Saturday, March 12, 2011

We Are Not The Talented Tenth

The late winter/early spring is the season for celebrating the start of our beginnings as sororities. The Black Socialite reminded me of this. The majority of the sororites were founded at Howard and the founding dates are clustered together in a 10-day block in January.

As Black Socialite said, "more lives have been positively transformed than negatively impacted because of our existence."

During this season of celebrations for the establishment of these orgs and for the centennials and 100+ birthdays of many of the NPHC groups, many people--non-affiliated and affiliated--use the Talented Tenth to explain who and what we are.

People, please: Cut that ish out.

W. E. B. DuBois described the talented tenth as the following:
when society develops the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers.
Ideally, members of the talented tenth "sets the ideals of the community where he lives, directs its thoughts and heads its social movements."

The ideal fell short when put into practice. DuBois disavowed and decried the use of the talented tenth later in life.

Yet we continue to use this term to describe who we are. But we aren't. Once upon a time, we may have been the creme de la creme, the true talented tenth, the social and intellectual leaders. But even E. Franklin Frazier disrupted that notion. Deborah Whelan talked about this in her book, Disciplining Women (which focused on AKA):
Members of these BGLOs may appear at times to succumb to the dominant conceptualization of aesthetics and the capitalist-driven ethos of what E. Franklin Frazier called their "conspicuous consumption." Frazier noted that the first eight of the NPHC BGLOs spent a total of $2,225,000 in 1952 on cotillions and other social parties. In response, the organizations argue that their lavish parties fund their core civic and community development programs.

Few members and chapters hold enough independent wealth to fund their local and national community work without fund-raisers, thus the reality of their social aspect and their avowed selfless benevolence no doubt lies somewhere in the middle of both positions.

Partying and kicking it? Spending over 2 million on flowers, decoration, entertainment and probably liquor? Include other items such as liquor, wax statues, appearances from 1990s New Jack Swing artists, lingerie, and St. John suits, and you can replace 1952 with 2010 or 2011 easily.

And it was expected that community leadership will emerge from our ranks. Fail. Now, that's a fallacious assumption to assume that the best and the brightest in the race will come from the talented tenth and BGLOs. See these examples of community leaders and national leaders with no BGLO letters:
A. The Obamas (Peep the NY Times article to see the commotion caused after the announcement of her acceptance of the AKA invitation to membership. Until I see pictures from her proclaimed AKA initiation, I refuse to claim Michelle Obama in the Greekdom sisterhood.)
B. Damn never every Black folk in the White House
C. Kamala Harris
D. Corey Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ
E. Majora Carter, founder Sustainable South Bronx
F. Ursula Burns, CEO Xerox
G. Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner
H. Oprah Winfrey (who wanted to be down at Tennessee State but was rejected/not accepted)
I. Shonda Rimes
, creator of Grey's Anatomy
This list can go on. But I'm tired of counting who isn't in our ranks.

The takeaway from this rant:
We are not the Talented Tenth.
Not. Even. Close.
Once upon a time, we got the opportunity to be that group DuBois wanted us to be. But we have failed (and we are still failing).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are We Adding Value or Are We Replaceable?

To be honest, I spend half of the time that I spend thinking about BGLOs about our value added.

And I keep circling back to this song and Beyonce's lyrics:
Don't you ever for a second get to thinkin'
You're irreplaceable

I think this is apt for historically Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities.

We think that we are it. The bee's knees. The best and the brightest. The leaders. The doers. The tastemakers. The changemakers.

Basically, we believe that we are the shh...ish.

For many years, that's been the common mindset of so many. Year after year, I hear the same tired lines from chapters, members of other groups, and the leadership of our organizations.
My sorority/fraternity is the ish. We do so much.
We provide real service to the community.
We don't write checks. We do service.
We give out 10 bazillion in scholarships.

Yeah, some chapters do that. A lot of chapters and individuals don't. Most organizations do. And many sit on the sidelines when it comes to real issues. (Um, how many NPHC organizations have national programs on environmental sustainability, food deserts, the commercial sexual exploitation of children,access to clean water and proper sanitation across the globe, modern slavery, or intimate partner violence/domestic violence?) How many organizations maintain consistent, sustaining programs with community partners rather than quickie, hit-and-quit-it programs/one-time photo op days of service/in-name only support of awareness days?

Honest to God: What is the purpose of our organizations?

As Black Socialite said in her blog post on the founding anniversary of Alpha Kappa Alpha, "more lives have been positively transformed than negatively impacted because of our existence."

That's great and all. But are we living up to those purposes? Are we meeting or exceeding the missions that the Founders set forth? How do we show qualitatively and quantitatively that we matter and that we are doing something?

Most of the time, I think we are falling short. Way short of the mark and the intended goals.

Maybe it is time for us to be replaced. But that time has been coming for awhile.

I think that sums up society's response to BGLOs. We are replaceable.
Sidenote: I can't stand Beyonce most days of the week, but I developed a new soft spot for her because of this article on her and my boyfriend-in-my head/her real-life husband, Jay-Z.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Inspirational Line Dance Video

I can barely shake my groove thing to my chapter's song of choice, but this man is getting down to Atomic Dog.

At his 100th birthday party.

Shout out to the Omegas for keeping it 100 in all things.

I am inspired. And I'm also going back to Zumba classes so I can build up my endurance and I can dance to the extended version of my chapter's song of choice.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Luckily, this time it wasn't one of us...

I saw this YouTube clip on Jezebel, and I had to repost. At first, I thought that this melee was one or two of Black sororities scrapping against each other (or a set of chapter members going upside the head).

I was somewhat relieved when I realized it wasn't us causing harm to the dear names of our organizations and/or beating the hell out of each other in the snow.

This ridiculous, thug life behavior is an epidemic that cuts across all boundaries, including Greek life. I thought it was just us. Now, I am mistaken.

Nope. The young thugs ladies getting down and dirty in this video are the Alpha Phis and Tri-Delts. Two National Panhellenic Councilsororities are going at each other like my freshmen year roommates did when Roomie #1 stole Roomie 2's apple-green and dusty rose towels.**

Somewhere, their founders are clutching their collective pearls, rolling over in their posh graves, and muttering, "This is behavior unbecoming of sisters."

**They weren't really my roommates. They lived across the hall, but the fight was epic. And there is a difference between NPHC and NPC. Look into it.

Step shows, image, and our organizations

A friend told me that he was being forced to attend a step show at a local university. He sighed and explained that every time he went to a step show he was embarrassed by the behavior of the chapters and members. His own fraternity's behavior was worst; at the last step show, a member pulled down his pants and mooned the audience. He put it best: "Which part of my organization's guiding principles are they going to piss on tonight? I don't know, but I know they will do some coonery to embarrass the organization."

Amen. That is why I refuse to go to any step show ever again.

At first I resisted going to step shows because I didn't want to pay (yes, I am frugal).

Now, if you gave me a free golden ticket, I would tear it up, take a match to the shreds, and hand you the ashes in return.

I hate step shows and all that they stand for. And that's going to get some corners of Black Greekdom excited and infuriated; they'll talk about how much care and effort they put into the show, how much time they take to plan the show. That's cool, but I could ask you if you are putting the same care, effort, and dedication into the growth of the sorority. [And don't give me that crap about we raise money for the chapter line. If you spend $2000 on a show (travel, props, clothing, music, choreographer) and the money you won is $1,000, that's not a good return ratio. Most step show winnings support the step team, not the chapter programming or administration.]

That's not the point. Step shows are causing the slow deaths of our organizations. These damn shows (most of times not even NPHC sponsored so who knows where the money is going) is why our organizations are crumbling into non-existence.** For many people, this is the only exposure they get to BGLOs.

I remember the freshmen on my campus who were in awe because they had never seen anything like this, never knew about groups like this. At step shows, people see us shout, stroll, call, step, chant, and have a good time. And that's it. That's the sole impression many people have. They believe that's all we can do. That's the only public representation we have out there (beyond School Daze and Stomp the Yard, but those are different discussions for a different day).

Image and branding matter. And our collective image and individual organizational reputations are grounded in the public representations and presentations we give and make. If all your tangible branding efforts are through step shows, yard shows, and parties, don't expect people to look at your organization as a beacon of light, service, fellowship, and sisterhood (or brotherhood).

Naw, you are seen as the party crew, the entertainment, the shuck-and-jive show. And that gets old after awhile.

And we wonder why we have the piss-poor IG pools, why we have people who jump into these organizations without any service experience and without any interest in the history of the organizations. Next time you walk into a step show and see some shenanigans, ask yourself, "Would my founders be proud of the example we are setting?"

**Note: Step shows are just one of many reasons for this. I blame St. John suits, the lack of strategic planning, mission creep, general incompetence, and organizational mismanagement as well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

About This Blog

Welcome to The BGLO Thin Line! 

This blog will not teach you how to get into an organization. If you want that info, you need to go to the respective organization's website to check that information out. We don't give advice on how to be interested  or how to be down. We are here to give the real tea, the scoop, the dish on what it means after the burning sands have been extinguished, when the license plate and jacket have been put away, when stepping causes you physical pain rather than pleasure, and when the fun and novelty of Greek life are stripped away by the realities of working in the chapter or just working in general. 

Yeah, we're talking about doing the "work" we all claim to do: doing community service, leading chapters, being active. 

This isn't a blog for everyone. But it is something for us to vent, discuss, and keep it 100 about this Greek Life.