So as I am writing this the wonderful women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. have just celebrated their 102nd Founders’ Day. The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. are gearing up for their celebration on January 15th and the women of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. will be right behind them celebrating their founders’ day on January 16th, and although the women of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. won’t be celebrating until November there is some news all of the organizations are celebrating. It appears, though not officially confirmed, that VH1 will be cancelling the controversial “Sorority Sisters” reality show. I have held off from writing about the show, mostly because I haven’t watched it, but also I was not quite sure what to say. There were many debates back and forth about whether or not sororities were fair game for the reality show circus, why members of Black sororities were upset about this particular negative depiction of Black women but not others.
Additionally, since Black women are the majority of the target audience that supports shows in this genre, did members of these Black sororities who religiously watch these shows not build the coop for these chickens to come home to roost? I have no answers to these questions, other than to say that what a person will consider permissible on one hand and despicable on another is tricky. People are complex. Strangely enough these discussions were juxtaposed in my mind with the shooting of Shaneka Thompson, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. by her ex-boyfriend, which went unmentioned for hours, almost days, as her life lay in the shadows of two police officers killed by the same man. These discussions are also juxtaposed with the recent mass killing of Nigerians by terrorist group Boko Haram through the strapping of a bomb to a young Nigerian girl. So, in reflection of the show of solidarity that seemingly has brought about the ending of Sorority Sisters, as well as these other current events, I think there is something we as members of Black sororities can take away and think about as we embark on 2015 and that is that Black women’s lives matter. All Black women’s lives matter.
Those of us who don Greek letters saw the strength in collective focus and work with the Sorority Sisters boycott. Many of us were already keenly aware of that collective strength through other efforts whether it be March of Dimes or St. Jude fundraisers or registering new voters in Black communities. However, when a Black woman’s life hangs in the balance due to a domestic dispute or a little Black girl’s body is used as the exclamation point in a terroristic statement and the world does not blink, does not pause, does not hold its breath, does not weep, mourn, or shed a tear we must ask ourselves where our collective voice is in that moment. We saw parts of our identities on Sorority Sisters and we were not pleased by the misrepresentation. In our displeasure we refused to let the world seemingly not care about that misrepresentation. So now we must ask ourselves, do we see ourselves in the women of similar shows? Maybe we do, but maybe we don’t. But, do we care about the misrepresentation of these Black women? Do we care about their exploitation? Did we burn with anger at the dismissal of Shaneka’s battle for life or did it only prick our hearts when we found out she was one of us? Do we see the little girls we strive to inspire every day in the little Nigerian girl simultaneously sacrificed and used as a weapon as if her life had no value? Did we persistently demand that before a world leader headed to France they break their silence on her senseless death? Did our collective voices tire in the defense of our beloved organizations that they quieted to whispers when these and other Black women and girls’ lives were disrespected, dismissed, and desecrated?
My desire is not to imply that just because one boycotted Sorority Sisters one does not care about the other events mentioned. That would be ridiculous and overreaching. However, after seeing the way in which the focused, persistent, and adamant demand for respect and corrective action was successful in this campaign I believe it should fuel the same level of concentrated passion and organized fury in making sure that the lives of all Black women are respected. The way in which Sorority Sisters set out to belittle and diminish the impact, beauty, strength, and presence of our beloved organizations was appalling to many of us. The way in which this society continuously strives to belittle and diminish the impact, beauty, strength, and presence of Black women should appall us as well. It should shake the foundation of sisterhood found in each of our cardinal principles which we all hold dear. It should inspire us to use the platforms our membership gives us to speak and fight for those whose voices have been quieted or those who have yet to discover that they are not mere puppets—that they have voices too. In the winter of 2014 to 2015 we stood up and said to network executives and sponsors (and some misguided sisters), you will not speak for us and you will acknowledge we are here. We spoke, they listened. Now that we have a captive audience, for whom will we speak next?
In 2015, let us challenge ourselves to stand up and be counted, to push for increased accountability in media and in our communities, to challenge policy makers and politicians, to call to the carpet our brother allies, and to not let it be said that the cry to rally only went forth when our sacred sisterhoods were on the line but not when it was our sisters. When the world tries to “smudge us away”, or tries to erase our stories from headlines or fights for justice, or encourages us to not see the humanity in another Black woman’s eyes because our ideologies and life choices do not mirror theirs, let us not give in or be quiet. Let us boldly remind them that they do not speak for us. Let us audaciously be present. Let us consistently remind them, and ourselves, that Black women’s lives matter. All Black women. Yes, those women too.