Due to, the predominantly white sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha‘s win in the 2010 Sprite Step Off over Divine Nine competitors, there is now a fear within the historically black organizations that the cultural significance of step is being lost. Outside organizations have been adopting it without demonstrating knowledge of the significance behind it.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. member Briana Buckner said, “A lot of people do not understand black Greek life. You should know the history of something you’re trying to be a part of. Out of respect to those people whose traditions you are practicing, you should understand it; otherwise, you could be participating in something that may in reality stand for something that you disagree with.”
Author of the blog Fraternity Communications, Phillip L. Velez disagrees, Velez writes, “Some may say the win by an all-white female team from Arkansas minimizes something sacred to African-American fraternities and sororities, however I think it honors the organizations and the tradition. Unity step-show competitions may bring diverse organizations together and help promote Greek life in a manner never seen before.”
Diversity does not seem to be the issue here, but ignorance. Historically black organizations have continually accepted people of non-African American descent into their sororities and fraternities. It is the act of organizations practicing step, while being devoid of legitimate understanding for the background of the tradition.
According to the article Step into Step History, by Kiyanna Johnson, step originated from African minors who were forbidden to communicated with each other. Johnson writes, “They were isolated in almost total darkness wearing bandanas, no shirts, jeans and gumboots.”
Johnson writes that the minors created what was then called “gumboot dancing,” to act as Morse Code as well as to express their pain. The article continues to say that later the Black Letter Organizations adopted the “gumboot dancing,” renaming it step in the 1920s, as a way to create unity, and like the minors, express themselves.
Buckner said, “Even though it’s a historically black tradition, if a non-historically black organization can come and win, then black people are not doing their part. Diversity is good because it keeps competition interesting. If you see people stepping when it is not their tradition and they’re winning, it keeps people (within the Divine Nine) on their toes.”
Some critics have said step is a habit that takes away from the scholarship, leadership, and service that the Black Letter Organizations were created to promote. They blame the slant that the media has chosen to portray African American Sororities and Fraternities. The author of the article “Shattering the Misconceptions of the Divine Nine” Rasheed Ali Cromwel is one such voice that argues these images are tainting the image of black organizations. He blames popular movies that show partying and step to be the majority or only focus of the depicted organizations to be taken by the public as reality.
Although I think that some may have that perception of the organizations, I do not find that should be the biggest concern for the members of the Divine Nine. Reputations are built within the community through bonds and service. Instead of worrying about how those who know little to nothing about our organizations the concern should instead be about bettering the society around us. Our founders did not form these unions to get recognition, but instead to fix a void that no one else was willing to change. If we act dutifully then eventually perceptions will evolve. Until then the only opinions that matter are the ones we have of ourselves and those who came before us.
Step is a tradition that should not be expelled due to the ignorance of others. Black Letter Organizations are always going to face prejudices. My founders withstood the legitimate fear of violence or even death when they formed Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. at Butler University on November 12, 1922 down the street from the leader of the KKK. To those 7 women their well being was less important than serving their community educationally, civically, and economically. To now change our traditions because of mere criticism is cowardly. I believe our founders would want us to be true to ourselves. If we know beyond a doubt that our first priorities is aligned with the mission statement of our organizations than we should be allowed to participate in the tribute and self expression of step.