I mean, could it? As was written in the year of our Lord 2015: when it comes to overt racism among wealthy white people, the anonymous internet person shall force all of us to consider what’s plausible, what’s likely, and what we do or do not want to believe.
Last week, a post in the SMU section of a site called GreekRank—a site that’s not officially affiliated with any school or Greek system, and generally functions as a cesspool for bored elitists who are sick of rearranging their running personal lists of Top 14 Friends Who Get to Be In My Future Wedding—laid out 10 reasons why “black women do not and will not get bids.” An SMU woman named Layla took these screenshots and posted them to Twitter:
Here is a shorter version of the list, which begins with an interesting view on the very segregated Greek system (it’s what black people wanted, so that they could be openly racist together!). Here we go, black women:
1. You’re racist
2. You’re ugly
3. Your family members weren’t in our sororities
4. Neither were your family friends
5. You went to public school and got here on affirmative action
6. You’re boring
7. Y’all are boring
8. You’re poor
9. You’re lazy
10. You’re Token
The reasons why this list could be written off are immediately apparent: it’s written anonymously, on a site that’s got no affiliation with the school, either by a very stupid racist writing very sincerely (plausible!) or a slightly smarter racist getting some literal shit off her chest (also plausible!) or a trolling who-knows-what trying to put SMU’s Greek system in the spotlight (plausible too!).
But, then again, reactions tend to be more telling than the things that provoke them. When people are quick to believe that your bar provides a “n*****ita” because your bar is themed after the Confederacy, that’s more meaningful than the rumor itself. When black students at SMU respond to this posting with a widespread lack of surprise and a list of other times they’ve seen this type of thinking in action in real time, the list is meaningful. SMU released a response last week:
The difficulty with anonymous postings on social media is clearly demonstrated in this case. The postings from what may be one person can easily be amplified to incorrectly represent the opinions of many, even if there is no actual affiliation with the group they purport to represent nor truth in what they post.
But if the reaction from black students at SMU is that the post correctly represents the opinions of many—a reaction that SMU seems to be washing over—that’s a problem. In the hypothetical event that this list was written by a Dallas-area troll who’s bitter at SMU and its Greek system, it still matters that SMU and its Greek system lack obvious legs to stand on in terms of claiming that its population and racism don’t get along.
Some contextual information: SMU’s tuition approaches $50,000 a year, 46 percent of its female students are in a sorority, and only 5 percent are black. The school can’t be responsible for random GreekRank posts and local YikYaks that say “black girls are practically useless.” The school should be responsible for the fact that many of its black students see this stuff and are not shocked or even surprised.
And, it’s worth noting that no university system prizes consistency and external identity quite like the Greek system. If anti-racism was in any way central to the collective identity of mainstream (white) sororities, these news stories would result in frank and blatant policing, rush-email-style. We’re about a quarter of the way there, I think—maybe.
Consider this: Total Sorority Move, the biggest woman-centric site about the Greek system, put up an article about the SMU post last night.
The two paragraphs they published about it were implicitly panicked, mildly racist, ultimately well-meaning, and very confused.
On the story’s emergence:
It was the nail in the coffin deeming all Panhellenic sororities as racists for the media. But, like most stories about Greeks in the media, there were several important parts left out. The main one being that the original poster was Layla, not a white sorority girl.
To paraphrase: “What you failed to mention was that the story lacks credence, as the person who screenshotted GreekRank wasn’t even white.” They float the possibility that the original poster could’ve been just a troll, then conclude:
Regardless, we are left in the same position as always — having to defend our organizations against untrue allegations that the general public are all too quick to believe. And if they are real…well, that’s a problem that’s almost too big to wrap my mind around.
Again, to paraphrase: “It couldn’t be true that someone could be this racist in a sorority in 2015. And if it is true, that idea is INCREDIBLY overwhelming.” Well, yes—that is exactly what centuries of institutional racism and a Greek system founded on it would feel like to an uncritical young brain.
TSM ended their piece by saying, “There’s simply no place for racism in sororities, and we all need to have a part in eradicating it.” And then they really ended their piece by deleting it—the reaction that, out of these many reactions, is easily the most telling of all.
We’ve emailed TSM for comment and will update in the event of it.
Image via Jason Lunte/Flickr, other images via Twitter
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.