By Deputy Editor Thea Lim
So we’ve been getting lots of emails about this, both from readers and friends – in late February Zeta Tau Alpha , a predominantly white sorority, beat out three black sororities at the Sprite Step-Off, nabbing the $100,000 prize and honours as the best step team in the country.
This caused an immediate backlash. In the video below, as soon as the second place winner is revealed you can hear the crowd booing while other audience members begin walking out:
Five days later, in an (alleged) panic Sprite announced that there was a scoring discrepancy, allowing them to announce a tie and give another $100,000 to the second place winners, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
For readers who don’t know about stepping and black sororities and fraternities, Lawrence Ross explains on CNN what it means to have a white sorority beat black greek associations at a massive, televised step comp:
To understand why this is a big deal, you have to understand that African-American fraternities and sororities are as close to the Animal House stereotype attached to white fraternities as Pat Boone is to hip-hop. Black fraternities and sororities, known as the Divine Nine, form the fiber of African-American leadership in this country and continue to produce the leaders of tomorrow.
…The roster of Divine Nine members is a Who’s Who in African America: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, Maya Angelou, Dorothy Height and over a million others count themselves as members. The civil rights movement is populated with Divine Nine members who developed leadership skills on college campuses… Pride in one’s organization is paramount to Divine Nine members, and one way to express that is through stepping.
Divine Nine fraternities and sororities take great pride in being original and innovative in their dances: highly coordinated, with elaborate costumes, and sometimes performed before thousands. It’s a point of pride to perform, but to win for the glory of your fraternity or sorority is the ultimate.
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 Sprite, Zeta Tau Alpha was enough of a racial minefield to justify spending an extra $100,000 to quiet folks down. Ok, so that’s just speculation.
But there’s been a backlash to the backlash. Several prominent black journalists (including Lawrence Ross) have chastised the black greek community for complaining about the white win. Jason Whitlock writes that the case of Zeta Tau Alpha shows that “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.” This thread on Bossip is full of commenters saying that it is racist for Bossip to have a problem with Zeta Tau Alpha’s win.
Do I think Zeta Tau Alpha deserved to win? I don’t know a lot about stepping, but I’m going to trust the judges and I assume they were amazing. But do I think they should have won?