A “Tiny” Misunderstanding: Should Black Greeks Be Mad At Tameka Harris?
By Jarrad Henderson
Earlier this week, a photograph of Tameka “Tiny” Harris jokingly throwing up hand signs normally associated with members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., made its rounds on social media sites, setting comment sections on fire. On MadameNoire, hundreds of comments were made with the topics varying from the “serious matter” of the images to the relevancy of Black Greek Lettered Organizations (BGLOs) today. As someone who has spent the last five years documenting this important and essential culture in my upcoming film project Beyond This Place, I’ve concluded that often times members of BGLOs (including myself at a certain stage in my development) get instantly offended when someone mocks these organizations. And while sometimes it’s justified, I’ve often wondered why?
It goes beyond how hard we fought for our letters. It’s not the potential loss of authenticity/exclusivity that bothers us. It has to deal with more than the legacies of great leadership that we were built upon. Somehow, silently, Black society has allowed our most organic, collectively progressive and influential group of African American organizations to become taboo to criticize. Even more insane is the idea that public conversations, which surround BGLOs, only happen when Divine Nine organizations are being criticized about cases of pledging and hazing. While I understand the emotional response of members who are upset at the “Tiny” misunderstanding, I also feel that the Divine Nine’s ability to grow its mission is heavily contingent on our ability to examine ourselves outside of the lens of entertainment and positively construct better representations of our culture. It’s a challenge I have personally adopted as an independent filmmaker trying to tell positive stories about our organizations. Sometimes I feel like Chris Rock when he said that he loves Hip-Hop music, but he’s tired of defending it. I love Black Greeks, but sometimes it’s hard to defend some things we do. I could not defend someone who thinks that an appropriate response to Tiny’s hand gestures should be some type of punishment or verbal “checking.” It’s juvenile and extremely ironic when we consider that more and more the disrespect of our image is coming from members within our own Greek communities.
I can’t defend entertainment at the expense of our history. It’s time to stop making fun of ourselves. You cannot host an “Act Like A ______ (insert unofficial org mascot here)” competition or Greek “switch day,” in which members of BGLOs temporarily switch identities with organizations of the opposite sex to do strolls, chants and sometimes wear each others Greek letters…and THEN turn around and get upset when a non-member throws up our unofficial hand signs. “But they didn’t pledge,” one might say. Unfortunately, hand signs aren’t officially recognized elements of our organizations and therefore are not exclusively used by members of BGLOs. If they were, no one would have confused Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson of being affiliated with a gang, instead of being a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. As members of the Black Greek community, we must decide what we want our brand to be in the 21st Century. Branding, not in the sense of our letters, colors, logos, hand signs and slogans, but what do we want people to feel when our organizations are mentioned on a community, city, regional and national level?
In a digital age, in which people are attempting to expose NPHC organizational secrets on Instagram out of spite, it is no longer a sustainable model for us to only concern ourselves with entertaining each other. We need criticism, and not just for the sake of criticizing, but to help us grow holistically. Events like these make it harder to defend the progressive nature of our organizations. In my upcoming film, Beyond This Place, I will try to help offer a different perspective on Black Greek life beyond pledging, stepping and stroll offs. In the next few years, many other films will continue to explore the pledging and hazing storyline in both documentary and Hollywood productions (See Forrest Whitaker’s Underground) and while it is an important piece of addressing the challenges facing BGLOs, Beyond This Place offers an alternative perspective, in which organizations and their members best practices can be shared in an attempt to identify what things we are doing right and what areas we still need to address with tenacity and intent.
I invite you to participate in the development of this film by donating to our Indiegogo campaign. Watch our trailer, included below, in which world renowned poet and educator Nikki Giovanni speaks about why she thinks sisterhoods like Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. are still important to today. Out of all of this, we must recognize that criticism is an essential element to our growth. Winston Churchill said that “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” We can’t let this “Tiny” misunderstanding or questions about our relevancy take our eyes off the prize. Let’s concern ourselves with the uplifting of our communities. They need you more than ever. They need us more than ever.
Jarrad Henderson is an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., initiated at Arizona State University. Henderson now lives in Blacksburg, VA where he works in video production for Virginia Tech.