what beyonce's coachella performance says about the current state of black greek life
so it’s been about a week now and i think it’s safe to say that a lot of us have seen (or heard about) beyonce’s performance at coachella. if you haven’t seen it for yourself, you can still keep reading, but you may not understand the full scope of the things i reference regarding the performance. nevertheless, here’s my take on it.
i want to start by saying the performance was phenomenal. beyonce is a classic example of how entertainers can use their platform to not just to entertain, but to entertain and inform. and in today’s social and political climate, it has become even more important for entertainers to use their influence to evoke change. beyonce leveraged coachella to do just that, which is what i think is the foundational piece of what made her performance so captivating and powerful. it was loaded with women’s empowerment and she didn’t shrink her blackness. she amplified it. and that was beautiful thing for me to see, as a black viewer.
but from the perspective of a black viewer in a black greek-lettered fraternity, i was initially taken aback.
from my recollection of the performance, it all started when the “bug-a-boo’s” lined up on stage and beyonce began to pace back and forth as though she was their “dean.” when she asked them to make her laugh, i was like “oh ok. i see what she did there.” then, she told them to think about it and i was just like… “oh, that’s where we at with it? true.” so at this point, i’m watching in a weird anticipation of what is going to happen next. i began to theorize about who may have taught her these things and how many people on the stage were actual members of historically black fraternities and sororities. i watched as she and the background dancers stepped and chanted. i just knew they were about to start strolling to knuck if you buck.
and while this particular part of her performance did not necessarily anger me, it did get me to thinking about the part we (as black greeks) have played in us getting to this point, where an entertainer who isn’t greek would receive criticism for using their platform to leverage black greek life as a part of black culture.
3). we are hypocritical.
when “sorority sisters” debuted on vh1, we slayed it. there were petitions going around and it ultimately received a lot of negative attention, which resulted in it being taken off air and some of the members were even kicked out of their organizations. when “burning sands” came out on netflix, it was the same thing. greeks and non-greeks alike came together to attack the film, calling it “offensive” “inaccurate” and “non-discreet.” and when “step sisters” came out on netflix earlier this year (some of y'all may have missed that one, low key) the exact same thing happened. black twitter went crazy about how absurd it was for a black woman in a black sorority to teach a white sorority how to step. i remember reading tweets that said things like, “our processes are sacred” and “stepping carries a deeper meaning than just entertaining.” but now that beyonce has arguably done the same thing – we seem to have had a change heart. as someone who is in the divine 9, i think it’s very unclear what we want as a collective. do we want to see content about black greek life or do we not? are we angered when depictions of black greek life are brought forth by people who are not greek or are we ok with that? are there levels to depicting greek life on camera? is there a distinct difference between a movie like “school daze” and a movie like “burning sands”? or a show like "a different world" and a show like "the quad" or "sorority sisters"? there’s a lot of moving parts here, and i’m not saying i know the answer. but because of beyonce’s performance, i know the question: as members of the divine 9, what is our stance?
2). we put more emphasis on the superficial.
for me, the black-greek segment of beyonce’s performance was unexpected, but not necessarily surprising. why? because she merely depicted on stage what we depict on social media. every day, there’s a chapter that has made a video of themselves stepping, strolling or both in an effort to go viral. every semester, there’s a high-tech probate trailer that is released promoting a line that’s about to be introduced to the yard. and if i were ignorant to what divine 9 organizations were, i’d think that’s all we did – step and stroll. the number of posts about us doing service and the history of our organizations pales in comparison to that of us doing a stroll, step, or some other form of entertainment. so in my mind it’s like, can we be mad at other people outside of the culture for taking after us and highlighting the only things we seem to care about? how can we expect others to take our organizations seriously when as a collective, we don’t seem to take them seriously ourselves? and i’m not saying we need to stop making probate trailers and stroll or step videos. but i do think that as a whole, we could do a better job in showing a more balanced worldview of what it means to be in a historically black fraternity or sorority. it brought to mind the question, has the media ruined black-greek life?
1). we are not discreet.
we think we are, but we aren’t. that’s why the yard always knows when you’re having a line (and who is on that line). that’s why people outside of your chapter know how long your process was. that’s why chapters are getting suspended. because we talk too much. there wouldn’t be anything to show or imitate if there remained nothing to tell. but we can’t seem to grasp that concept because we’ve developed this false sense of entitlement to know everyone’s business. worry about yourself and your chapter. that’s it. no more. no less. stop talking to people about your chapter. i don’t care if ya’ll are in the same organization or not. it doesn’t matter how close ya’ll are. just stop. because we can’t be out here mad at beyonce for putting our “business” out when it was already out because we put it there, center stage. and it’s not just the neos, it’s the prophytes too – and ya’ll should know better. but then again, you can’t do better if you don’t know better. and if we’re being honest, a lot of us don’t know better because beyonce’s performance lasted longer than a lot of your processes because these days, it's really all about the money anyway.
nevertheless, like i said before, i’m not mad at the performance. i think it was great. i heard she was the first black woman to headline coachella, that’s amazing. and the fact that she took that as an opportunity to be unapologetically black – even better. if you haven’t noticed this already, you'll see that my mind tends to focus less on what happened and more towards the actions or events that lead to that particular result. and i feel like the things i mentioned here were just off the top of my head, too. if i spent more time on this, i’m sure i could go much deeper into the correlation between our role as black greeks, social media and beyonce’s performance. but i think i've said enough to at least get a conversation going, if you want. i love us, forreal.