Checking my privilege

A Greek Tragedy

When I first joined Greek life, I wasn’t aware of the lack of diversity or incidents of racism within my community. As someone with white privilege, I was never subject to any kind of discrimination that might prompt these observations.

But as my year continued, I noticed that even in my “diverse” sorority, there was still a white majority and a culture of racism.

I first realized this problem after going to a fraternity party with my friends, who were all people of color. It was a Friday night and my arms were shaking in the cold as my friends and I walked up to the door of the house. Though we knew the party was open exclusively to members of two sororities (neither of which were ours), my friends and I decided to try and get in by pretending to be in one of the invited sororities.

Mr. Pastel Shorts in winter stood at the door and aggressively asked, “Who is your social representative?” — he was testing us to see if we genuinely were a part of the sorority that was invited to the party. As I opened my mouth to make up some random name the boy pointed at me and yelled: “Not you!” His gaze then fell on my friend next to me as he asked her the same question.

When none of us knew the correct answer, the frat boy stuck out his finger to point at me again and said, “You may be in that sorority, but they are definitely not.” I turned to look at my friends in confusion. We were all the same: cold, lying morons attempting to get into a party we weren’t invited to. I struggled to see why I was suddenly the exception.

Puzzled, I threw him a look of annoyance as he smiled at me sympathetically — the sergeant-like hardness in his face had completely dissolved.

As we trekked back up Greek Row toward our house it hit me: in our group of four, three were Latina and I was white –– fair skinned with blonde hair. In the two sororities invited to the party, the vast majority of their members were white. Anger bubbled inside me as I considered what had just happened. “Well, that wasn’t surprising,” my friend defeatedly said as we walked away.

Up until this point I had been ignorant of the fact that my whiteness granted me greater social mobility and access to parties. My white privilege meant that I was never subject to any kind of racial profiling. It meant that I would never have to consider how profiling affected people of color and other marginalized students within the Greek community — until it happened to my friends.

Following that evening, I found myself becoming more aware of the microaggressions and racial prejudices. I saw how each semester’s costly dues took a toll on people’s financial situations and it became clear to me that these huge expenses create barriers to entry for marginalized individuals.

I had yet to witness anybody stand up to a racist remark or point out that fraternities were often times unapologetically discriminatory when it came to allowing people into their parties. The silent acceptance of racism and the overwhelming presence of white privilege solidified in my mind that Greek life was failing to address the racism that existed within the actual system.

I soon found myself becoming more aware of the microaggressions and racial prejudices.

One Saturday night after the parties had died down, my friends and I were sitting at the dining table when an older member approached us and said: “Hey, I know you guys!” She pointed at me first saying, “You’re the one with the accent.” Turning to face my friend she looked down at her thoughtfully tapping her finger against her chin, “Hmmm, you’re my roommate’s little sister right?” She giggled and turned to leave the room.

This was the third time I had watched someone or a group of people confidently confuse her with another girl in our pledge class who was also Mexican. No one ever confused my name with another’s and I knew a lot of these girls far less that my friend did. We had been in the sorority for a year now, and my roommate and the other girl looked nothing alike.

I realized in that moment that I had been ignorant of my own privilege. I would never be confused for another white girl. I would never have to deal with microaggressions and racist comments like my other friends did. Like so many others in the Greek community, I was silent when these things happened instead of confronting them.  

For me, leaving my sorority was an attempt to do better and to not indulge in a community where my privilege comes at the expense of others. I am thankful for my time in Greek life because it opened my eyes to the discrimination I was unaware of before. I know now how to be a better ally and to speak up.

 

Felicia Sharpe writes the Thursday blog on being an ex-sorority member. Contact her at [email protected].