by Giani Jones
My posture was different.
After years of family and friends chastising me for poor posture, branding me as someone who walked as if the weight of the world were on their shoulders, my posture was different. The semester I became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated through the Lambda Chapter, I finally stood up.
It was my second year at New York University, a PWI in the world’s “melting pot” and I literally had no friends of color. And academically, no black or brown classmates. I was lost, and out of character and I didn’t realize how much so until I gained membership to the first historically African-American sorority. I began to feel confident that, if/when I grew up I would have evolved into my most integral self because of the personal cultivation my sorority sisters facilitated.
My experiences as a queer black woman in the contemporary United States have been strongly influenced by attempts to marginalize, and ostracize me, from the mainstream both socially and in my academic pursuits, —or at the very least put me in my -subordinate- place within it. To survive in this hostile environment, it became necessary to familiarize myself with its resources (or lack thereof), overstand the aggressor and anticipate his attacks, and develop adequate strategies for self-defense.
My strongest hesitations for pursuing membership—my queerness, my non-conformant gender performance, my insecurities in my own blackness—I gained confidence in and more strength in speaking up about them. These things, I thought, would hinder my ability to be accepted into this brilliant group of pretty women I had grown up aspiring to be, as my mother is also a member of the organization. Not speaking “this way,” speaking “this way,” the schools I went to, the places I’ve been, the “authenticity” of my “features.” I came to realize through my sisters that these thoughts were being perpetuated even in my own thinking – feeling that I wasn’t a normal black or a normal girl or the right kind of black woman. I , the love child of prejudiced discrimination and systemic oppression.
In Lambda Chapter I found a group of women who beyond the international purposes of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, pushed against stereotypes even within the sorority itself by demonstrating how standards, ethics, sisterliness and activism could be followed. These women demonstrated that individuals did not have to fall subject to the toxic group think mentality of collective aesthetics, essentialized blackness and essentialized femininity.
Through this transformative experience, my activism became more intentional.
In the ideal society, my personal relationships would not be corrupted by deep-seated angers against blacks, queers, and women. What would preoccupy me and others like me in this ideal society? Likely the kind of nostalgic, aesthetic, sterile, objects and content, and distinctively individualized afflictions I was attuned to when I was still confounded by an overwhelming guilt for bringing up my thoughts and concerns regarding race, ethnicity and queerness with my white and/or cis, and hetero peers.
Still, change isn’t quick. It won’t happen through everyone making innocuous posts on Facebook, a revolution isn’t likely to be started in under 140 characters on twitter. Surely, we will need to rise from our computers for this one. And organizations like Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. offer a space for the philosophically open individual to be cultivated in order to effectively come together with others in efforts toward progress. I know it’s difficult, in this age where most of our needs and wants can be instantly gratified - this being one of the many benefits of living in the industrialized first world. But structural change is not a one shot goal; it can be really difficult to attempt to strategize and set up a long game, to focus on actual human to human contact and civic obligations.
Luckily, unlike many other four-year University based Greek organizations, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and its sister and brother historically black fraternities and sororities of the Divine 9 are for life. Providing a perpetual space for we individuals to do this work.
Surely, there are a number of people who care deeply about racial justice, gender equality, Queer rights, and the destruction of isms and phobias, but who, for any number of reasons, do not yet appreciate the magnitude of the crisis being faced by minority communities as a result of structural systems of oppression. Surely, there are a number of people who have been struggling to persuade their friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, teachers and or political representatives that there is something eerily familiar about the way our justice system operates. Something that looks and feels a lot like an era we have supposedly evolved from and left behind. To the point where I have become angered by self-righteous statements such as, “But it’s 2018, man.” Like that’s some sort of excuse to reason or solution. We must move from a sense of righteous indignation towards a sense of righteous action. We must take more steps toward structural reform by interfering with the problematics of the present system of oppression and prejudice in our daily lives so that it can’t be taped off or blocked off for those who want to avoid the issue. I think the first step is helping people to dismantle the stigma associated with other.
Part of my mission as a member of my sorority continues to be, to help empower individuals to speak their truth with greater conviction, due credibility and courage. So that critical issues are no longer brushed off as apparitions but as the vestiges of socio-cultural behaviors and legislation representing the effects from millennia of systems of oppression.
So, organize, build your community, speak up and act up. And if your personal contentment derives from the subversion of others you are problematic and messy and trash, please seek help. ♦