Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc's Expanded Definitions Of Beauty, Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series that presents video documentation and viewer comments about some facets of physical diversity in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) is a historically Black Greek letter organization that was founded in 2008 on the campus of Howard University.

Part I and Part II of this post explore other facets of diversity besides race- namely skin color, hair styles, and body shape.

Click for Part II of this post. Part II features four additional Alpha Kappa Alpha videos with selected comments.

These videos feature Alpha Kappa Alpha probate shows or preparations for a propate. "Probate" is a term used by historically Black Greek letter organizations to refer to the show or ceremony in which new members of a fraternity or sorority are introduced to the public for the first time.

I got the idea for this pancocojams post from this article about the lack of diversity in an Alabama University sorority as evidenced by that organization's recruitment video: "Alabama Sorority Deletes Viral Video Showcasing Almost Zero Diversity (VIDEO)".

By "almost zero diversity" the author of this article and a number of commenters meant that all of the members of the sorority in that video are White, almost all of the women have long blond hair, and all of them have tall, slender, shapely builds. A number of commenters to that article took exception to the criticism about this video. In response to the point that all of the women in this video are White, a number of commenters wrote that Black women have their own sororities. Therefore it's nothing wrong with a sorority having only White women.

There are a number of books and online articles about historically Black Greek letter organizations document why and how those organizations came about. And there are some scattered comments online (in certain YouTube video discussion threads) that indicate that there are a small number of non-Black members of historically Black sororities and fraternities.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, historical, and sociological reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in these videos and who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to all the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

I decided to focus on Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) in this post in part because I'm a long inactive member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (Gamma Zeta Chapter, 1966) and also because AKA had the reputation of being a sorority only for "pretty girls" who met certain physical criteria such as being light skinned*, having a slender but shapely build, and having long straight or straightened hair. Women with those traits (who were also considered to have a nice looking face) were considered to be pretty, classy, and sexy. Traditional AKA pantomines that are still used today-such as pretending to look into a hand held mirror, then fixing your hair, and then flipping your hair from one side to another -originate from this "pretty girl" persona. Traditional AKA chants such as "Conceited" also have their basis in that personal. I was curious to see if those "pretty girl" criteria were still operative for members of that sorority nowadays, although in actuality the light skin and slender build criterias weren't operative when I crossed over (became an AKA) more than four decades ago.

Not all membersd of my line** were slender build. My recollection si that all of the members of my thirteen member line** were brown skinned. And my recollection is that we all wore basically the same shoulder length or almost shoulder length straightened hair style. But toward the end of our pledging** I started wearing an afro, much to the disgust of most of those women who pledged us. For the record, my recollection is that all of these women except one were members of the state's (New Jersey) graduate chapter. The one exception was my friend who attended the same college as me. Also, not all members of my line were slender build.

*Example #3 below includes a comment about "the brown paper bag test" for membership in historically Black Greek letter organizations (If you were as dark as or darker than the color of a brown paper bag, you weren't considered for membership in those organizations). An excerpt of a 1928 letter to a Howard University magazine about that subject is given after that comment.

*"line" = those persons who are experiencing the process of joining a particular organization at the same time.

Pledging - since 1990, "pledging" (including hazing) has been illegal within historically Black Greek letter organizations who are members of the National Panhellenic Council. However, it appears that a considerable amount of hazing still occurs underground, and members who "cross over" into a sorority or fraternity without pledging are often looked down upon. Large numbers of new members are one indication that the members have joined the organization without the old school-and illegal- pledging process.

Click Pledging/Hazing vs. MIP...Is there a difference??? for a 2010 article about this subject.

Also, click for a pancocojams post entitled "Black Fraternities & Sororities Chants That Mention Paper, Skating, & Sliding Into Their Organizations".

I selected these examples by randomly surfing YouTube for AKA probate videos. These videos are presented in chronological order with the videos with the oldest dates given first.

Example #1: 2009 AKA, Alpha Chapter Probate

Avery J. Green Uploaded on May 3, 2009

63 P.R.O.D.I.G.Y. at Howard University, Alpha Chapter April 16th 2009...Starring: #31 Jasmia Fowler......
Here's one comment from that video's discussion thread:
jukeboxkidd, 2009
"klassy, klean, and krisp ladies..."
Most of these women have long hair. Note at 4:26 -4:38 in this video there's a soror [member of the sorority] with a short straightened hair style.

Example #2: VSU Alpha Kappa Alpha Probate 2011 / Mr. Facey

Trevon Facey, Uploaded on Dec 22, 2011 [Virgina State University, Virginia]

congratulations to the ladies of the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority incorporated @ Virginia state university
Here are a few comments from that video's discussion thead (with numbes assigned by me for referencing purposes only)
1. LuckiiCharmz85, 2011
"Well to the director and editor I give you props! And to all the young ladies who crossed that night, congrats. Looks like you all worked hard to get there. And no the hair wasn't always slicked back and perfect but that's the point. S/O to all ladies rockin' the natural look and especially the "beautifully bald" one. Although it wasn't always that way...thank you AKA for repping women of all skin complexions, hair types, disabilities, personalities and then some."

2. princeque7, 2011o
"Ok, lol can't front I have a thing for hair and the whip appeal. I fell in love at the following moments: 1:12 (hair), 1:29 (The Bruhz s/o) , & 3:00 (lol she's bad, confident, and yes, again I am shallow..smh)..

Omega Psi Phi
Beta Psi- Clark Atlanta Univ
Spr 02 Taildog # 7 Q.K.A "OxTail" "

3. BiteMeBtc , 2011
"This is the best probate I have seen also the most diverse group of girls I seen.......Now I know who to pledge to this winter too =)"

Example #3: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated

J.O. Malone Studios, Published on May 18, 2012

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated Probate at Prairie View A&M University,[Texas] Spring 2012.
Here are some selected comments from this video's discussion thread. I've assigned numbers to these comments for referencing purposes only. However, these comments (and other multiple comments) may not be in consecutive order.
1. lishol7, 2013
"what's up with the hair? Is there a requirement now? Are natural girls (short and long) just not interested or not invited? Are there no lasting effects from the 60s and 70s?"

2. Nikki Jay, 2013
in reply to lishol7
"Some of them ladies could be natural. They could have just flat ironed their hair so they can swing it."

3. lishol7, 2013
in reply to Nikki Jay
"I'm going to repeat my comment. Making a conscious decision to "temporarily" or "permanently" pretend not to have the natural "S" or "Z" curl formation flow through their hair in not where the sisters from the 60s and 70s would imagine sorors would be. Sorors are in a leadership position. Trailblazing... not assimilating... Perhaps we haven't moved at all and a lot of the progress was in vain."

4. Nikki Jay, 2013
in reply to lishol7
"It's just hair. Get over it."

5. ItachixNara, 2013
"doesn't matter about looks its about sisterhood and soro for life skeeeeee weee!! :)"
"Skeeeeee weee" is Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc's signature call.

6. lucy rosevelt
"No weight restrictions?? Ladies walking in all "duck footed". What has happened to AKA???"

7. E Dixon, 2013
"Why would there need to be weight restrictions? Being in a sorority is about sisterhood and service!"

8. Cheri Lindsay, 2013
in reply to lucy rosevelt
"That comment is completely ridiculous. It about sisterhood and service not turning people away becasue of how they look. Chill out. #SMH"

10. caramel qt, 2013
"I'm natural and I'm an AKA. Don't b ridiculous we wear our hair any way we choose."
"I'm natural" = I wear my hair in a natural hair style (without chemical relaxers or heat straigntening).

11. webco2cute, 2013
"People take hair to seriously. let people do what they want to thei hair"

12. SuntanSupermann850, 2013
"Brown Paper Bag Test At Its Finest.... Lol Good Job Tho Ladies"
Here's an except from "Paper Bag Test: Letter From 1928 Addresses Black Fraternity And Sorority Colorism At Howard University"
By watchtheyard on July 16, 2015
"While shadows of colorism still exist within the culture of African-American fraternities and sororities in the United States, there was a point in which it was blatantly clear that certain organizations took the hue of one’s skin into account before giving them a chance to pledge.

We have all heard stories of the practice of fraternities and sororities only allowing members with skin color lighter than a brown paper bag to gain admission into their bonds and proof that color lines and boundaries were strong and present can be seen by simply comparing the intake photos of the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta from the first half of the 20th century.

You may think that these destructive practices may have simply been overlooked as a simple fact of life during the early years of our greek letter organizations, but it apparently they weren’t. In 1928, a sophomore at Howard University named Edward H. Taylor published an article in “The Hilltop” student newspaper that accused fraternities of “splitting the various classes into groups of different shades — yellow , brown and black.” According to Taylor, “The light-skinned students are sought after by the fraternities and sororities, particularly the latter, as members and the dark ones passed by. The darker brown students then form their own cliques while the blacks are left in the cold.”...

Many of the truths in the article regarding greek life also still hold true today. While Black sororities in the United States all now have a mix of the beautiful shades of African-American skin tones, many of the shadows of this colorism-based past still exist. Think about it. You have probably come across a situation in which someone tells a light-skinned Delta that she looks like she could be an AKA and vice versa. While they may not have explicitly stated that this is because she has light-skin, you know exactly what they mean."

Example #4: The 2014 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Special Presentation at Texas State University

Jordan Moments L.L.C., Published on Jun 22, 2014
Notice that the beginning to this video includes a brief clip of White member of a Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., a historically Black Greek letter fraternity, twirling his kane with other members of that organization.

Also notice the AKA member with very short hair. A commenter indicated that she was the Dean (the leader of those training the new members),of the probate).
Here are some selected comments from this video's discussion thread. I've assigned numbers to these comments for referencing purposes only. However, these comments may not be in consecutive order.
1. Desmond Deshaun, 2014
"omg! they're all so beautiful! and I say that faithfully ..every single last one of those women on that line are drop dead gorgeous"

2. amina sall, 2014

3. Princess Ngwu, 2015
"Make Up or not they're beautiful. You on the other hand need a lot of concealer to cover all that hate."

4. kunjidee, 2014
"I think these girls need to give a shout-out to all the Indian and Brazilian women whose HAIR they're wearing..."

5. Ivy Reeves,2014
"Beautiful! Would love to see natural hair as well."

6. Clemsonshawty, 2014
"or just a little less weave!"
"Weave" is hair that is attached to a person's hair to increase its length and fullness.

7. Harper Madden, 2014
"+Clemsonshawty// that's the omg girlz & willow smith "whip your hair anthem""

8. Ivie Gordon, 2015
"For women who supposed to be representing self love, they sure wear a lot of weaves. Unbeweaveable!!!

9. Princess Ngwu, 2015
"Didn't know wearing weaves represented self hate."

10. Grace O, 2015
"Just because they are wearing weaves don't mean they don't love themselves. Some of you all make no sense like shut up

11. Thankyou3403, 2015
"+Grace O that's exactly what it means. Self love means you're whole as you are."

12. backhand67, 2015
"WOW...this was one of the best AKA probate shows i've seen in a while. Thanks ladies for keeping it classy and "pretty." A diverse group of beautiful women! The unveiling portion of the show i thought was the most creative. Nothing is worse than a large line and each candidate introduces themselves. It seems like some older K's had some influence here. History, big sister greetings, with "a serious matter", and a little slight of the other sororities...standard for any AKA probate show. Again...enjoyed the show and best wishes ladies. Welcome to the Alpha family -- "06/08, from us all others originate".
--Chris, Spring 1986 initiate of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Theta Sigma Chapter, Univ of FL"

13. mrstexas777, 2015
"They had naturals up there, and some of the girls weren't wearing extensions. It was a combination.

14. Jocelynn Liz, 2015
"I think you guys forgot weave is a protective style...not the best but is one. I myself have been natural for almost 2years and wore them starting off but then switched to better ones."

15. Killing1withKindness, 2015
"Why is everyone dissing them on their hair?

16. Thankyou3403, 2015
"+Killing1withKindness Probably cause they look crackerish slinging it back and forth. Those it looks real on is okay, but if that's not your natural pattern and you're a college educated woman you should have come to grips by now with your natural self."
"Crackerish" is a pejorative referent for White people (i.e. "crackers") which I've never read or heard before this comment. While I consider it offensive, I'm including it for the cultural record.

17. Raven Parker, 2015
"I see nothing but a chapter full of beautiful women. This is so cute!"

This concludes Part I of this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Since 1990 pledging has been illegal for historically Black Greek letter organizations that are members of the National Panhellenic Council (NPHC).

    Here's a comment from a sorority member who "crossed over" (joined her sorority) the old-school way. That comment was posted in the discussion thread for the video given above as Example #1:
    "hellasexy22, 2011
    Congrats to my sorors of the Alpha chapter (although this is 2 yrs old!) This is a beautiful probate show but it's bittersweet for an ol' schooler like me. I'm ambivalent of the MIP "paper" process, probate shows & line # assignments AFTER you are technically sorors. This is a hard concept for me although I understand that NPHC had abolished the pledge process yrs ago. I was a proud member of the Ivy Leaf Pledge Club back in Fall 1989. I couldn't imagine this happening today. BITTERSWEET!"