Why aren’t they called “Traditionally White Fraternities”?

Technically, fraternities and sororities in America do not discriminate with regard to race. They are required by law to have removed any discriminatory language, on the basis of race or religion anyway, from their governing documents.

In practice, many organizations are almost entirely white, many are almost entirely black, many are almost entirely latino/latina, and some are almost entirely gay.

For example, the National Pan-Hellenic Council consists of nine organizations — nicknamed The Divine 9 — which were established as fraternities and sororities for black students. All nine were founded prior to the Civil Rights Act and although almost all members of these organizations are black and brown, several chapters include white men and women.

Because of the existence of diversity, we refer to those nine organizations as “Traditionally/Historically Black Organization/Fraternity/Sorority.”


The sorority system at the University of Alabama recently made headlines for discriminating openly against black women. The school and organizations have made moves to “correct” the issue, but this situation is not unique to this campus or these organizations.

At a national level, fraternities and sororities of the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC, which includes some NPHC fraternities) and the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) are still very white. I’m not saying that as a good or bad thing, only as fact.

The boards for these organizations are almost uniformly white, as are the staffs and volunteers. I should note that the diversity of volunteers recruited by fraternities and sororities seems to be increasing, with more open to facilitators of the opposite gender and from outside of the organization, and that still points to the fact that most of those within the organization are white.

That begs the question — seeing as how many of these organizations were at one time limited to white membership, why are we so afraid to acknowledge that they are, in many cases up until and past the Civil Rights Act, “Historically White Organizations/Fraternities/Sororities”?


A representative in 1873–1875 & 1877–1879, Reverend Richard H. Cain spoke of the use of historically white institutions to speak on behalf of blacks. In many ways, his thoughts were similar to those expressed by Malcolm X regarding white philanthropists who see a mission to help rather than an acceptance of equality and collaboration.

The simplest reason is that it would be considered inappropriate given the privileged status of white Americans and their excluding members of other races and religions serving as the creation of “separate but equal” organizations for women and folks of non-white races.

Still, pretending that such isn’t the case isn’t doing much for us at this time.

There is a real sense of pride in joining an NPHC organization or even a traditionally white NPC sorority — you feel as if you are a part of something that served to change a culture and a nation. Although traditionally white fraternities got their true start (before they started nationalizing en masse) leading into the early days of the American Republic, it’s hard to willfully acknowledge them as anything more than the “haves.”

Why is this relevant? Why am I even suggesting this?

I’m wondering that as well, but I would often feel inspired by the focused efforts and volunteer structure of NPHC fraternities and sororities while working at my fraternity headquarters.

At conferences filled with fraternity/sorority professionals from campuses and other organizations, I would occasionally question or suggest that we adopt some of these practices to maintain relevance — city-wide chapters, internally-focused purposes, etc.

Those questions or suggestions would often be brushed off with a “well we do things differently than they do”

“They have intake, we have rush,” was almost a way of saying “they are a completely different people than us.”

Are we unwilling to express what the real difference was and remains between NPHC organizations and traditionally white fraternities of the NIC and NPC?

We may be “integrated,” and we may be “working” to address “challenges” associated with “racism” and “discrimination,” but what we are really attempting to do and implying is that because we are the organizations established by the privileged, that we are privileged with the most functional design of any organizations.

The underlying issue, here, is not that fraternities and sororities are too homogenous at the chapter level. It really doesn’t matter if a chapter is composed entirely of heterosexual white men or queer white women or racist white women or queer black men. What matters is that these groups see each other and work with each other as equals.

The structural differences between traditionally white organizations and traditionally black organizations are like centuries of resentment built in to each. Give in to the practices of the opponent and you give up your edge, be it your supremacy or challenger mentality.

Maybe acknowledging that we are “traditionally white,” but open to men and women of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and whatever else our members may desire being open to is the best way to move forward honestly and begin legitimate collaboration with non-traditionally white organizations.

Sometimes people consider terminology to be the determining factor in whether racism exists. Someone who says the “N word” is a racist, where as someone who disavows the “N word” is not. Someone who says the “F word” is homophobic, whereas someone who disavows the “F word” is not.

What that really forces many of us to do, and what the Black Lives Matter movement failed to impress upon American liberal white youth, is overlook the systemic racism that has been put into place.

We have built our structures to be different over the course of a century, and refusing to reconsider any of that progress does not make any individual racist; it is; however, racially-based logic. . . or maybe I’m completely off. Let me know your thoughts on these thoughts.