How Sororities Recruit Using "Palatable Blackness"
The night before the first day of class, Carolina students and members of the Chapel Hill community took down an overt symbol of racism on campus by toppling Silent Sam. The statue, erected in 1913, idolized a figure in history that exhibited atrocious attacks on the humanity of black people. Taking it down signified a monumental win for justice. If only every manifestation of racism on campus were so easy to spot.
The Greek life community on our campus receives criticism for a variety of injustices relating to sexual assault, hazing, and the culture of exclusivity that it fosters in relation to race and socioeconomic status. Whether intentional or not, the overwhelmingly white membership of these organizations means that racist views, if they do exist within the organizations, continue to go largely unnoticed. This is not to say that every person in a fraternity or sorority is racist - that would be egregious - but that its participants would do well to be more cognizant of their institutions' darker pasts. It is not a judgement on the character of anyone involved, but instead an inevitable truth: sororities and fraternities will continue to perpetuate racial divides, however unintentional those may be, until they critically reflect on their own values and origins.
UNC Panhellenic Recruitment kicks off this week, meaning that the past few weeks have been filled with current sorority members posting about and publicizing their organizations.
Typically, each sorority has their members post Instagram stories that highlight why incoming students should choose to join their sorority. These stories often consist of black artists, specifically rappers like Drake, Jay-Z, and Travis Scott, photoshopped with the sorority’s letters and other additions. Meanwhile, the sororities themselves consist of predominantly white women, usually unaware that their recruitment ads are problematic. This dichotomy is best summarized by UNC senior Tiana Attride, who described it as “White people wanting to take advantage of black culture without the stress of being black.”
It is not just one sorority doing so. Zeta Tau Alpha members posted an ad titled “Go Greek and Meet Your Migos,” accompanied by a drawing of musical group Migos with the sorority’s name. Kappa Delta members posted an ad that had a photo of rapper Travis Scott with the words “Go Sicko Mode. Go Greek. Go KD.” Delta Delta Delta members posted an ad of Cardi B with the words “Came Through DDDrippin,” along with a video of various black rappers, including Jay-Z, making a triangle— the sorority’s symbol—in the air with their hands. Alpha Delta Pi posted similar stories.
These examples are not meant to condemn the organizations named above - rather, they show the broad misunderstanding of the problem.
On a surface level, an all-white organization using black artists to promote recruitment could be seen as that organization admiring black artists or wanting to diversify their membership. If sororities don’t represent black people in their recruitment ads, isn’t that sending a message to prospective members of color that they are not welcome? And if these girls listen to rap music, buy rap albums, go to rap concerts, and hang posters in their room of rap artists, why shouldn’t they be able to use black artists to promote their sorority?
The answer, in short, is that by including black people in Greek life recruitment ads, while simultaneously excluding black people from membership, sororities display their tendency to align with "palatable blackness" - an acceptance of black culture when itäs comfortable, easy, and for their own benefit. In an environment where racism is ubiquitous in more ways than we can see, it’s white silence and micro-aggressions toward people of color that perpetuate the problem.
UNC graduate Morgan Vickers, who received several awards for her research at UNC on the history of lynching in North Carolina, finds the usage of black artists in sorority ads problematic because of how sorority members, in general, choose to accept only specific facets of blackness.
“[Sorority members] are the same people who laughed at us as we [black people] marched down Franklin Street and protested Silent Sam and spoke about Black Lives Matter,” she said. “I have such a vivid memory of white sorority girls literally looking down upon us from the comfort of their exclusive, Colonial-Style homes.”
Sororities use black artists because it makes them seem cool, but they don’t acknowledge their privilege, they don’t acknowledge their classism, and they certainly do not acknowledge the institutional hardships that black people face every single day.
Maybe Travis Scott wouldn’t care if he saw his face as the cover of a Kappa Delta recruitment ad. Maybe Chance the Rapper would be happy to see his face plastered on the walls inside sorority houses. But if the people of color at this university don’t feel safe, or don’t feel comfortable due to the exclusionary nature of Greek life, then every white individual has a responsibility to actively question whether they really support blackness, or if they only support it when it suits them.