“Mass Organization=Sorority Level”: What We Can Learn From the Demise of Sorority Sisters

So let me preface to say that yes, I am a member of a sorority.  Just admitting that alone I know more than half of you are probably rolling, your eyes, sucking your teeth, or contemplating flipping to another blog.  Stay with me if you can. I’ll get right back to y’all in a second.  Let me also say that I am not speaking on behalf of my organization in any way; I’m just a member of a sorority who has an opinion (as right or wrong as it may be to some folks).  Now that all formalities are out the way, here’s how I break.

As I spent my Founders’ Day yesterday at work posting pictures in my favorite crimson and cream sweater, dusting off my red Chuck Taylors, and indulging in red velvet cupcakes, the internet gave me one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received on January 13th in a minute.  While putting on my coat and getting ready to head to class, I got an alert on my phone that a high school friend (who is not in a sorority) tagged me to a picture on Instagram.  As most people do who are addicted to social media, I put down my coat and checked my phone to see what she tagged me to.   Tapping on the little square on the upper right corner of my phone, my screen illuminated with a picture of the infamous Sorority Sisters cast.  Knowing this friend wouldn’t play me like this tagging me to this picture on my Founders Day, I looked in the caption to figure out why she would bring this to my attention.  Inscribed underneath the picture was the following:

 

According to reports, VH1 reality show #SororitySisters has been cancelled!!!! After Friday the show will no longer air…

Good.  God.

I stood there speechless trying to read the words over and over again to make sure what I was reading was what was registering in my brain.  After about the fifth or so time, my subconscious and conscious came to the agreement that what I was reading and comprehending was for real.  Sorority Sisters was to be no more.

I’ve never been into ratchet reality television.  Anybody that knows me can validate this as a truth.  I’ve signed several online petitions, was totally here for Michaelangela Davis’s “Bury the Ratchet” campaign, and  I simply don’t watch the shows.  The only way I would know anything that is going on these programs is because of social media telling me how folks are proposing to men, knocking people out, sleeping with former boyfriends, sleeping with current boyfriends, keeping sidewives as sidehoes, or anything else like that.  With that being understood, I think I fail to meet the qualification of the chastising argument given to Sorority members who are opposed to Sorority Sisters, “Well, you watch the other reality shows though.”

From the beginning I have always been an adamant opponent of the show.  And when I say from the beginning I mean way back when Mona and Company posted that my-first-iPhone  taped YouTube commercial one random day in July 2014.  After watching the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) sororities (Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho) silence and snatched the commercial from the internet almost as fast as it was posted, I thought it would be the last we would hear about this foolishness.

Oh, but then…

I still can’t remember what I was watching, but I remember being in my bed and then seeing the first commercial saying the bullish was back.  Mona took her name off the producer list, but I didn’t think she wasn’t chilling in the background.  Imediately, my phone started jumping with texts from Greek friends and family asking if I had seen the travesty.  I responded to many with dismay and confusion of its unusual return (the promo aired not even a week before the premiere).  I thought we deaded this months ago?  Does this show have the lifespan of a multitude of cockroaches?  WHY IS IT BACK?!?!?

Within the coming days, I saw countless pleas from the people (some in sororities and some not) to give it a chance.  That maybe it would be a good look for us?  *In my Take A Bow voice* PLEASE.  Bad black images under the guise of “reality” are the bread and butter of the Mona Scott Young empire.  Her name may have disappeared  but I doubt if her influence did.  After ten or so years of this, we know how she rolls by now.  If it ain’t about the ratchet, you can miss her wit it.  But out of the darkness of disparity, Black social media gave me hope.  There was a campaign afoot to combat television trash in the form of petitioning, boycotting sponsors, channel blocking, and protesting.  It took a little while to get folks on board, but eventually the hash tag #BoycottSororitySisters became a thing; and a very good thing, might I add.  What amazed me was the variety of people that participated.  Men and women; older people and younger people; BGLO members and non-BGLO members.  A lot of friends who I knew from elementary, high school, and college that didn’t pledge gave me a lot of support (it also made me realize how much I really display my org if I was their first reference point in hearing about this mess).  Since the first airing of the Greek tragedy (no pun or exaggeration; I heard it was really that terrible), the protest had taken root and grown.  While VH1 tried to downplay the social media demonstration as minimal, subtle hints suggested otherwise.  Like their standing firm in a pool of quicksand that the show was “really connecting with its audience.”  Hmm, steadily declining weekly ratings indicated a connection?  News to me.  Or when they said that it was only a few members that took issue with the program.  Hmmm, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that maybe the folks at VH1 just don’t get how NPHC’s work.  Those “few” members (aside from the countless tweets and tags you got from other pissed off members) wrote a letter to you all saying how as a collective unit, they weren’t here for this program.  Those “few” members were the National Presidents of each of the sororities you decided to include in your Greek Freak Show.  Those “few” members pretty much speak for the entire organization when they speak (or at least that’s how it rolls for me and mines).  And then there was the all time kicker that let you know they were hurting BAD: that pathetic little sit-down for the cast to “defend” themselves.  What is there to defend exactly, doll?  You prostituted your membership in your organization to act a purebred fool for a paycheck.  In the NPHC world, there is no defending that and you know it.

But despite such useless strategies, protesters were steadfast in our approach which appears to e paying off now.

We could argue all day about the rights and wrongs about Fraternity and Sorority life, the seemingly pointlessness of protesting this kind of thing, and how it appears contradictory to protest against one show but not the others.  But to me, again as an opponent of all reality ratchet television, this wastes a lot of time and energy that can be better spent into formulizing new strategies, which is what I’d rather hear being discussed.  How can we as a people replicate the approach to combat other shows and social issues?

Key word: Organization.

One of the main reasons why the #BoycottSororitySisters movement was able to produce results so quickly was because it was an organized effort by an organized entity.  To my knowledge, there is no National Basketball Wives Association of Anycity, USA or Hip Hop Jumpoffs Junction, Inc. to go after these kinds of shows that degrade their featured demographic.  Despite how folks may feel about the whole concept of fraternities and sororities, it cannot be denied there is power in a unified front.  This demonstration showed that (which is a concept I think Black people have been struggling with for a while, but that’s another writing piece).

But therein lies a conundrum: How do we get organized?  In constantly reading different stories about the Sorority Sisters debacle, the comments sections always seem so filled with attacks from NPHC members and non-NPHC members towards each other.  Speaking in this capacity, there is one thing that both sides need if we are to effectively organize–humility.

NPHC Fraters and Sorors, we have to be humble enough to learn from AND teach our communities.  Yes, we came up with this masterful strategy to combat Sorority Sisters, but what good is it if we don’t reapply it elsewhere to help the communities we claim to support?  And when we teach others what we have done, we must do it in such a way that is helpful, not haughty or with some superiority complex.  Nobody wants help from someone who presents himself/herself like a pretentious jackass no matter how good their intentions may be.  We have to understand our people as well.  We are not better than them, we are them.  Learn their names and know their needs.  Don’t bust up in the hood not knowing what it’s about like Edward Said discussed in Orientalism (Yeah this is a Political Science nerd reference; he was actually talking about European infiltration in the East but you get my drift)  Alpha Phi Alpha member Cornell West once said, “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people; you can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

Non-NPHC folks, the same prescription of humility to learn and to teach should be used.  Instead of being so quick to negatively criticize what was or was not done earlier, it would behoove you to ask questions about how #BoycottSororitySisters got off the ground so quickly and how the results are materializing.    It is clear that this is a strategy that produces results.  Why not try to learn from it and encourage NPHC members to get involved with your causes (if they are not involved already)?  Again, being a pretentious jackass (i.e.- eye rolls, teeth suck, nitpicking criticism)  works both ways–nobody wants help from one and nobody wants to help one.

I know that when I talk about organizing, I don’t expect that if everybody just smiled on their brother (or sister) that everything will be okay.  Like we would all magically be on the same page at the same time all of the time.  *Bring the Take a Bow voice back*  PLEASE!  Of all the countless hours studying Organizational Behavior, I know that isn’t going to happen.  That never happens in even the most well-organized groups in the nation.  But even though we may not be on the same page, that does not mean we still can’t be in the same book.

The Curious Case of Lupe Fiasco

Pretty much.

Black Millennials

When rap mogul Jay Z called Lupe Fiasco “a breath of fresh air,” I couldn’t agree more. The year was 2006 when he released Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor. The transition of hip hop as a lyrical haven to a pop culture fixture, was well underway. Gone were the days when stellar rap music was measured by lyrical content and impassioned delivery. Now, the “best” rap songs were weighted on catchy beats and concise hooks and choruses, so as to be repeated easily. Rap was no longer a labor of love, it was a corporate chop-shop.

Lupe entered the mainstream as hip hop was changing from a lyrical exercise to a constant headbanger. At the time, I was proud of Lupe. As hip hop crippled with every Yung Something, Lupe stood strong. His spirit, bold. His content, deep. His musical prowess laid unchallenged in a wave of one-liners. The…

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A Colored Girl Considering Womanism When Feminism Doesn’t Seem To Be Enough

feminist womanist black

(This isn’t every Black woman’s story; this is my story)

So I have this thing.  Whenever someone is talking to me about a subject that requires a bit of thought, I’ll always think of a particular song lyric that applies to the question as I’m thinking of an answer.  For instance, let’s say somebody asks me, “Are you a feminist?”  While searching the brain for a statement, I think of Mya:

I’mmmm so confused/I don’t know what to dooooooo

No matter if I knew the person was going to ask or not, I’m always confused whenever this question is asked.  I’m not confused in the sense that I don’t have an answer.  I have one, but it is not as direct or simple as the question.

Growing up watching countless hours of television, switching channels from BET, MTV, and VH1 (this was the 90s before they became the holy ratchet television trinity), I had only understood feminism to be three things:  White, angry, and mostly gay.  I watched scores of White women on a field wearing sundresses and combat boots holding hands with other White women wearing buzz cuts and flannel shirts, all swaying to the spellbinding sounds of the Indigo Girls, k.d. lang, and Melissa Etheridge at Lilith Fair.  In the basement far from the watch of my mother or my grandparents, I listened as Meredith Brooks told the world how she was a bitch, a lover, a child, and a mother.  News reports showed hundreds of White college coed girls taking to their campuses with megaphones, candles, and makeshift signs in an effort to “take back the night.”  All these sounds and images were bonded together in my pre-adolescent understanding by one word: feminism.  From hearing that word tossed around at interviews and news reports of the aforementioned events, I developed an associative understanding of feminism.  But based on how I rarely saw similar faces in these spaces that looked like mine, I didn’t think that feminism was a “thing” for a little black girl like me.  Sure, every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of artists like Tracy Chapman or Meshell Ndegeocello on MTV or VH1, but I was more in awe of their blackness on a predominately White music network than their feminism.  It would not be until my sophomore year of college where my mind would change…sort of.

As she had pretty much done for my entire life, my aunt gave me a book as part of the plethora of Christmas gifts she gave me each year.  The Christmas that I was in the 10th grade, I received Kevin Powell’s Step Into A World anthology.  I skimmed through the book a time or two, but hadn’t really read it until I was in my dorm room one boring snowy Saturday.  With a glass full of apple juice and a large bag of M&Ms, cracked open the book to give my eyes something to do besides look at nothing on television.  Flipping through the writings of Robin D.G. Kelly, Imani Tolliver, Ras Baraka, and dream hampton, I happened upon an essay by a writer named Joan Morgan.  In about 5 pages, I was introduced to a concept called hip-hop feminism.  When reflecting on the treatment of women during the Million Man March with Farrakhan banishing us from the National Mall to our kitchens to “cook for our warriors” as noted by Kristal Brent-Zooks, Morgan cites the need for a new kind of feminism that is relevant to Black women of the present 20th Century (the essay was written in 1999).  She understood that not too many Black women were checking for “the f-word” due to the deep-seeded racism from White women.  But honestly, that wasn’t the part I was checking for.  What drew me was the idea of being a “hip hop feminist.”  Despite my knowing all the words to Bittersweet Symphony, You Oughta Know, Criminal, and Kiss From A Rose (yes, by Seal) thanks to my binge-watching of videos on MTV and VH1, I’m still an avid Rap and Hip Hop fan.  At any given time heading to or from class, I was pumping A Tribe Called Quest, DMX, The Roots, or Missy Elliot in my ears.  I can intelligently discuss the Roxanne Wars, the Bridge Wars and how the Biggie/Tupac beef fucked all that up.  I could tell you about the Zulu Nation and the significance of Afrika Bambaataa.  So to discuss a concept that puts hip hop with anything I was already interested.  But as a young Black woman, I was slightly conflicted.  This was around the time when the sisters at Spelman protested against Nelly’s appearance on their campus in light of the infamous Tip Drill video, one of many menageries of misogyny seen in rap videos at the time.  Yes, I applauded those sisters for standing up against the hypersexual male bravado that flooded our radio stations on a daily basis, but as a lover of rap and hip-hop was I even allowed to do such a thing?  True, I wasn’t constantly checking for songs that had the repetitive message that Black women were nothing more than ass and titties wrapped in a quick weave.  Sure, I was more apt to listen to uplifting and educated rap from Kanye West, Common, or Slum Village.  But I won’t lie and pretend that my bitty booty doesn’t automatically get ready to twerk a lil’ sumthin’ when I hear that Cash Money is taking over for the 99 and the 2000.  Joan Morgan let me know that I was not alone.  That there was a space (or there needed to be) where this kind of thing intersected.  We needed a kind of feminism that “was brave enough to fuck with the grays”  (Morgan, 1999, 59)   We needed a feminism that understands how “truth can’t be found in the voice of any one rapper, but in the juxtaposition of many…they lie at the magical intersection where those contrary voices meet–the juncture where ‘truth’ is no longer black and white, but subtle, intriguing shades of gray” (62).  As part of my quest to find such a feminism, I use a good portion of my refund check to order books from Amazon about Black feminism including Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks.  I perused through essays from Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Barbara Smith.  I read studies on the feminist writings of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston.

Based on that, feminism and I had formed a relationship situationship.  It was a situationship instead of a relationship is because to be in a relationship means that you relate to the other party that is involved.  Therein was my problem.  I could appreciate learning about Black feminism; but I still couldn’t seem to shake the idea of how White it was, perhaps from the lasting first impression of it from my childhood.  While Morgan, Guy-Sheftall, Smith, hooks, and Collins helped show me myself in the mirror of feminism, its reflection was still a little fuzzy to me.  So I found myself in a situation where I was in search of an ideology that I could relate to.  In not knowing of anything else at the time, I reluctantly linked up with feminism.  I was with it but I wasn’t WITH it, per se.  As with most situationships, there were no labels.  But reading more about the history of feminism, I understood my apathy.  In my historical research prior to joining my sorority, I learned that the founders of Delta Sigma Theta were regulated to march in the back of the processional because of their race during the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March (Paula Giddings, In Search of Sisterhood, 1988, 55-56).  When doing a paper on the history of Black women voting, I learned that the rift in the alliance between Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony was caused with the decision to either support voting rights for Black men or White women (E. Susan Barber, “100 Years Towards Suffrage: An Overview,” 1998).  I learned that while I wasn’t really checking to fully claim feminism, historically it wasn’t really checking for me, either.  The situationship lasted for the remainder of my undergraduate tenure up until my second year of doctoral school when I met Womanism.

While I would love to say that I found out about Womanism on my own, props must go to my Black Political Theory professor for putting me on.  In a discussion with him about the things I wanted to study regarding Black women, he suggested that I check out Dr. Clenora Hudson Weems’s 1993 classic Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves.  Looking at the book was like looking in a mirror, but only this time my reflection was clearer.  Here was an ideal whose founding roots were rooted in me, a woman of African descent in America.  It was something I could relate to, therefore form a relationship with.  I had heard about Womanism through readings of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens.  But with her saying that feminism and womanism were one in the same, I wasn’t really feeling it.  After reading its sordid history, I dreamed a “feminism” that didn’t just merely acknowledge the racist roots of feminism that continue to subliminally grow, but called it out on its bullshit.  Dr. Weems did just that in her definition of Africana Womanism:

 

Africana Womanism is a term I coined and defined in 1987 after nearly two years of publicly debating the importance of self-naming for Africana woman.  Why the term “Africana Womanism?”  Upon concluding that the term “Black Womanism” was not quite the terminology to include the total meaning desired for this concept, I decided that “Africana Womanism,” a natural evolution in naming, was the ideal terminology for two basic reasons.  The first part of the coinage, Africana, identifies the ethnicity of the woman being considered, and this reference to her ethnicity, establishing her cultural identity, relates directly to her ancestry and land base–Africa.  The second part of the term, Womanism, recalls Sojourner Truth’s powerful impromptu speech “Ain’t I A Woman,” one in which she battles with the dominant alienating forces in her life as a struggling Africana woman, questioning the accepted idea of womanhood.  Without question, she is the flip side of the coin, the co-partner in the struggle for her people, one who, unlike the White woman, has received no special privileges in American society (22-23)

As good as feminism could be, there are still subtleties of racism that cannot and should not be ignored.  Case in point, this whole minimum wage thing.  While there is an uproar about White women making less than men, very little is mentioned about Black women making less than White women.  In the scholarly world, that’s called intersectionality where you have two or more minority issues intersecting at the same time (in this instance, race and gender).  Feminism still hasn’t done the best job in addressing it.  There are even books about the issue, like The Trouble Between Us by Wini Breines.

But that’s not to say I’m now in deep, passionate, theoretical love with Womanism either.  We have our beef, too.  First, it’s the sense of exclusiveness even among Black women the concept seems to have.  In reading about other Womanist works, there is a strong emphasis on spirituality and religion.  As a self-identified Christian, I get it.  As a student of political science, I’m bothered by it.  By centering the concept around a particular religious belief, we are pretty much guilty of the same crime we accuse White feminists of committing: leaving folks out.  I’m reminded of the approach Malcolm X proposed in his speech, The Ballot or the Bullet.  Regardless of our backgrounds, we must all come together to realize that we are catching the same two kinds of hell in America constantly: being Black and being a woman.  With that understood, we cannot afford to ostracize anybody from our cause.  Whether she is Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Rastafarian, straight, lesbian, bisexual, upper class, middle class, working class, educated by the schools, educated by the streets, every type of Black woman is key in this issue.   It makes no sense that we as Black women vote at the highest rate of all voters (Black or White; men or women), yet our social progress is still among the lowest.

The problems surrounding Black women are in way too critical of a condition to shut out anyone or force them into a situationship with feminism because they do not feel completely embraced or welcomed by Womanism.  There is strength in solidarity.

Second, I take issue with Womanism being is moreso a belief than an ideology.  Yes, there is an actual difference between the two.  A belief is based on faith or perspective.  It is what a person thinks or perceives.  An ideology, as noted by Karl Mannehiem, is a vehicle used to mobilize a belief (Ideology and Utopia, 1936).  Let’s take a look at feminism to break down what I’m saying.  From its early origins in the Suffrage Movement, feminism has always had a vehicle to move its belief in the form of organizations such as National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Organization for Women (NOW).  Those organizations have the ability to create and move an agenda based on the beliefs of these feminists.  And as history has tells us, they have done a pretty decent job thus far.  It can be considered a national fact that there is hell to be paid in FULL when feminists, mostly white with some Black sprinkled, get mad at something or someone.  Africana Womanism, to me, has not yet reached that level of influence yet, mainly because there is no vehicle to move our agenda which has yet to be created.  When setting our agenda, we need to do so on our own terms, and it would be better done if we did not always look to organizations built on the backs of Black men to champion those ideas for us.  We should be our own champions.  This would require us to move from the trajectory of margin to center (ironically, that’s a quote from by bell hooks, a Black feminist).

So, back to the initial question at hand.  Am I a Black feminist?  Yes and no.  Am I a Womanist?  Yes and no.  I guess I’m like Morgan, in a sense.  I have a need.  I need a Womanism that encompasses the spirit and passion of Black feminism.  I need a Black feminism that doesn’t just acknowledge that there is racism in feminism, but calls it out as part of its advocacy with the understanding that Black women are quick to get lost in the shuffle of other issues.  I need a blend of both, I suppose.

Now playing in my mind, Come Together by The Beatles.

We Still Slinging Knowledge….

Recently, a few scholar friends and myself got together and created a collective book discussing issues of race, gender, education, mental health, and media.  The catch?  We’re discussing scholarly issues using non-scholarly language.  So within the same book you’re likely to see a reference to bell hooks AND Bobby Schmurda.  Or Bayard Rustin AND Trindad James.  No kidding.  To purchase a copy for $15.00, please send an email to ignorantintellectual@gmail.com.  We also have cool buttons too we’re selling for $5.00.  Get into it and #getignant

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