Black "Greeks": The Negroes You Love to Hate
Yes, its time to talk about the Negroes everybody loves to hate. Those Greek-letter wearin', fancy foot stepping, hand clappin,' think they're God's gift to the black race, brothas and sistas. You seen em' at the local community clean up (well one or two anyway). You seen em' at your college campus, parading around in their letters and making their distinctive calls that make your teeth grate. You seen em' whispering in corners, giving secret handshakes and scowling furiously if they catch you glancing. You seen em' squabbin' at parties like out of control gangs or starved animals let loose upon one another.
Spike Lee's immortal classic School Daze parodied black fraternal and sorority life with humorous results. The arrogant, misogynist, politically stunted Gamma Dawgs were a bite on all four of the main black fraternities. (Yes, I know there are five now but I'm only focusing on folks founded before The New Deal. If you're founded after The Great Depression, you belong to another era of space and time and will be treated thusly. No offense. That's just the way it is. Take it up with management.) And the petty female Gamma Rays played on a similar theme.
School Daze was an exaggeration. But it was done on some real life truths that plague these organizations to this day. Whether black frats and sorors want to face up to it, they currently don't have the best reputation. The stereotypes are many: haughty, color-struck, violent, politically unaware, culturally inept with regards to Africa versus Greece, etc. None of it is very flattering. And hiding behind "tough", "arrogant", "pretty", or other personas isn't really going to help matters. So let's go through a brief critique of the black fraternities and sororities, and give everyone involved in such discussions a straight up dose of HONESTY - from the perspective of yours truly of course. Some of this is going to be harsh for everybody. But ask me if I care! No for real ... Go ahead ... Ask me. I really wanna give you an answer.
Can Some People in Black Frats and Sorors Be Arrogant and Elitist?
Yes. Arrogance is a common human trait. It seems to become magnified however in peoples who once were nothing (or at least thought of themselves as nothing) and become a part of something. I have seen people join black fraternities and sororities and go from cool to jackass over a few months. Some even do it in two or three days (or however long it takes to scrape up the money and sign some paper), but that's another story. Confidence in one's self is great. Haughtiness or over inflated self-worth is simply frowned upon - and for good reason. No one likes it, except the sycophants who grovel and take the abuse in the hopes of joining such an organization because they too have dreams of one day becoming an even BIGGER jackass. But guess what? If you were a busta' before you got those colors, letters, and interesting variety of hoots/calls - you're still a busta' once you got em' (and like De La say, "I hate a Busta - unless he's Busta Rhymes!"). You haven't really changed. You're just MORE annoying. Get off the arrogance folks. No one cares enough about your decals, key chains, t-shirts, yadda yadda yadda. Everyone else is not beneath you once you join such an organization. Your friendships shouldn't sever with others, because you've bought yourself some new ones. Grow the hell up.
What's Up with the Hazing that Maims, Injures or Kills People?
Yeah? What da' hell is up with that shyt? What kind of sadomasochist black folks you got up in these organizations? Yeah, I understand the importance of ritual. It's a universal human cultural trait - including the physical aspects. But when ritual reaches the point where it endangers the life and limb of an individual, it needs to be questioned, revised or wholly revoked! Why would you hit a man in the back of a head with a shovel or a frying pan? Why would you paddle him to the point where you've worked yourself into some violent homoerotic frenzy and thus caused him internal injury of the rectum and intestines? What da' hell is that about? Do you work for the NYPD?! What's next? Plunger handles? Some of you get a thrill out of beating black folks like you were a bunch of white supremacists! If you have a ritual, cool. Ritual is one thing. It might need to be physical. But you learn something from it. That's the way cultures are worldwide. Hazing however makes a mockery out of ritual, physical or mental. It's just some ignorant excuse to carry out what you saw in a Jet Li movie or on WWF. You're just a nut who needs psychiatric help. And if the folks taking these merciless beatings had some sense, they'd turn around and give you a right and proper FACE-kickin'! What's the sense of getting a new member missing an eye or who has lost hearing out of one ear? "Hey everybody, this is my new frat brotha - pay no attention to his caved in chest".
Are Black Frats & Sorors Just Organized Gangs?
Good question. Are they? I mean I seen fights between organizations that throw up different signs and wear different colors get so brutal, I thought they really were bangin'. I saw one fight break out between members of the SAME organization! They turned on each other like pack of starved beasts, using brass knuckles, knives, throwing folks through windows! It was utter Negro---nah, devolve that to NIGGA - madness. On one college campus a member of an organization had to drive around with a shotgun for protection over some inter-fraternal beef. What da' hell!?! Listen closely. Healthy competition is one thing. That's normal. When it turns into brawls at step shows that trample kids or elderly people in attendance (don't lie cuz I SEEN the sickenin' sh*t happen!), you have lost your gawd damn minds. If you wanna fight that bad, DON'T go to college! Ain't no hardcore thugged out astrophysicists waiting to take on the philosophers packing heat when they run up on their block. College isn't the place for that. If you want to play gangsta so bad we can take the whole lot of you and drop you off in the global hotspot of your choice. Sierra Leone still got some outposts of RUF waiting to chop off some limbs. The Congo is still immersed in terrible civil war. The Jenin Palestinian refugee camp can't wait to have you. Chechnya, Nepal and the Kashmir region are some other top picks. We can deposit all of you collegiate-gangstas right up in there and let you show how hard you can get. Warning to you though, the RUF don't give a damn how bad you step and ain't gonna be no meeting with the Pan on Monday and a monetary fine. Best stick to worrying about your G.P.A. and graduation, and leave the thuggin' for the folks who live it. Like the old 80s slogan used to say when Hip Hop was worth somethin', STOP THE VIOLENCE! And of course I'm not just talking to the frats. These prim, proper and pretty sorority women can act a damn fool too. Negroes don't want to be mad at the white man for slappin em' last week. But they can keep on a blood feud with another set of black people over something that happened near a century ago. Amazing.
Do Black Frats & Sorors Do Anything Except Party?
I honestly sometimes don't know. Every black fraternity or sorority has these elaborate slogans about service and helping the community. Too many of them however fulfill this with a few canned food drives and a bake sale. There's a lot of the community that needs help. Folks in black frats and sorors aren't going to run out of service projects for a LONG time to come. There should be more community service and less dancin', shuckin' and jivin'. 'If you claim to be about service then BE about service. Do something because it's going to help, not because you can write it down in a book or resume and give yourselves awards for it later. If more black frats and sorors put as much time into service as they did learning their steps, they could get a lot of good done. Next time anybody goes to a black fraternity or sorority party or step show ask this one question of its members: WHERE is the money that I am giving you GOING? $5 to $20 for a party or step show with hundreds of attendants generates some funds. Ask them if this money is going back into the community. Heck, you the one just paid to see em' hump the stage for ten minutes straight to the delight of giddy fresh-women. Ask them if you'll ever see something productive out of that money besides new chapter shirts. Black fraternities and sororities claim to be about helping the community and about service to YOU. So hold them to it. Make them accountable.
What's With the "Greek" This and "Greek" That?
Yeah. What's with the "What up Greek" at every turn? Did some of you join the Athenian League? You resurrect old Sparta? Did the entire Afrocentric academic movement of the 80s and 90s pass by black folks in fraternities and sororities? Are they unaware that a huge debate still rages about the African influences upon or origins of ancient Greek culture? Most are so blissfully ignorant to all of this that they don't know they were thrust directly into the controversy. There's a huge ideology in fact that declares black frats and sorors the scourge of black people. They say black frats and sorors idolize Greece and denigrate Africa. They further claim that black frats and sorors are part of a larger conspiracy to whitewash and even destroy black people. Unfortunately most people in black frats and sorors are unable to defend themselves against such accusations, because they don't even know they're being made! People in black frats and sorors need to read something other than the history books of their organizations. They need to go out and at the least familiarize themselves with the Stolen Legacy/Black Athena debate. Or I take that back, perhaps they should first read their history books - but this time read them better.
So Where Did Black Fraternities and Sororities Come From?
Well the original eight organizations began in the early 1900s. Contrary to popular MYTH, they were not founded by freemasonry or Sigma Pi Phi. Sigma Pi Phi (the much maligned Boule of black urban conspiracy folklore) was an organization begun in the early 1900s for professional blacks (those with degrees). In fact it's thought in the beginning they only admitted dentists. The first collegiate black fraternities and sororities would follow, but in a wholly unrelated manner. In fact each of the organizations has their own separate beginning. That is not to say there was not influence from older black secret societies. In a few organizations the founding members were involved (either directly or indirectly) with freemasonry. And they brought a lot of what they knew to the groups. However black frats and sorors are not under the mandate of freemasons or any other black organizations. They exist as their own separate entities.
Weren't These Organizations Created Because they Couldn't Join White Ones?
Yes and No. In the early 1900s lynching and such atrocities were common in the US. White Supremacy was rampant, much of it written into the constitution or by-laws of white fraternities and sororities. There probably weren't too many black folks who weren't well aware that they couldn't join. It's doubtful that many even tried. Rather they sought to create their own organizations by black people and for black people. To say they created such organizations merely out of spite at not being able to join white ones belittles their achievements. And though they may look precisely the same as white ones on the outside, their motives and goals were often very different. The founders of these organizations were college students with lofty goals, each seeking to create networks for themselves during their academic careers - and beyond. That they have withstood this long is an important testament to black strength and ingenuity.
Do Black Frats and Sorors Do Any Good?
Sure. They do a lot of good. On many black college campuses they are primarily the leaders of black groups. On my old campus black frats and sorors ran many of the black organizations. They helped bring speakers to campus ranging from civil rights leaders, to African centered scholars, to black sociologists and psychologists, to fiery black political activists. Black frats and sorors often take a lot of bashing on their community service, but in actuality do more community service than any of the bashers combined. They put on the most programs and, especially necessary on a predominantly white campus, provide the black collegiate community with the most social and other outlets. Black frats and sorors have been associated with members of note, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Congresswoman Maxine Waters to scientist Dr. Ernest E. Just to novelist Toni Morrison to Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton to historians like Arthur Schomburg to anthropologist/writer Zora Neale Hurston to African-centered historian Anthony T. Browder and more. Black fraternities and sororities played instrumental roles in Civil Rights and other social movements. In fact it was the headquarters of a black fraternity that was used to help organize the Million Man March of 1995. Though there will always be more that the organizations can do, it would be a falsehood to claim they have done nothing. Like them or not, they are an integral part of the black existence in the US and college life and have played key roles in shaping it.
But Again, What's Up with the Greek Thing?
In the early 1900s, black college students did not have the wealth of information by people like Cheikh Anta Diop, George GM James or John Henrik Clarke. It would take half a century and more for such works on the Greek-Egypt debate to be written. Greek letters were the collegiate norm of the time, and so black frats and sorors outfitted themselves with such. However they weren't just blind mimics. Black fraternities and sororities often purposefully imbued their organizations with African symbols, namely Ethiopia or Egypt - the most well known ancient African complexes at the time. Race and culture were very much on their minds. One only has to take a cursory glance to see obvious African symbols and allusions to race. Others are so well hidden, you'd need to know a bit about Greek goddesses, turned Roman that descend from an African forebear (*hint- she brings resolution to a rather famous ancient African-mythological conflict). Some are even remarkably written into the very Greek letters, coded to allude to Africa and race directly. The best analogy would be the manner in which African slaves hid Yoruba orisas and Dahomean loas behind Christian Saints. Black fraternities and sororities are a prime example of the DuBoisian double consciousness and black social and cultural identity in the western world. One black fraternity would write in its history book, "To the ... brotherhood African history and civilization ... and Ethiopian tradition bring new meanings and these are interpreted with new significance to others. As Americans of European parentage point with pride to the ancestral history of their people, so would [the brotherhood] have the Negroes of America look with pride upon African civilization with its kingdoms, its governments and its laws, its social institutions, its buildings and roads, and its evidences of indigenous progress, unaffected as it was, by outside influences." In fact works such as Stolen Legacy and excerpts from Black Athena are even required readings for some black fraternities and sororities. The greatest problem is that many members of black frats and sorors today know less about such things than their founders. Not all are ignorant to this mind you, but too many are. So some can hardly see how ancient African ideas of sacred geometry could have influenced the creation of Phoenician architectural deities; who would be fashioned to fit with ideas of Judaic folklore and the temple of a semi-mythic Hebrew king; that would filter into medieval Europe perhaps through Eastern derived Islamic mysticism and/or semi-legendary sects like the Knights Templar; all of which would influence and be reinvented by 18th Century European Enlightenment figures; filtered down to black freemasons such as Prince Hall who would recognize the African links; and eventually be passed down through influence to young black college men and women in the early 1900s looking for an African connection and identity on the verge of the Harlem Renaissance. But all of that is another story. The point is, don't let the Greek taste fool you.
Aren't Black Frats and Sorors Color-Struck?
Yes and No. Being color struck is nothing unique to these organizations. That is a phenomenon common to black people wherever white supremacy helped create such divisive and hateful conflicts. Take a look at the founders of black fraternities and sororities. They ranged the black color spectrum - even thought admittedly, more lighter-skinned blacks may have been found in college than those of darker hue. That had little to do with black frats and sorors and a lot to do with societal race dynamics in post slavery America. Did some of these early organizations have issues over color? Of course they did. It would be idealistic to think their founders and members were so enlightened that to some degree such negative thinking was not part of their psyche. However, whether some members acted out such things consciously or unconsciously, it was NEVER a written and condoned part of the organizations. And thus black members from all hues - and from various continents---claim membership. Color struck practices occurred based on a regional basis or through individual chapters. There's no evidence it could ever speak for the organizations as a whole. But as stated, this was a black problem period---not the sole domain of black frats and sorors. The members of these organizations were human beings like everyone else, with all the strengths and weaknesses therein. They don't drop from the sky. Does this color-struck ideology continue today in certain chapters or regions to some degree? The easy answer to this question is to ask whether the black community has wholly done away with color struck ideologies. It won't go away in ANY black organization until it disappears from our thinking as a whole. Black fraternities and sororities may be victims of the disease of white supremacy as is everyone else.
Well Why do Black Fraternities and Sororities Keep Secrets?
Because they're secret societies. Be a real wack secret society if you told everyone your secrets. Secret societies and sects have probably been around in human history since those cats were creating artwork in Blombos Cave, South Africa some 70,000+ years ago. They have served in the function of taking children to adulthood, passing on culture, learning various crafts, as part of the religious experience and more. From the mortuary funeral society of the Dogon of Mali to the Hung Society of China, secret societies are a cross-cultural phenomenon. Even the most egalitarian peoples have had them in some form or another. Black fraternities and sororities are a recent version of an age-old human tradition---whether you like the idea of secrets or not. Rest assured that whatever mysteries they keep, such things only make sense to the initiated. It's doubtful a group of college students are given the meaning of life or whispered the gift of immortality through their oaths and such.
Aren't Black Frats and Sorors Part of Some Great Conspiracy?
Sure. And Elvis is leading a Satanic group of UN dictators to enslave the world using weather distorting black helicopters derived from alien technology from Roswell. Didn't you get all that when you read the barcode on the back of your neck? It's all written on the dollar bill if you look carefully you know. (NOTE: read with heavy sarcasm for full effect). Some folks will believe anything they hear, read or are told. Explore more than one perspective. Compare and contrast information. Pick sense from NON-sense. And be a thinker rather than a follower.
In conclusion, like I said up top - black fraternities and sororities are the Negroes everyone loves to hate. Some of the criticism they receive is vital. There's no denying the organizations have problems and are suffering from a very negative image of present. On the other hand, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. There's a lot of good these organizations have done. There's a lot more they can do.
To the critics, try to teach and guide. No one needs soapbox preaching from the blacker-than-thou seeking to judge and prosecute. Rather than sitting around "building" and "dropping science" about how "brainwashed" many of these organizations are, put down the tofu, un-tighten the head wrap, and loosen up the cowrie shells long enough to offer some HELP rather than blanket condemnation. Isn't that what you're supposed to be doing? Out trying to uplift black folks? Too many "conscious" folks rail against elitism of fraternities and sororities, and then go out and form their own elitist blacker-than-thou-cliques who are big on lip service but short on delivery. When you get through snapping fingers at the coffee shop and fantasizing about your Utopian Africa, see to tending the flock. As the Akan say, "knowledge is not like money that should be locked up in a safe."
To the black fraternities and sororities, partying is nice and good. Nothing wrong with stepping - its African derived and speaks volumes to cultural retentions in the Diaspora. But you've got to work on your image and yourselves. Can't sit in your Greek towers and pretend you don't have faults and that everyone else is crazy but you all are sane. Confidence is great. Arrogance to the point that leads to backbiting, petty squabbling and violence is ridiculous and not befitting what your founders set in place. Back then they realized they needed each other as black people more than anything else. Try to recapture some of that. As said before, I have no problem with rituals - even if they get physical. But there's a point where everyone knows you've gone too far. Decide if your goal is to teach and uplift, or just have your own personal piece of ass to kick. If it's the latter, seek a mental ward and disband your group---because it serves no redeeming purpose.
To everyone on the outside who may remain neutral - get UN-neutral. Challenge these organizations to live up to the potential of their founders and beyond. Join them and try to effect change from within if possible. Who knows, maybe they'll even take it beyond their predecessors, strip away the Greek letters and go with some Pharaonic Egyptian, Meroitic-Kush or Ethiopian Amharic. Hey. It could happen. Just remember that constructive criticism is one thing. It helps others. Blanket condemnation just helps yourself and gives you a power rush. Know the difference.
And remember I say all this because I honestly do believe black fraternities and sororities can do more help than harm in the long run. If you find my words too harsh, if you can't take the heat of it ... you may need to re-read Invictus. To quote a member of one black fraternal organization, "The ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where he [she] stands in moments of comfort, but where he [she] stands at times of challenge and controversy".
NO SKATAZ ALLOWED!!
MORPHEUS- Exposin Fake Shyt
[Released: June 2002]