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Opinion: Is the Black Fraternity/Sorority System Elitist? An Examination from the Inside

This is an opinion piece written and submitted to by Adrian Marcano 

Recently, my friend and I were having a discussion on the benefits and the flaws in pledging and becoming a member of the Divine Nine. We, as members of this illustrious group of individuals, obviously would not have joined if we did not believe that there are great benefits to becoming a member of these organizations. However, my friend who is not a member of a Greek organization, obviously has different opinions and reservations about the Greek community. As the conversation dragged on, he told me about a lecture that he had in one of his Africana  Studies classes about the Divine Nine. His professor and other individuals in the class shared a similar notion that Black Greeks were elitist and prove to be divisive in regards to establishing cohesiveness among the Black community. Interestingly enough, I also had a similar conversation with another friend of mine in which she questioned if the Greek system is merely a form of self-segregation in which we join these organizations simply to state that we are “the best of the best”. But, as a member, I know that this is not the case and I never had these notions of Greek life so why do so many others have these negative perceptions and what can we do to effectively combat these views?

According to the dictionary, elitist is defined as, “(of a person or class of persons) considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, wealth, or position in society”. By this definition of elitist, it is reasonable to see why some would assume that we are, but we did not bestow this classification on ourselves. Rather, it was given to us by others who saw the work that we did in the Black community and the members that happened to join the ranks. We all know the history of our individual organizations’ founders, many of whom, come from humble beginnings that would not readily classify them as elite by any stretch of the imagination. It is through myth and public opinion that we became to be known as the elite. Our codes, values, and most importantly, our secrecy is what gave us this title.

However, this elite status was not completely forced upon us by outside perception. We gladly accepted this belief that we somehow possess qualities or traits that make us greater than other members in our community. We did nothing to disprove that we were not and this is why the notion still carries on to this day. Some people seek membership because they want the title and the esteem that goes with the letters, not because of any philanthropic work or respect for the history of the organization. The individuals who puff out their chests and tote the organization as if it is something to be put on display is what creates this elitism. There is a fine line between being proud of the org and flaunting the org. Too many of us flaunt our orgs without recognizing the consequences of doing so. This, in turn, creates a stigma that we feel as if we are better than others when it should not be the case.

Our purpose is to help the Black community, not just ourselves.

This elitist ideology plays into W.E.B. DuBois’s idea of the Talented Tenth, which becomes extremely problematic when speaking about inclusiveness in the Black community. The Talented Tenth is the idea that the Black community is going to be “saved by its exceptional men”. He posits that we must develop the best of the race so that they may “guide the mass away from the contamination and death of the worst” of the race. DuBois creates this hierarchy among members of the Black community and creates an elitist system where Black people should only help a select number of people in order to better the race. When we adopt this idea, we effectively shun a whole host of others when we should be seeking to help them. Many of our founders were educators, philanthropists, and doctors. They sought to help all people, not just the select few within our organization. By only helping ourselves, we carry on this problematic notion as established by DuBois. We neglect the fact that not much separates us from the person who could not make into college or the person who did not have the funds or the opportunity to pledge. Furthermore, we neglect the humble beginnings of our founders and carry on a notion that I believe, they would not have approved of.

We have to find a better way of creating a more cohesive relationship between Black Greeks and the general community that destroys these negative perceptions. Although the process to make it into our organization may have been difficult, we must humble ourselves and understand that the process did not make us better than other people. We struggled because we believed that our organizations represent a higher ideal that we feel fits what we believe in. We make the organization, the organization does not make us. As such, we must be weary of how we carry ourselves so we do not tarnish the name of our organizations. Similarly to how our rules dictate that we carry ourselves with respect and honor, we should also treat those outside the Greek community with love and respect. We should not hesitate to help those who have received the same opportunities that we have received. We must understand that while we have worked hard to make it to where we are, we are also lucky. We should accept our position, but seek to not alienate others.

About The Author: Adrian Marcano is a Hamilton College grad from Brooklyn, NY. He is a Spring ’14 initiate of the Iota Phi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Now that his shoulders are retired, he is a culture writer at 

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