated that they welcomed members of all races, then we will never know.  There might be a chapter in Mississippi singing a song just as ugly.  And my "sisters" will keep saying they love me until that video is leaked.  Just like Will James's "brothers" loved him.

I am not mad about ridiculous obvious racism like SAE's chant.  People suck.  I'm over it.  I get mad when people who are otherwise intelligent behave as though they are oblivious and unaware of systemic injustice and racism.  I get mad when a woman looks me in my eyes and tells me there's enough love for all of us but won't stand up to protest for the remanding and imprisonment of Daniel Holtzclaw who is charged with 26 counts of abuse to Black women on the east side of my city.  That's what our philanthropy is for, isn't it?

Or was my ex-boyfriend right? They don't care about it when it's our community.

Why did I write this?
We can't do anything but tell our stories and hope the collection will show the world what kind of mess we have always been wading in.
SAE is talking about lynching niggers and an unarmed Black person still dies every 28 hours at the hands of a person who is not prosecuted. They might not be connected; or they might be two sides of the same coin.

Questions Black People Will Ask:
Why didn't your parents tell you not to join a white org?
They did. I was both naive and stubborn.
They were also unable to clearly articulate the specific and compelling reasons why I shouldn't.  "Don't do it" has never been a convincing argument, especially not from your parents who told you not to walk and chew gum or sing at the dinner table.  I needed convincing, real life, anecdotal, convincing reasons.

What do you mean you don't know any smart Black people?
I know a TON of them now. I didn't know them then.  They stayed away from me because I was always looking down my nose at them. That perspective was my fault, not ours. I now understand that what makes Black people seem less smart than white people is really systemic racism in our education system and in our society.  I know now.  I'm sorry.

If you had it to do over what would you do?
Go to a large public university and not be Greek at all.  

1 comment:

  1. Yaaaassss!!! Yes, yes, yes. Honey, "yes" is all I can say. You got me right in my heart with this TRUTH. You have arrived.

    Sidenote: I BETTER be one of the smart Black people you knew before you realized to be smart AND Black was not the exception (even if you wouldn't admit it back when). ;-)