The Invisible 'White Only' Sign and Why We Don't Always Need to Be Included

By Catherine Saunders The year is 2015 – 15 years into the millennium and 150 years post reconstru...

By Catherine Saunders

The year is 2015 – 15 years into the millennium and 150 years post reconstruction. This numerical distance between overt racial prejudice and the subtleties of contemporary culture seduces many into the belief that diversity, or inclusion of people of color into traditionally white spaces, is an obligation rather than the unfulfilled expectation it is.

Take the recent video posted by the University of Alabama chapter of sorority Alpha Phi for example. Presumably created to attract new pledges, this video features an abundance of seemingly physically fit, mostly blonde women as porcelain as their sorority house in the background. The only shade that varies from this porcelain are the few Alpha Phi’s that have a darker hue of hair.

Now while this video does not hold up a sign that says “whites only,” it does promote a single aesthetic in the uniform appearance of its members. However, this is a good thing. Diversity in contemporary society fosters visibility that merely appears to resolve past issues. Thus, if Alpha Phi did integrate its sea of white sisters, they would do so grudgingly and this colored addition would be nothing more than a sorority step child.

Both traditional and contemporary society praises Black folks who integrate traditionally white spaces. From Iman’s success as a supermodel to Michelle Obama as the First Lady, Black women who excel in traditionally white spaces are praised and forever engraved in history. Not to diminish these women as any less than great, but why do we praise Black people for existing in white spaces?

The answer to this is simple: systematic racism. Systematic racism operates silently, embedding many Black people with a sense of deep inferiority. This inferiority persuades many Black folks to believe that the best they can be is second best. So instead of starting their own organizations, they seek to integrate and exceed the performance of whites as a means of overcompensating for their deeply ingrained inferiority.

So, no I don’t believe Alpha Phi should integrate their sorority with people of color as their video clearly outlines the desired prototype. As a Black woman, I appreciate their honesty as I have no desire to go where I am not wanted. But more importantly, I do not believe that Black women should wish to be a part of an organization that fails to represent their beauty.

Furthermore, the exclusion of women of color is not the only problem with the recruitment video. While diversity among women is completely absent from the video, the video features a cameo from a Black male athlete. This Black male athlete not only embodies the sole person of color but also the sole male in the video. So while there is no place for the Black woman in Alpha Phi, there is a symbolic place for the Black man. The Black male athlete adds to white female desirability in a way that the Black woman does not. The Black male athlete, to combat his own feelings of inferiority, often finds that his success comes full circle when he places a white woman on his arm. This ideal is demonstrated in this video as we see the Black male athlete alongside the women of Alpha Phi, where the white woman achieves her trophy status at the expense of the Black male’s need to overcompensate.

However, if Black women are not good enough to be in your video, then Black men are not either. Thus, this video not only epitomizes the reality of “white only” spaces, but the anxiety many white women and non-Black women of color have towards the presence of Black women, all the while desiring Black men. In questioning the sorority’s failure to include Black women, society performs in the intended way. The video was definitely intended to attract new pledges, but moreover the video was intended to attract the emotions that come from exclusion.

Alpha Phi gains its status by excluding those who do not meet its physical demands and by specifically telling Black women you are not good enough but your men are. To accept inferiority is a choice, and in simply stating that we do not have to be everywhere, Black women assert that our own space is better than a “white only” space. Simply put, we do not have to integrate to be great or even to be seen.


Catherine is an adjunct writing instructor and the pen behind the perspective on

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