Finding the gray areas of race in my fraternity

A Black student shares his experience in a white fraternity, what led him to join one and why there is a stigma involved.

Mikyhial Clarke joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Albright College before transferring to Temple in Fall 2018. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

I grew up never really fitting in.

I was too Black for the white kids and too white for the Black kids. Ostracized by both groups, I window-shopped between friend groups to find acceptance. 

In my grade school in Wilmington, Delaware, other Black students ostracized me for watching anime, reading books, speaking proper English and not listening to rap music. It hurt to see people with my skin tone make fun of me for having fun, but I used that hurt to fuel my interests. I grew deeper in my hobbies, expanding my knowledge and beginning to accept myself.

White students talked to me as if I was beneath them and could never be equal to them. Their subtle upper hand instilled fear in my heart — leaving me adrift from both peer groups and damaging my young Black mind. 

When I enrolled at Albright College in 2016, I was ostracized yet again. This time, it was for joining a majority-white fraternity. I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon during my sophomore year before transferring to Temple University in Fall 2018.

To this day, my decision to rush SAE baffles me. I have peers and family members who are in Black fraternities and sororities. My uncle is part of Omega Psi Phi, and I have cousins in Delta Sigma Theta. Additionally, a chapter of  SAE at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was suspended in 2016 for ostracizing a member who urged others in the chapter to stop their repeated use of racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic slurs.

Knowing this history of the SAE, along with my upbringing in Black religion and spirituality, the choice seemed uncharacteristic of me.   

However, my rush experience was untraditional. Albright’s chapter of SAE was diverse, fairly moderate to left-leaning politically and had members of multiple sexualities. Because Albright is very small, I knew the majority of the small chapter before I decided to rush. This made me feel that I’d be more easily accepted.

Before making any decisions about Greek life, I asked myself questions that challenged my overt Blackness and underlying whiteness. I replayed these  three questions over again in my head:

  1. Will this fraternity accept me and my complexion? 
  2. Can I see a brotherly bond with the members of the fraternity? 
  3. Will my joining of SAE challenge my status within the Black community?

During my rush experience, I kept these questions in a note log on my phone and reviewed them before and after events.  

At my first rush event — a pizza meet and greet in Albright’s recreation room — I went with a bias. I told myself I wouldn’t fit in because I was Black. 

To my surprise, they welcomed me. I was shocked, to say the least, and saw potential in the members as lifelong friends. I didn’t recognize any prejudgment of my Blackness, but more so a raw sense of friendship. 

I began hanging out with brothers outside of rush events to see if our friendships could grow. I was reminded that our friendship is built off the bond of men — rather than society’s definition of men — and I grew to appreciate this. 

I am still very much aware of my race and the oppression I face because of it. I have a fight-or-flight instinct in the presence of police officers and feel uneasy in spaces where there are only whites. But, SAE gave me a serious outlet to discuss my insecurities and express my feelings. I used to think I couldn’t create a brotherhood-like bond with someone from another race, but Sigma Alpha Epsilon proved otherwise. 

As for my status in the Black community, I learned not to compromise my happiness for acceptance. I realized my own worries were detrimental to my happiness and I needed to focus my energy elsewhere to make them stop.

Joining SAE at Albright was fun and I received the acceptance I wanted. However, I wouldn’t put myself through that process again. It made me anxious with the constant thought of who would accept me and who wouldn’t. Temple does not have a chapter of SAE, so now that I am here I am committed to going with the flow. Rather than putting myself out there again and searching for new friend groups, I let people come and go as they please.

1 Comment

  1. I would love to have a conversation with him. As I am white but grew up with a black family. I joined a fraternity and didn’t quite fit in!

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