Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sprite Stepoff-Gate: Lawrence C. Ross Jr. vs. Jason Whitlock

2 weeks ago a White sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA), sent shockwaves through the Black Community (not to mention the blogosphere) when it won Sprite's "Stepoff" stepshow, which was a national stepshow competition hosted in Atlanta, MC'd by Ludacris and judged by a panel of mostly non-greek celebrities such as Chilli from TLC and singer Monica.  The winners, ZTA, won $100,000 in scholarship money, not to mention bragging rights.  In an unusual turn of events, however, subsequent to the show Sprite announced an "error" in the scoring and reneged by announcing that the 2nd place Black sorority, the Tau chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), was to be the "co-winner" along with the 1st place ZTA.  Aside from this obvious faux pas in Stepshow winner etiquette, the entire situation has sparked a dialogue within the Black Community. When it was initially announced that the White sorority had won the show, the mostly Black audience "booed." What does this say about race relations within our historically Black institutions and organizations?  2 general schools of thought seem to have emerged on the topic - one articulated by author Lawrence C. Ross, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc. - the other articulated by sports columnist Jason Whitlock, a Black writer for the Kansas City Star and frequent contributor to ESPN.

Before we jump into the debate, a bit of context is needed regarding historically Black Greek Leadership Organizations (BGLO's).  [I'll try to keep it brief!] In the early 1900's, as the sons and daughters of newly freed slaves began to matriculate to college in great numbers, they found that although they were "free" they were still not welcomed in many facets of everyday life. One of those facets was college greek life. Black students were flat out not allowed to join the White fraternities or sororities that already existed at that time.  Thus, they formed their own Fraternities and Sororities, 8 of which are still in existence to this day with an additional Fraternity (Iota Phi Theta) joining the group in 1963.  Even after the initial 8 BGLO's were founded, the organizations themselves were still barred from joining the White Inter-Fraternal Council (IFC) for fraternities or the White National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) for sororities. Therefore, once again, out of necessity the BGLO's formed their own greek council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) in 1930.  It should also be noted that, each BGLO of the NPHC has always allowed White members to join their respective Fraternities or Sororities, and on many campuses, White students do join the BGLO's.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to the debate!

Whitlock argues that the Black Community is being hypocritical on racial grounds by booing, and in turn, forcing Sprite's hand to renege against the White sorority in this situation.  He writes:

Channeling our inner Glenn Beck, we bitched and moaned last week so loudly about the results of a national step-show competition won by an all-white sorority that we provoked Coca-Cola/Sprite to retroactively name a black co-winner...Imagine the reaction had former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson and the PGA Tour announced five days after Tiger’s historic victory that an unexplained “scoring discrepancy” meant Tiger had to share his green jacket with Phil Mickelson...The troubling element of the tea party movement that is fueled by racial animosity has a story to share at the next gathering. The moral of the story will be that black people have no issue with being just as discriminatory as the white power structure they rail against.

So when Zeta Tau Alpha members won the Sprite Step Off, it was not just that they'd beaten African-American sororities, it was seen as the first assault on yet another African-American cultural tradition that, if not guarded, would be appropriated from blacks like jazz and hip-hop.  For many Americans, the notion of African-Americans having a separate culture, uninfluenced by other Americans, makes them uncomfortable. Isn't the point of civil rights to erase the color lines that separate and divide us? And if we acknowledge that blacks have cultural traditions that have been nurtured within their own community, does that make blacks separate from whites? This is where the nuances of race and culture come into play. Blacks are keenly aware of their otherness in this country. We're proud to be Americans yet also proud that we've built strong traditions that have sustained us through turbulent times. So we zealously protect those traditions from interlopers who may want to exploit or denigrate what we cherish.

So who has the better argument here?  Is the Black Community being hypocritical or not?

**Note**  - The video of the ZTA stepshow is HERE; the video for the AKA's stepshow is HERE (sorry about the quality in advance)
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