Disciplining Women: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Black Counterpublics, and the Cultural Politics of Black Sororities

SUNY Press
3
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Black Greek-letter organizations offer many African Americans opportunities for activism, community-building, fostering cultural pride, and cultural work within the African American community. Disciplining Women focuses on the oldest Black Greek-letter sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, established in 1908. In this innovative interdisciplinary analysis of AKA, Deborah Whaley combines ethnographic field work, archival research, oral history, and interpretive readings of popular culture and sorority rituals to examine the role of the Black sorority in women’s everyday lives and more broadly within public life and politics. The study includes sorority members’ stories of key cultural practices and rituals, including political participation, step dancing, pledging, hazing, and community organizing. While she remains critical of the shortcomings that plague many Black social organizations with activist programs, Whaley shows how AKA’s calculated cultivation of sorority life demonstrates personal and group-directed discipline and illuminates how cultural practices intersect with politics and Black public life.
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About the author

Deborah Elizabeth Whaley is Assistant Professor of American Studies and African American Studies at the University of Iowa.

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3.7
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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Sep 1, 2010
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Pages
218
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ISBN
9781438432748
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision explores the rich past and bright future of the nine Black Greek-Letter organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. In the long tradition of African American benevolent and secret societies, intercollegiate African American fraternities and sororities have strong traditions of fostering brotherhood and sisterhood among their members, exerting considerable influence in the African American community, and being on the forefront of civic action, community service, and philanthropy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Arthur Ashe, Carol Moseley Braun, Bill Cosby, Sarah Vaughan, George Washington Carver, Hattie McDaniel , and Bobby Rush are among the many trailblazing members of these organizations. The rolls of African American fraternities and sororities serve as a veritable whoÕs who among African American leadership in the United States and abroad. African American Fraternities and Sororities places the history of these organizations in context, linking them to other movements and organizations that predated them and tying their history to one of the most important eras of United States historyÑthe Civil Rights struggle. African American Fraternities and Sororities explores various cultural aspects of these organizations such as auxilliary groups, branding, calls, stepping, and the unique role of African American sororities. It also explores such contemporary issues as sexual aggression and alcohol use, college adjustment, and pledging, and provides a critique of Spike LeeÕs film School Daze, the only major motion picture to portray African American fraternities and sororities as a central theme. The year 2006 will mark the centennial anniversary of the intercollegiate African American fraternity and sorority movement. Yet, to date, little scholarly attention has been paid to these organizations and the men and women who founded and perpetuated them. African American Fraternities and Sororities reveals the vital social and political functions of these organizations and places them within the history of not only the African American community but the nation as a whole.
During the twentieth century, black Greek-Letter organizations (BGLOs) united college students dedicated to excellence, fostered kinship, and uplifted African Americans. Members of these organizations include remarkable and influential individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, novelist Toni Morrison, and Wall Street pioneer Reginald F. Lewis. Despite the profound influence of these groups, many now question the continuing relevance of BGLOs, arguing that their golden age has passed. Partly because of their perceived link to hip-hop culture, black fraternities and sororities have been unfairly reduced to a media stereotypeÑa world of hazing without any real substance. The general public knows very little about BGLOs, and surprisingly the members themselves often do not have a thorough understanding of their history and culture or of the issues currently facing their organizations. To foster a greater engagement with the history and contributions of BGLOs, Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun brings together an impressive group of authors to explore the contributions and continuing possibilities of BGLOs and their members. Editor Gregory S. Parks and the contributing authors provide historical context for the development of BGLOs, exploring their service activities as well as their relationships with other prominent African American institutions. The book examines BGLOsÕ responses to a number of contemporary issues, including non-black membership, homosexuality within BGLOs, and the perception of BGLOs as educated gangs. As illustrated by the organized response of BGLO members to the racial injustice they observed in Jena, Louisiana, these organizations still have a vital mission. Both internally and externally, BGLOs struggle to forge a relevant identity for the new century. Internally, these groups wrestle with many issues, including hazing, homophobia, petty intergroup competition, and the difficulty of bridging the divide between college and alumni members. Externally, BGLOs face the challenge of rededicating themselves to their communities and leading an aggressive campaign against modern forms of racism, sexism, and other types of fear-driven behavior. By embracing the history of these organizations and exploring their continuing viability and relevance, Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century demonstrates that BGLOs can create a positive and enduring future and that their most important work lies ahead.
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