To her credit, my mother has always allowed me to go my own way in life, for better or worse. Even if she has something to say out the side of her mouth from time to time (like every black mama), she has never actively tried to block any of my movements.
And there’s no reason to resent any of them for hazing me. I always assume that that dusty 40-something dude posted at the back of the house party with the letter shirt he was rocking when Homeboys From Outer Space was still on the air either didn’t get hazed or was completely cool with the process. But I’ve heard from more than one NPHC member who was so turned off by the pledging process that they basically let it all go after they crossed. That includes my mother, whom you could talk to daily for years before ever learning she was in a sorority.
During my freshman year at the University of Michigan, I was “approached” to participate in the formation of what I later discovered was an illegal line for a National Pan-Hellenic Council organization that had been suspended from campus some years prior.
“Dustin, I would be very disappointed if you went on line right now,” Mama told me. “They shouldn’t even be talking to you about this your freshman year.”
Full admission: I was once enamored with the idea of becoming part of the Divine Nine. Both of my parents were members in college, and I saw School Daze and wanted to be “Deeeeeeean Big Brotha Al-migh-TEE!” Also, the strolling, fam … the strolling is cool.
The dream died when my eyes were opened. First, there was my boy who participated in the illegal line explaining in detail some of the heinous s—t he had to do for naught (that “line” fell through; the organization became active on campus again a couple years later). Among his colorful directives was to drink hot water until he vomited … inside the pants of a line brother … while the line brother was still wearing them. He said the act earned the vomit recipient the status “my n—ga for life,” which I suppose was the point.
As a Detroit Public Schools product who came up defending his waffle-colored complexion with his fists, I tried to put myself in the mindset of someone who would allow one of his peers to aggressively lay hands on him without immediate retaliation. The same dudes who struggled through blue book exams and worked to keep money in their bank account just like me? Couldn’t do it.
Lest you’re reading this and puffing out your chest like, “Well, it was an illegal line! What did you expect?!?” it was around that same time that my mother shared with me her own experiences as a (sanctioned) pledge in the early 1970s: Among the stories she regaled me with was one about a prophyte making girls climb a ladder to the top, only to push them off to the floor.
My pops simply recalled with amusement how he had to get on his hands and knees to get his ass paddled by his prophytes, only to respond, “THAT SHO’ FEELS GOOD, GIMME ANOTHER, BIG BROTHER!!!!” Odd homoeroticism aside, that’s probably the least troubling story I’ve heard.
It’s the worst-kept secret among black college students at HBCUs and PWIs alike: We all know someone who endured some degree of physical and mental punishment to become part of the Divine Nine. Sure, hazing is synonymous with Greek culture in general, but the degree and nature of hazing in the NPHC seems … special.
To which I have a simple question: Why? No, really … why?!?
What’s the appeal of being part of an organization that draws uncanny parallels to street gangs, with colors, hand signs and the equivalent of getting “jumped in”? What is it about torture and humiliation that qualifies one to be in a group whose benefits, inasmuch as I see it, are limited to friendship and postgraduate career networking?
To be clear, those two things are very important—my closest friends and I met in college, and my career would be in tatters without connections made through friends and former colleagues. None of that, however, warrants being an inveterate f—kbag, executing a latent power fetish toward potential members of your organization as an ostensible means of seeing what they’re made of.
The historicity behind the NPHC is important: Black college students united in brotherhood and sisterhood when their white-Greek-organization counterparts wouldn’t let them within 1,000 yards of the lawn. Collegiate relationships have improved for us some 101 years later, but only to a degree: Black men are still struggling simply to enroll in college, and any black student who attended a PWI can attest to the myriad challenges in those environments.
Given that we’re already entering the race with a twisted ankle, I have a problem with anything that interferes with the matriculation and graduation of black students in college. And I don’t give a gilded s—t what some of these Greek organizations say—sleep is often lost and GPAs fall during the pledging process. Hope that grad-school admissions adviser sympathizes with the reasoning behind your one-card-marking dip in grades.
I’m sure your biological brothers and sisters—the ones for whom you’d push all your frat and soror siblings in traffic so that they could live—actually care about your success in school. They want simple things for you, like regular showers, restful sleep, good grades and not to be diminished by your peers.
I’ve never heard a good excuse for Greek hazing, but I’ve heard stupid ones. The most ludicrous is the military analogue: Whatever physical or mental trials the Navy SEALs have to endure to be good at their job is nowhere in the vicinity of what your goofy ass should have to experience for the right to wear certain Greek letters under your cardigan as you bang through TPS reports until retirement.
If there were an empirical study that demonstrated a positive correlation between the strength of your future job prospects and the degree to which you got your ass flayed by your fellow undergrads to get into a fraternity or sorority, maybe I could warm up to the idea. But I was—and am still—a member of an undergraduate organization that catered specifically to the needs and concerns of black men on campus, and the lasting friendships I forged didn’t require a whole lot more than being born a brother.
It’s impossible to divorce the Divine Nine from the culture of hazing that it begets. Compare it with the violence of white cops toward black men. Not all police officers are bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but the good cops should have a moral imperative to publicly speak out against the bad cops. Same thing with priests who don’t speak out against the sexual indiscretions of their fellow men of the cloth.
They’re troubling comparisons, but unimpeachable ones just the same. Where are all the “good Greeks” publicly campaigning for the complete abnegation of antiquated hazing practices in the Divine Nine? If they don’t speak up, when will it ever end?
Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavyweights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. You can find more of his work at VerySmartBrothas.com.