Warnings: This is a long blog. If you don’t enjoy reading, you might want to leave. This is also a controversial topic. Conduct yourself calmly and respectfully, even if you disagree with me.
I know that title is a mouthful. I’m sorry about that. But you know. That’s just how it is today.
I’m very glad you clicked the link to come read this, I appreciate when people read what I write. As we all know by now, the Oklahoma Kappa chapter (correct me if I’m wrong) of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (known as ΣAE [SAE]) was recently stripped of its charter after videos of some fraternity brothers and their house mother performing a chant that included the n-word and some very derogatory words that I don’t care to repeat. As of now, the chapter is no longer at the University of Oklahoma, and two students have been expelled from the university as a result. People are mad as hell, and they should be.
This topic is close to home for me. I am a Black woman who is a member of a predominantly White greek letter organization, and I attended PWI.
I graduated from Frostburg State University, a small, predominantly White university in Western Maryland about 30 minutes or so from West Virginia (that’s already kind of a red flag). I attended the school for all four years of my college career. I entered college in Fall 2008, a few months after I graduated from high school. All my life up to that point, I had attended predominantly (I mean like 99.2%, like 2 white people in the whole school) Black schools. From kindergarten to 3rd grade, I attended inner city schools, then in 4th grade my family moved to an all-black suburb. Needless to say, the only time I really saw White people were when I traveled, and when I went to summer camp. Obviously I’d see them at the store and I had some White teachers and I had a few White friends, but Black people and Black culture is all I knew. Yes, I listened to rock music (a genre many Black people in high school associated with White people) and pop music because I liked it and hung out with people who liked it, but I was, without a doubt, accustomed to Black people.
I was so accustomed to Black people that I became almost tired of Black kids. I’d say 80 percent of the people (including myself) had lived in Baltimore City at some point, so many of them had connections to the city. There was always some drama, someone else fighting, another dude ‘banging’ with the Bloods, another dude selling drugs at school. A guy we had known and went to school with for 4 years actually was killed by his own gang members a few days before our graduation. It was normal almost. It was very sad, but not shocking. But I associated this behavior with Blacks. I wanted to get away from it. I didn’t realize it until I had gotten all my college acceptance letters – most from HBCUs like Hampton, Clark Atlanta, UMES, and Delaware State, – the others were PWIs like Univ. of Illinois: Chicago and Frostburg. I decided to go to Delaware State with my best friends, originally. I changed my mind at the last minute and also paid the acceptance fee for Frostburg as well. I ended up staying in-state and heading 3-and-a-half hours west to Frostburg.
Frostburg is a small town in Western Maryland near Cumberland where there really aren’t many Black people unless they go to the University. In many of my classes, especially closer to the end of my undergraduate career, I was the only Black girl (there were a few Black men in my science courses). I eventually got used to it. Occasionally you would see things that vandals wrote all over campus that said “Niggers go home” and other terrible things like that. I went out for Halloween with my roommate during my freshman year and a guy told us that we “looked good for some colored girls.” That was the moment I knew: I am truly a minority in this place. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my friends or I were told that we were “pretty black girls” or how many times a White guy at a party told us “I’ve never slept with a Black girl” or the ever-famous and equally as irritating, “I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE” statement that we’d often hear after someone had one too many drinks. But I still managed to enjoy my years at Frostburg. Which leads me to the next thing –
At Frostburg, my friend Shannon and I decided to rush a sorority, and ended up accepting bids and pledging to Kappa Beta Gamma International Sorority. There were no historically Black sororities on campus at the time, except for Sigma Gamma Rho, which was very small so and we were unaware of their existence at the time…
I pledged KBG, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy myself. I would be lying if I said I didn’t truly care about those women like true sisters. To this day, I still appreciate all of those women, even the ones I don’t keep in close contact with anymore. It was a good run. I actually became pretty involved, before the chapter closed. I was elected to the Greek council and held several positions of power in my sorority; I also served as a Rho Chi (recruitment counselor) in one recruitment cycle.
My sorority went through several very rough patches where we lost a lot of sisters to misconduct issues. By the time I reached my last semester and became president, our chapter was predominantly Black. I specifically remember our Pennsylvania chapters coming down to the Burg to visit us and help us recruit, and one of my White chapter sisters told them in confidence (not knowing the rest of us heard her) that it was hard for her because “I’m white and most of them are Black.” Not only did that feel like a slap in the face, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the tone of entitlement in her voice. As if us Black girls weren’t dealing with that feeling for three years.
I or my sisters of color were never directly disrespected because of our race; let me make that clear. But being around the Greek scene at Frostburg exposes you to a lot of things that you just can’t know without experiencing yourself. An overwhelming number of students at Frostburg are either in national GLOs or off campus fraternities/sororities. Some of the off-campus greeks were the guys who would say and do racist things on campus like yelling “Nigger” out car windows or on the roof of their frat houses. But I’m not here to talk about my Greek Org, I want to talk about another greek organization who also has a chapter at Frostburg: SAE.
Those of you who are not well-versed in the Greek system may not understand that National Greek letter organizations exist in many different chapters all over the world. SAE is a large national fraternity that happens to have a chapter at Frostburg. I’ll be honest, I have a few friends in SAE, and as a whole, the brothers of SAE at Frostburg are some of the nicest men I’ve ever met. I must also say there are also Black men in that chapter who love their letters and their brotherhood. I don’t know anything about the inner workings of their chapters – just as no one would know the inner workings of my sorority – but every chapter is different.
Every frat or sorority has their own chants and songs we like to sing for fun or as part of an activity. Chants were fun to my sorority. We had funny chants, we had sexually explicit chants, we had religious songs, we had something for every type of women. But to find out that there are people out there in other orgs learning chants that are specifically made to disrespect a particular race of people is mind-blowing. Is this post-racial America? Why is it that every Black person I know at my alma mater can attest to being disrespected because of their race? I’m fortunate to have gone to that school for 4 years without any traumatic experiences, but I know other students at other schools and mine have not been so lucky. I know people who were called the n-word to their face, which at the time was crazy and unbelievable to me. I’m much wiser now.
It is not easy to be Black and attend a school where over 80 percent of the student body is White. Many people are prejudiced and don’t even realize it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been underestimated in class study groups or how many stupid questions or assumptions I’ve heard from White people. I’ve overheard conversations in the student center and in other places on campus where White people had racist conversations. On April 18, 2010, which is coincidentally the same day I was initiated into KBG, two students were shot off-campus – one died, and one was seriously injured. The shooter, both victims, and the girl who the dispute started over, were all Black. If we were already seen as a hostile species, this incident did not help. The things I hated about Black people in high school suddenly started to make more sense to me.
Then you hear, “Well it’s not ALL White people that are racist.” “Why are ALL the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a NATIONAL organization being called racist? There are Black SAEs!”
You’re right. It’s not all White people. All the brothers of SAE are not racists, and I can personally vouch for the fact that many of them are, in fact, Black. I can also tell you that all Black people are not unintelligent, hostile, disrespectful degenerates that racist people might think we are. Our men are not all a risk to society. Our women are not all “angry.” All white people aren’t racist. All members of SAE are not racist, some of them are even of color. Doesn’t it suck to be generalized? Yeah? Well “get over it.”
If you’re truly not racist, I love you. I love you because you’ll understand every word I just said. You may even be able to empathize. If anything I wrote offended you, then maybe you need to reevaluate.
It’s not all of us. Don’t generalize us.
Can you hear us now?
I thought it was a great time to write this, as I was thinking about it and ranting about it on Twitter. It just happens to be Wednesday, a day I’ve designated for thought-provoking posts, and it is the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I was watching the speech being aired on MSNBC during Chris Haye’s All In timeslot with my younger brothers, aged 12 and 13, and I remembered a time where I said something about an event in Black history and they had never even heard of or knew what I was talking about. I said, “Didn’t you learn that in school?” They said, “No. We only learned about Rosa Parks sitting on the bus and Martin Luther King being an activist and getting shot and killed.” I asked if they emphasize or acknowledge Black History Month at school. They said no. I then asked if they knew who our nearby airport was named after and his significance (the full name of the airport is Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, or just shortened as BWI or BWI Marshall). I had never actually taken the time to really think about that. I guess I just assumed that Black History Month was taught and celebrated in most schools in the United States.
I spent much of my childhood in city neighborhoods, one of those being Baltimore City. I went to Leith Walk Elementary – School #245 (they never let us forget which number our school was). Black History month was vibrant and exciting. Hallways and classrooms plastered with posters and drawings of prominent Black men and women; spreads of red, green, and black; a new Black history fact or story every morning read to us over the intercom every morning by Mrs. Greer, our principal; and the singing of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” This was normal at Leith Walk. Even when it wasn’t Black history month, school was very festive. If you go to the school’s website, you’ll be greeted by the ‘school song’ that I so vividly remember. We’d have huge assemblies complete with students singing and dancing on stage, and a few older Black men and women who had come to talk to us about the 50s and 60s in the United States. I specifically remember having an assembly that probably took up most of the school day (aside from lunch) for a living legends assembly that honored great people in the community. I met then-Baltimore mayor, Kurt Schmoke, and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D) several times. I have even met Martin O’Malley (although that is because of my father). But anyway, not to stray from the topic, Black history was a big deal as a kid. And it was fun and fascinating to learn. Believe it or not, they showed us Alex Haley’s “Roots” in third grade. I’ll never forget the mortified looks of my fellow classmates when they saw the naked women on the screen.
So in the summer of 1999, we moved to Randallstown in Baltimore County. Still a predominantly Black town, but far less congested (classes of 18 vs. City schools classes of nearly 40), a bit more affluent, and no city noises that I was used to. Still, Black History month was a big deal, but not nearly as much as it was at my previous elementary school. I stayed in this area until I graduated from high school and went to college. Sometime before then, my younger brothers started school in the same school district, my older brother had the same experience as me, in fact, we did not attend the same elementary schools but his school, Walter P. Carter Elementary, was another very enthusiastic school. I mean, that school is even named after a civil rights leader! My parents and brothers had moved to a different area of the county while I was away at college, and this area is predominantly White. Schools here do not emphasize Black history, and some do not even acknowledge that slavery occurred. Which, is understandable, there aren’t many Black people around here. But my brothers are not as familiar with these things as my older brother and I are.
Now one may argue that all those things are overboard and unnecessary. Maybe we don’t need to teach it in schools. Maybe Black History month is just a band-aid for the Black community. But I am amazed at how school districts, hell, even different parts of the SAME school district differ in their teachings of American History. A sorority sister of mine interned in Allegany County in Western Maryland, and was told by the principal not to talk about Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was so surprised that a principal specifically instructed teachers not to teach that type of material. And no offense, the locals of Western Maryland can sometimes be very unkind and intolerant to people of color. The fact that the schools are not teaching these things is probably contributing to that. There have been many times in college at Frostburg that I can remember racial slurs being written in random places on campus, or neighborhood folk just being obnoxious and yelling things like “White Power” out of their car windows.
I don’t often feel very strongly about many issues, but I can honestly say that this issue intrigues me. I’m usually one to recognize prejudice, while still maintaining the understanding that not everyone thinks that way (the optimist in me), but today, I can really see how regional values are important. While we’ve come a long way from slavery, legal segregation, Black suffrage, President Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the election (and re-election) of President Barack Obama we have not yet completed this journey. And we have to keep working at it.
Thanks for reading.