Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why We've Yet to Have a Conversation about Black Greek Life that Makes Sense

During my time at the University of Michigan I had the honor of serving the student body in a number of different capacities. I was the vice-president of the UM chapter of the NAACP, I was a member of the Michigan Student Assembly, I served on the honorary degree committee, the diversity committee, the National Ginsberg Center committee, as well as led many efforts against racist publications of the Michigan Daily and defending Affirmative Action in the state of Michigan.

I crossed Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, Nu Chapter on April 14, 2007 (2 weeks before I graduated from the University of Michigan) with 13 of the most strong, intelligent, sophisticated, self-reflective and kind women I have ever had the honor of meeting.

I am now at the University of Chicago pursuing my Ph.d in Political Science.

I say that first, because I think it is critical that every author be transparent about who they are and what their motivations are before they decide to write about anything.

I have lived/been a part of institutions of higher education for six years now, and in all that time I have NEVER heard a conversation about black greek organizations, and the ways in which they do and do not uplift black communities, that actually makes sense.

Instead, all I ever hear on both sides is unsubstantiated madness.

On one side you have the black greeks, who to often just shrug off anyone who questions them or their organizations as being people who tried to join and couldn't make it.

On the other side you have people who have never been to a black greek party, black greek program, had a conversation with a black greek member, let alone been privy to a black greek initiation process, making insane accusations about the nature of black greek organizations, based on what "they heard from their girl/boy." Or, based off of what their parents' sixty year old memory remembers from being part of an organizations that have changed in profound ways since the forty years he/she pledged.

As any decent social scientist will tell you.... people lie... they lie all the time. which is why survey data and interview data are fraught with inaccuracies... people lie to protect their reputations, to protect the reputations of others or just simply because the truth is to painful. They will also tell you... that people's memories aren't really worth a damn thing.

Yet and still time and time again, people write shockingly hurtful things about groups of individuals that they know absolutely nothing about (on both sides), based only on what they think they know.

Black Vibes.com was shockingly (or maybe not so shockeningly), the most recent author of these inintelligble, unsubstantiated and personally motivated additions to this unnuanced conversation. In "Manifesto... Why You Shouldn't Join a Black Greek Organization"... Dustin Seibert fails to make a single claim that he 1. can provide evidence for and 2. has a logical, or useful purpose. Instead, he slanders groups of people (my chapter included... labeling them "those sadistic Delta dames on the University of Michigan campus")... without once considering the consequences.

The entire article is an explanation of why Mr. Seibert failed to adequately research these organizations and move beyond hearsay to adequately evaluate whether or not joining would be in his best interest.

It is articles' like these that continue to prevent both black greeks and black non-greeks from having a conversation that makes sense. If we never move beyond fabricated and emotionally driven stories, how can we ever expect to come together as a community and uplift the neighborhoods and cities that we come from.

I would be the last one to sit here and tell you that I think that black greek organizations are perfect, or that they are completely without fault in this absence of conversation. But I will say that if community members are sincerely concerned about what goes on in these organizations then they must DO BETTER.

So today... I challenge all of you to DO BETTER. If you are a black greek and have a problem with the way that non-greeks depict your organizations, say something, and say it respectfully and intelligently.

And if you are a non-greek that has a problem with black greek organizations, come to the table with facts, an openness to what black greeks have to say about their own organizations, and tangible and realistic solutions to the problems which you have concretly identified.

We're all educated folks right?

Lets start acting like it.


p.s. and lets remember... one or two chapters doesn't represent every chapter...

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.~Henry David Thoreau

1 comment:

Edwin said...

Sounds to me like you might be doing this as a thesis... not a bad bit of subject matter...
First and foremost, some of the greeks now that join seem like they're doing it just to do it. Being in a Black Greek organization is like being part of any organization or political party. It enables you to get things done with others who are of the similar mindset, ideal, or belief. There are people out there who feel as if Black organizations have outlived their usefulness. This is the farthest thing from the truth. These organizations are still needed. Is someone going to step up and tell the Jews that their organizations are not needed? Indeed not! Jews like Blacks have been the subject of persecution for years. If these organizations are to be disbanded, who will be around to tell the story? Who'll even remember it? I don't care how "down" a non Black person is they cannot tell the story of Black people's plight and struggle throughout the years with the same kind of passion. Bringing it back in, this is a major reason why Black Greek letter organizations are pertinent. They matter because of the very history why they were created to begin with. They matter because they are able to organize communities and give voices to the voiceless and opportunities to those who never even dreamed of any. These organizations exist because of the very value they give to the youth they touch. There are many high school students out there that are going to pledge a particular organization because of an educator, counselor, role model, or relative pledged that organization.