The cast of Sorority Sisters
VH1 screenshot

What is sisterhood, anyway?

That’s really the question we should be asking behind all of the hoopla over the likely cancellation of VH1’s ratchet reality show Sorority Sisters. And for me, the question was present all day Thursday, the 107th anniversary of the founding of my sorority of choice: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Sisterhood is, in a word, respect. It’s a concept we clearly need to revisit as women of our time, particularly since reality TV has apparently done a lot of damage to a new generation of sorors, and to women everywhere, who think that belonging to a sisterhood is merely a badge of prestige that you wear and then wield in anger: cutting people off, fighting, name-calling, hair pulling, blackballing and man stealing.

But it’s not.

And so I read with interest my colleague Demetria Lucas’ piece in The Root titled, “The Hypocrisy of Sorority Sisters Haters.” I understand the point she’s making, but I strongly disagree that it is hypocritical for the four major black female Greek-lettered organizations—Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho—to have gone after this particular show, challenging the premise and working to take it off the air, while not being as vocal about any number of other reality shows.

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We are sorority women, after all. So of course we would raise our voices loudly and passionately when our respective organizations are being depicted as hostile, combative, unsisterly and, well, ratchet on national television. Why would we not? To be attacked as being bourgeois or worse by those who don’t even wear Greek letters, or who have never had the experience of being a black woman in America, is silly at best. Our collective voices as sisters, raised in this letter (pdf) released by the National Pan-Hellenic Council, say it all. We simply don't associate ourselves or our membership with the code of conduct exhibited by the women on Sorority Sisters.

Sorority women are college-educated women, and many beyond that are professionally lettered women—physicians, attorneys, Ph.D.s, judges, congresswomen, mayors, MBAs, etc.—so why would we envision ourselves in shows like Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta, The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Basketball Wives? We wouldn’t. Call it bougie or classist if you like, but black Greek-lettered organizations rise to a higher calling in our history as African Americans.

I can only speak for my sorority, in that our international membership has raised its voice many times when it comes to the maltreatment of black women in media; missing girls in Nigeria; negative stereotypes of black women in entertainment; and discrimination against black women in education, health, the workplace or industry. Alpha Kappa Alpha was the first black sorority, and as AKAs, we’ve been raising our voices since the Great Depression: during the Mississippi Health Project (pdf) and the civil rights movement—both Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King were AKAs—and up until today, on every issue imaginable that impacts the lives of women.

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In the final analysis, shows like Sorority Sisters are a symptom of a much deeper problem in our communities as black women. We’re often portrayed treating one another poorly, and we laugh about it. We accept cussing, arguing and menacing other women as a form of entertainment. Being a “mean girl,” if you will, is the new black. And it has to stop.

I applaud, support and stand by the decision of VH1 to “bury” at least one of its ratchet shows, namely, Sorority Sisters. And I will continue to raise my voice, as I have for years, in defense of my sisters—both my sorors and all black women—when we are attacked, stereotyped and cast in ways that certainly represent the few, but that will never represent the many.

Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning journalist and author of the best-selling book The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life. Follow her on Twitter.