I’m not a member of any Black Greek Letter Organization; but I’m going to ask this anyway: Why do we always roll out the red carpet for White folks but act so selective and exceptional towards each other?
I ask this because yesterday, BuzzFeed corespondents’ The Try Guys released a video of them “trying out” stepping with the brothers with a chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at the University of South California.
Yeah, you read that right: some Alphas and a bunch of random non-Greek affiliated White guys (and an Asian guy) had a step show.
You can watch the video below:
But for the purpose of this essay, here are parts of the video, which I want to highlight:
- The Try Guys explain everything they know about stepping, which isn’t much.
- Oluwatomi Akingbola & Kagi Kananga, Alphas from the chapter, explain that stepping has its roots in Africa and African-American dance traditions including tap.
- When asked how they felt about three White guys and an Asian guy “trying out” stepping, Kananga says, “I think its cool. I think it says a lot about the way that the culture has transcended.”
- A montage of the Alphas teaching The Try Guys not only how to step, but also rhythm.
- Kananga explains the history of Black Greek Letter Organizations to The Try Guys. In particular, he said, “Black Greek Letter Organizations were founded back in 1900s as fraternities and sororities for minorities living in communities not welcomed to join the predominately White fraternities at the time. Not only did they create their own organizations but they created their own identities through the organization.”
- Akingbola said, “You’re only going to remain ignorant about a culture if you don’t step out of your box to learn about it” over another montage of the The Try Guys stepping badly
- The Try Guys and the Alphas do a joint step show at the season finale of the USC basketball game.
- An unidentified Alpha said of The Try Guys performance: “You know, I was really impressed by The Try Guys. They came in with no knowledge, not even about the frats themselves but about stepping also. And for them to come in and be able to learn this in a week? Like, it was amazing. They really gave 110 percent.”
You see where I’m going with this.
Okay, let me spell it out for you.
A few of weeks ago, the Black blogosphere got itself worked up into a tizzy over the appropriateness of Lalah Hathaway’s Greek letter embroidered bucket hat, which she wore in tribute to her late father Donny Hathaway, who was not only a legendary singer but also a proud and active member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Some said it was a fine tribute. However many other folks called her tribute disrespectful. And very few said anything about her hat being a reflection of “the way that the culture has transcended…”
My first few days as a college freshman were spent hanging out with a bunch of my new dorm buddies and getting myself accumulated with Virginia Union University’s campus. After an afternoon of walking around mixed in with friendly banter, I decided to rest a bit on a nearby multi-colored bench with Greek symbols on it. But before my butt could find that sweet spot on stone slab, my new friends accosted me and began yelling for me to get off of the bench. “Don’t you know that bench belongs to the Greeks,” is what they yelled.
Feeling a bit like Rosa Parks I asked, “what the big deal was? It’s just a bench. I pay tuition here too. And if they did not want people sitting on it, then perhaps they should have decorated a pole.” Of course my friends didn’t see it like that. They told me that the bench was sacred and that, as a non-Greek, my sitting on it was disrespectful of all of the things these Black Greeks endured to get their letters. Naturally, I did not want to dishonor anyone’s sacred space, so I got up.
No harm, no foul.
With that said, every so often we read stories and see pictures of Black Greeks chiding other non-Greek Black people for faking Greek affiliation and appropriating symbols and paraphernalia that don’t belong to them. And yet, three White guys and an Asian friend stroll into a sacred space with a bunch of cameras, talking about “hey guys, can we try out stepping?” And suddenly folks start spilling all of the secrets and offering benches for them to rest their weary feet on.
Likewise, it certainly seems a bit odd that we treat White curiosity, which is probably way more dangerous to the “sacredness” of our sacred spaces, as some sort of cultural exchange, even while many of their institutions, particularly the Greek letter ones, remain exclusive and downright hostile to our collective (Greek affiliated or not) existence.
The way I see if, if they want to step in step shows and know what’s its like, then they should have to pledge like the rest of us (Black folks) have been instructed to do.
But again, I ain’t no Greek.
Still, I’m curious to see what folks, particularly non-Greek folks think about The Try Guys Try Stepping video? Is this a cultural exchange or are we allowing folks to overstep their boundaries?