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#Delta Sigma Theta

I lost my line sister yesterday.

It’s not like it wasn’t a possibility. But she’s one of the strongest people I know. I just assumed she’d bounce back.

This is Rock Steady we’re talking about here.

This grief is so heavy. It just comes in waves.

I’m heartbroken.

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Members at 1921 Delta Sigma Theta’s national Convention, hosted by Gamma Chapter at the University of Pennsylvania. Shown left to right: front, Virginia Margaret Alexander, Julia Mae Polk, Sadie Tanner Mossell; row 2, Anna R. Johnson, Nellie Rathbone Bright, Pauline Alice Young. Read More

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Delta Sigma Thetas of Tuskegee reunited in the Smokies and their love & inner beauty flowed into their paintings! Great memories to hold… #deltasigmatheta #reunion #sorority #smokymountains #greatsmokymountains #visitgatlinburg #visitsevierville #mypigeonforge #artstudioofthesmokies #paintparty #paintingparty #paintingpartysevierville #paintingpartypigeonforge #paintingpartygatlinburg #wineandcanvas #sipandpaint #paintandsip #sipandstroke #sisters

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After weeks of being haunted by the small colorful laminated flyers that were left all over campus, as well as confirming the attendance of everyone you knew, you couldn’t miss “Meet the Greeks”. Walking briskly toward the old gym, you could hear the DJ spinning all of the hottest LP’s in rotation as he yelled into the sound system. The crowd cheered. This was more than just a campus event to introduce students to Greek Life. It was a PARTY and it was live.

A few hundred North Jersey college students would gather together to watch as our favorite Black Greek Letter Organizations put on a show of their best stepping and strolling routines for all of us onlookers. The girls would swoon. The boys were already picturing themselves in the apparel. Some of us were just there to be nosy, peep the eye candy, and enjoy the music.

It truly was a sight to behold. The BGLOs were like proud peacocks. They were waving their arms, heels slamming the floor in some sort of line formation with each organization divided amongst their own. They glided, stomped, and strolled in unison to the beat of DMX’s “My Niggas”, from his critically acclaimed “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” album. You could smell the adrenaline in the air.

Their organizational colors are everywhere–painting the most beautiful mural of Black beauty in motion: black and gold, crimson and white, pink and green, purple and gold, blue and white, etc. Every organization with its own colors, calls, hand signs, and apparel in full representation. It looked like love, unity, brotherhood, sisterhood, and strength. I’m sure if you’d let them tell it, they would tell you they made it to the other side of those burning sands. Black excellence at its peak.

Historically, Black students at American universities were often excluded from associations enjoyed by the predominantly white student population in the form of fraternal organizations. Many Black students began organizing their own Greek letter organizations: a process that began around 1905 and began closing ranks during the 1980s.

Their focus was to address the needs for closer associations between college men and women through a brotherly or sisterly bond. In order to gain these bonds, these organizations needed a super-secret intake process that would guarantee secrecy and loyalty from the interests. With this, they began what is called “pledging”.

According to Walter Kimbrough, author of Black Greek 101, the term “pledging” was first used around 1922 on the campus of Wilberforce University. The groups created clubs, by which those who were interested in being apart could endure a process which would, in the end, possibly guarantee them both a spot in the organization, and popularity on campus. Those pledging are called probates, because the period is seen as probation from the rest of campus, during which they are set to endure hazing,

Hazing is a process which stresses perpetuating crude pranks and includes running errands for upperclassmen and obeying their orders. Pledges are forced to eat together and dress exactly alike during the probationary period, and can often be seen limping around campus during this time. The ones I know could not use their backsides for any of its intended purposes, which included sitting and shitting, because of those nights when the paddling got a little too heavy.

I was able to track down an old article from the LA Times, where in 2002, two girls who were pledging a Black sorority were “tied up and blindfolded and taken into the ocean in what is believed to be a trust-building ritual popular with black fraternities and sororities on the West Coast. Both girls drowned, and their bodies were pulled from the ocean by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Besides these horrific acts, pledges are not permitted to sleep, only rest, as they endure night after night of tedious physical torture. Pledges are also subjected to regular paddling, as mentioned above, which can cause the buttocks to swell, bleed, crack, and even turn black.

I have also witnessed a pledge wearing a dog collar for days. This is the same organization which forced a pledge to go into a McDonalds and bark an entire order of food, and when he was to complete the transaction, the pledge was then told to use his nose to slide the money up the counter, and into the cashier’s hand.

The thought that young men and women would put their bodies and minds through this type of distress reveals something significant about how far an individual will go to belong to a group. Sigmund Freud’s theory on Group Behavior basically suggests that the minds of those belonging to a group merge to form a singular way of thinking. Each member’s enthusiasm is increased as a result, and one becomes less aware of the true nature of one’s actions.

This is exactly the behavior I observed in the group of pledges I was able to interview. The interviews were discreet and private. I knew the pledges personally, and have decided to refer to them in this essay as them as Pledge One, Pledge Two, and Pledge Three.

When I sat down with Pledge One, the oldest of the three pledges, he appeared exhausted and malnourished. His cheeks appeared sunken. He reeked of a body odor that I cannot describe as anything short of the early stages of human decay. He said it was because he wasn’t allowed to wash the clothes he performed his pledging activities in. As he laid prostrate on the floor, I asked him a few questions.

“What is it that makes you continue in a process that does THIS to you?” I asked.

“Because I am the first in my family to go to college, and I will be the first to do something of this magnitude. I don’t want to let my family down, and I feel that if I can complete this process, than I know I can handle any other obstacle in life that comes my way,” he said.

It was honest. It seemed sincere, but I wondered why it sounded like something he had programmed himself to say.

“But your family doesn’t even know you’re going through this process. You told me you haven’t told anyone.”

"There are those who do know and are expecting me to complete the process, and I have to do it for them. I am not a quitter. If I leave, then all of the getting my ass beat daily, the thousands of dollars I’ve spent, the pushing my car to its limits, the barely passing my classes—it would all have been in vain.”

“So, there is no core reason why you feel you must be in this organization. You just don’t want to feel like you failed someone, especially yourself.”

“Exactly,” he said.

He had long convinced himself of what he had to do to be somebody. He was in too deep.

I sat down with Pledge Two shortly after and asked him the same question,

“What makes you stay in this process?”

“Them,” he said, pointing to the others. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have dropped out. I just don’t want to feel like I let them down.”

"Is there something else that keeps you going?” I asked.

"My Name. I don’t want to be known as *Pledge Two Name Omitted* the quitter. I want to be known as *Pledge Two Name Omitted* the winner. I quit football for this and if I quit this, how will other people see me?” he sighed, “There are a lot of things about this process that I just do not understand. If it wasn’t for what I told you, I wouldn’t be here. A lot of this stuff goes against the very fiber of my being. I just don’t understand how you can do this (haze and beat) to someone regularly and then expect them to turn around and call you brother when it’s all over. I just don’t get it.”

“You still don’t get it? We’ve been on this line for this long, and you still don’t get it,” Pledge One asked.

          “I don’t and I probably never will,” he said.

“You are not supposed to get it. It doesn’t matter if you get it at all. You are supposed to understand that there is a greater cause … that you are doing it for the brotherhood, despite what you feel.” I interjected sarcastically.

“Exactly!” shouted Pledge One.

The last of my conversations took place away from the group. By this time, Pledge Three had realized that the process was too painful to bear, decided that he would drop his pledge line. He told me about an experience he had while standing side by side with his line brothers, during one of the evening sessions,

“I never cry, but that day, my eyes just filled with tears, and they wouldn’t stop falling even though I felt no emotion, just coldness.”

He also recalled some of the after post-traumatic stress that he dealt with even after it was over, like waking up in cold sweats, panic attacks, and even hearing people call his name when no one else was in the room.  

"I felt like I wasn’t a man … like I wasn’t even human. I couldn’t live like that. I had to leave or lose myself.”

After deciding to quit the process, the other pledges, who had once been his lifeline, were told to end all communication with him. Later, at the coming out ceremony, also known as ‘The Probate’, they would go on publicly ridicule all of those who were not strong enough to complete the process.

I was astonished at how I was watching what I’d studied in Freud’s “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego” unfold directly in front of my eyes. Freud says that there two types of groups we belong to: Natural Groups, such as our families that we are born into or raised with, and artificial groups, which are described as “a certain external force that is employed to prevent them (the group) from disintegrating and to check alterations in their structure”. Any attempt at leaving the artificial group is usually met with persecution or with severe punishment.

These BLGOs are external or artificial, as they exist outside of the natural group, which is the immediate, relative family (parents and siblings). In order to keep such a group from disintegrating, there must be what he calls, a “libidinal cathexis”. The International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis defines the libidinal cathexis as "the process that attaches psychic energy, essentially libido, to an object, whether this is the representation of a person, body part, or psychic element”.

The process of probation that those desiring to become a part of Black Greek-Letter Organizations must endure is this exactly. They are first stripped of everything they love: their family, their friends, their music, their fashionable attire, and even their romantic partners. I knew a kid who experienced a loss of a parent during the process and he was forced to choose between his grief or his love for the organization.  

Pledges are told that they DO NOT EXIST outside of their pledge lines and are continuously placed in positions where they must only depend on those within their group. They have what are called Deans and Assistant Deans, who are in charge of the entire process, and are determine just how hard each individual will be hazed. Next in their process, they are introduced to the sisters, from a connected or sister sorority, whom the pledges must satisfy by also knowing all of the sorority’s founding information. If they do not, the sisters may also take part in the disciplining process.

Here, the Deans, and sometimes big sisters, serve as the parental connection, while the line brothers, of course, represent the siblings. These ties are what Freud calls “libidinal ties” stating thus, “the principal phenomenon of group psychology are the individual’s lack of freedom in a group. If each individual is bound in two directions by such an intense emotional tie, we shall find no difficulty in attributing to that circumstance the alteration and limitation which have been observed in his personality”. This will change them and alter their thinking in away that, sometimes, can never be reversed.

These limitations and connections are what holds the mind of the pledge, even when they no longer see a legit reason to continue, and often well into their post collegiate lives. These ties don’t break easily. For example: with the Netflix hit release of the film, Burning Sands, a film about the horrors of the BGLO pledging process; there has been serious backlash from those who have pledged. Many of them are rising up to argue that the movie is fictitious, but have neglected to address the illegal and immoral process of hazing, which has cost many young people their lives or caused them to be permanently scarred. There have been thousands of casualties.

The one recurring response of those involved in these orgs has been such: “hazing is only small portion of what happens during pledging. It may be wrong, but it happens <insert a Kanye shrug here>. This isn’t everyone’s experience.” When I pointed out to one young lady, who stated that she was an attorney, that she sounded exactly like the wypipo who can never not chime in to remind POC that ‘not all cops are bad’ when we are calling out police for whatever the unjustified atrocity they have committed that month. She gladly accepted that title, because ‘no one was going to drag Black Greek Letter Organizations on her watch’. Sad that she and so many others feel it is their God-given duty to cape hopelessly for this harmful, problematic bullshit,

If your allegiance to these organizations and their history will cause you to further justify or defend these processes, even when there have been hundreds to thousands who have died or been seriously injured, than you really are a fool. It’s as wrong as slavery. Shit, most of the tactics used in Burning Sands, reminded me so much of slave conditioning that I cried three times as a result.

Nonetheless, from the beginning of the 20th Century unto this day, Black Greek Life remains still a huge deal amongst black students on almost every campus where there are chapters. People want to belong, and they want to be apart of this historic legacy. They will sacrifice anything to do it.

Maybe, I’m like Pledge Two, and I just don’t get it. Maybe, I’m clueless or envious of their connections. Maybe, I’m not. What I do know for sure is that the remnant of these organizations have created and perpetuated some horrible and inhumane practices in the name of brotherhood/sisterhood, that have been illegal for quite some time now.

I also know that there are far too many marginalized people willing to cape for this bullshit instead of doing something about it–something more than just lying to everyone you meet in saying, “We are a non hazing organization…” That’s trash. That’s what trash ass people do. It’s not what these Black Greek Letter Organizations were ever meant to be. And yes, I know NOT ALL chapters participate in illegal hazing, but the reality is that enough do, and it will remain a problem for all as long as it is still happen.

A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. 

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All is well here in rural northeastern North Carolina, where I moved a few weeks ago.  As predicted, I have entered into a creative and very productive period of my life.  I’m excited for the story which is unfolding next in my Dark Nation series.

I am still maintaining a high interest in fraternalism, however!  And although my posts have slowed down, I am still on the Divine Nine Lover scene.

National Hazing Prevention Week is coming this September.  If you know of a college, university, high school, or chapter that needs a keynote speaker for NHPW, I hope you will consider me.

I’m particularly interested in addressing how we can use restorative practices to prevent hazing incidents, using those same practices to reintegrate those who have been suspended back into chapter life, and how the intersection of race and sexual orientation complicates hazing incidents.

Please feel free to share this post with the decision-makers in your circle of influence.  If you are a current college student, please share this with your Greek Life or student affairs office. I deeply appreciate it!

–Uncle Rashid

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