Yes, I Am Mad: A Response to One "Sorority Sister" from Another

by Evan Seymour

Last week, I read an opinion piece posted on For Harriet, critiquing Black women’s backlash to VH1’s new show, Sorority Sisters. I found the title, “So Now You're Mad?: A Response to ‘Sorority Sisters’ from a Sorority Sister” to be taunting, and I found the piece to be riddled with problematic generalizations.

Yes, I am mad. I am mad because VH1 continues to promote negative portrayals of black women. But I am also mad because since I am a so-called Sorority Sister, I am being ridiculed and stereotyped by some members of the African American community, my own community.

In her bio, the author identifies herself as a “Southern socialite”, but then claims to be “confused about and in awe of the elitism of [her] peers.” If I am not mistaken, to be a socialite is to be elitist. So, what we have here is a case of one throwing stones from a glass house, a behavior of which we have all been guilty on multiple occasions. The truth of the matter is, there is s degree of privilege that comes along with a college degree – regardless of if one decides to pledge to a Greek letter organization or not. Whether that privilege is paired with elitism is largely determined by the mindset and actions of the person in possession of said privilege.

The author goes on to state that, “It’s time for Black Greeks to stop acting like they are better than other Black people.” This statement is a divisive generalization, detrimental to the progress of black folks. My mother is not a member of a Greek organization. I do not think I’m better than her. My best friend is not a member of a Greek organization. I do not think I’m better than her. The majority of the parents of my more than 500 former students, most of them from some of the most challenged neighborhoods in New Orleans, are not members of Greek organizations. I do not think I’m better than them. Again, what the author is actually talking about are elitism and privilege. Both of these transcend Greek letters.

An “Us vs. Them” mentality has nothing to do with one’s Greek affiliation, or lack thereof. In this particular context, the referred-to mentality has to do with members of the African American community who—because of their socioeconomic status and life experiences, and maybe also because of a degree of self-loathing—feel a disconnect from the impoverished members of our community, those individuals whose daily lives are more directly impacted by the ever-prevalent scars of slavery.

In an effort to illustrate my point, let me provide readers with the names of a few individuals who fit the mold I am describing: Ben Carson, Charles Barkley, Clarence Thomas and Stacey Dash. To the best of my knowledge, none of them are “Sorority Sisters.” Elitism transcends Greek letters. Let’s address the problem, as a whole, instead of singling out a small segment of our community that is trying to affect change in a very targeted manner, for a very specific purpose.

Later in her piece, the author writes, “It’s sad that your moral barometer is only activated when your letters are disrespected and not when your womanhood is.” These were the words that made the feminist in me, the Black woman in me, and the scholar in me start metaphorically steaming from the ears.

How dare someone who does not know me try and tell me about my moral barometer?

Whenever my womanhood is disrespected, my moral barometer is activated. When I see other women disrespected—Greek or not, Black or not—my moral barometer is activated. When I see anything I deem immoral, unjust, or disconcerting, my moral barometer is activated.

Why is it that the author felt the need to attack other women in sororities, and then use the fact that she is herself a member of a sorority as an excuse for such an abrasive critique of a miniscule segment of the black community? Imagine these words uttered by a man: “It’s sad that your moral barometer is only activated when your letters are disrespected and not when your womanhood is.” Conscious women, regardless of Greek affiliation, would be incensed by this judgmental finger wagging, and rightly so. The level of insult and injury should be measured no differently when these sentiments are expressed by a woman.

The author of this piece says that sorority sisters need to wake up. Well, in my opinion, we all need to wake up. Negative images of black girls and women are pervasive in music and music videos, on television and in film. Negative images of black boys and men are pervasive in music and music videos, on television and in film. All of this imagery is detrimental to the development of our community, the development of our children, and the perception of our community held by the outside world.

Instead of sticking to the status quo and tearing each other apart, thus contributing to the “Us vs. Them” mentality that prevents people from working together as a collective, let us all fight against all negative portrayals of African Americans – both male and female. And for that to happen, we don’t need a petition, we need changed behavior and action.

And, just for the record: I don’t even watch VH1.

Photo credit: VH1 via News One

Evan Seymour is a freelance journalist from Southern California. Though she currently works in broadcast journalism, it is Evan's aspiration to be an award-winning novelist when she grows up.

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