Black Fraternities & Sororities…Still Relevant or Bourgeois Tribalism


So I’ve just left a wonderful sorority convention where over 11,000 mostly African American women made a huge impact on the local economy of a city. I believe the reported numbers are $15 million in hotel, food, and trade dollars. We also did a number of service projects that provided school supplies for children of incarcerated parents and food for hungry individuals. On the whole I am pleased with the service work we do. However, when my White colleagues realize that, at my age, I am still active in sorority life they seem amused.
I sometimes attempt to explain the fundamental differences between Black and White fraternal organizations. The primary difference is that White fraternities/sororities express their worth during the undergraduate years. Because of their wealth White organizations are capable of sponsoring houses their members live in. Thus, living in a choice house is an on-campus perk of Greek life for White students.
Most Black fraternities and sororities provide their tangible benefits in the post-graduate years. Listing a Divine 9 organization (the 9 historically Black Greek organizations) on one’s resume can open a professional door or smooth a transition. When I moved from the west coast to the Midwest I first contacted the local chapter members of my sorority in my new city to help me identify a realtor, a physician, a dentist, and an attorney…all of which they quickly did.
Some of the most notable African Americans in our society have Divine 9 affiliations…Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Coretta Scott King, Dorothy Height, and many, many more. All 9 of these organizations are built on a foundation of service and sisterhood/brotherhood. But there is another side to what happens on the ground in these organizations and it is this reality that makes “Black & Smart” ask about their relevance.
All of these organizations have battled the problem of hazing. Despite being illegal and against ALL the organizations’ policies, it still occurs. The depth of this behavior has resulted in physical and psychological harm even unto death and million dollar lawsuits. So, are these organizations still socially relevant? I believe they CAN be and clearly their programmatic initiatives in health, education, the economy, voter registration and political engagement, and culture are wonderful and positive forces in our communities. But, do they outweigh some of the tribalism that continues to this day? Do they outweigh some of the ways we pit ourselves against each other? Do they outweigh our representing ourselves as little more than gangs whose members have college degrees?
Our histories emerge from being excluded from White Greek life. They also emerge from being attentive to some of the specific needs of Black communities that were not being met by other organizations. They emerge from the need of the developing Black middle class to engage in racial uplift and “give back.”
Where is the place for these organizations in today’s Black society? How do we move beyond the cliquishness and foolishness? How do we do what we started out to do?

Stay Black & Smart!

2 thoughts on “Black Fraternities & Sororities…Still Relevant or Bourgeois Tribalism

  1. I remember walking on campuses of 8 HBCUs during a college tour when I was a high school junior. I remember seeing students walking around with their paraphernalia and thinking how cool they were to be part of those organizations. When I finally made it to my sophomore year of college at a HBCU in Georgia, I was excited to be apart one of these organizations. That excitement was put to rest when I learned the political, nepotistic, and tribalistic practices of “legacies.” Being a first generation college student can kill any chance if you joining one of these orgs at a HBCU with this system of nepotism. Guys had their mothers, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and grandfathers calling in favors like an episode of “Scandal.” After seeing this craziness I steered clear of the Greek Life for the rest of undergrad. Now, I don’t want this to sound like the rant of a bitter Non-Greek but looking back on it I cannot recall my Greek friends doing service if there was not some large event with cameras. This leads me to say the service was merely a public relations move for the chapter and something to check off the service requirement for the semester and focus on important thing like parties, step-shows, and making sure their fraternity controlled the SGA. It amazes me how organizations claim to be in service of their fellow man and woman and hold pedigree as a common practice for selecting members. Black Fraternities and Sororities are going to go extinct if they do not put a bigger emphasis on service and less on tribalism.


  2. Interesting question. I am not Greek, just never had the time or money while in school. I thought about the grad chapters, but again time and money. While there are times when I have seen behavior and traditions that were less than admirable from those in Greek life, I would be remiss if I did not say that I have been “lifted” as some of the women (Divine 9) have climbed through out my undergraduate, graduate and professional life. These women have been there for me out of commitment to the concept of “sisterhood” even though I can’t Ooop Ooop or Skee Wee, LOL!!!


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