It’s All Fun and Games Until the White Girls Win.

8 03 2010

There seems to be a bit of controversy over last month’s Sprite Step Off competition, an annual contest in which black fraternities and sororities compete for $100,000 in scholarships by performing ‘step’ routines on stage.

The problem?  For the first year ever, a white sorority from Arkansas entered the competition… and won the whole damn thing.

According to a Washington Post article, when the white girls first got up on stage, the nearly all-black crowd was both skeptical and supportive.  The attitude was, Aw, look at these cute white girls tryin’ to step, let’s cheer them on.

The whole crowd then went nuts when the all-white Zeta Tau Alpha sorority completely tore up the stage with their air-tight routine. Here’s a YouTube video of it (I recommend turning up the sound):

There were standing ovations.  There were tears of laughter.  There were exuberant screams of support.

Then the winners were announced, and those cheers turned to angry, deeply disappointed ‘boos.’

An AP article on the competition reads:

“Visit any of the nation’s more than 100 historically black colleges or universities and you’ll see clusters of men and women engaged in the rhythmic clapping and foot stomping routines known in black Greek circles as ‘stepping.’Now a white Arkansas team’s win in an Atlanta step competition has started a fiery debate over the African-inspired tradition and whether the integration of a once-ethnically exclusive activity constitutes a form of cultural theft.

‘What has happened is black youth culture, what people would call hip hop, sort of made black culture accessible and appealing to all kinds of people,’ said Walter Kimbrough, president of historically black Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., and an expert on black Greek life. ‘It really now has become an American experience.’

The uproar began when the all-white Zeta Tau Alpha team from the University of Arkansas beat out five other sorority teams to win last weekend’s national final in the Sprite Step Off competition. A YouTube video of their performance, inspired by the movie ‘The Matrix,’ generated hundreds of comments.

Posters questioned everything from whether a white group should have been allowed to compete to whether judges wowed by the unlikely competitors inflated their scores to let them win.

‘Good Job but let the Black folks have their own thing for once!!!’ wrote one commenter posting under the name ‘titetowers’ who said the Zeta Tau Alpha team did well but should not have won.”

So, people are angry.  A lot people felt like the winners actually did have the best routine, but that they still shouldn’t have been allowed to win.  Some people thought it was rigged, some people were just angry that the white girls had been allowed to enter in the first place.  Nobody, however, seems to disagree about the merit of their performance.

Now here’s the crazy part: amid all the controversy and booing after the white winners were announced, Cocacola announced that there was actually a “scoring discrepancy,” that one of the black sororities had actually tied the white sorority (can you be any more obvious, Coke?), and that both groups would win $100,000 scholarships.

Now, I guess I get why people are pissed that the white sorority won, considering the history and set-up of the competition.  But not one of these articles about the step controversy has managed to grasp the real problem here, which is that the sororities are “all black” and “all white” in the first place.  You could pit an all-black group and an all-white group against each other in a potato sack race, and somehow the results would be racially charged and controversial, because the fact is, it’s just weird in this day and age to separate people based on race. What does “race” even mean anymore?  It’s an arbitrary, increasingly irrelevant category that will be completely obsolete in fifty years anyway.

What do you think?  Is it kind of annoying that an all-white sorority beat out all the black sororities in a historically black competition, is it not annoying at all, or is the whole thing absurd to begin with?

For the record, I thought the white girls brought it.  I was highly entertained by their routine and it’s clear that they put a whole lot of work into it, so, you know, good for them.

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10 responses

8 03 2010
bros

the idea of cultural theft is absurd, but I disagree that identity politics are an increasingly irrelevant reality or that race is arbitrary or on its way to obsolescence.

8 03 2010
geof

I agree that race is an historical absurdity, a cultural fiction, developed to serve the needs of a power elite. I think it needs to be relegated to the history books as soon as possible.
The question I infer from bros is: will successive generations be able to see through the facade of identity politics as something the serves everyone? Or will enough understand that race as a symbol of personal identity continues to serve only power elites? e.g. Demagoges like Jesse Jackson, idiotic entertainers like Limbuach or Michael Savage, or gerrymandering politicians anxious about what the 2010 census will show?

8 03 2010
Liz

I don’t know if they should have won or not, obviously, but they should get some credit. Stepping is ridiculously tiring and hard, and it is definitely a challenge for a bunch of ZTAs to master something and compete in a sport that is not widely advertised or encouraged outside of the black community. There was a counselor who tried to teach white girls how to step at my summer camp when I was 12, and it was SERIOUS. That shit took some practicing and a lot of push ups and squats, that’s for sure. Maybe just like hip hop/pole dancing/yoga/salsa, etc. people can start taking a better kind of step class, not just the 80’s-style up-and-down on the little stair. I’d sign up for that. After a month, my ass would be rock solid, guaranteed.

8 03 2010
graber

Just another case of whitey trying to keep the black man down. Add it to the list.

Whether or not those white girls deserved to win, the organizer should have stuck with their original decision because now they look like fools. That would have said, “hey if you don’t want white girls to win, you better bring it next year.” They would have responded, “oh it’s already been broughten!” And then in some weird “Bring It On” meets “Drum Line” World, Nick Cannon would pop up and say something stupid. Is it apparent I have no clear train of thought here?

8 03 2010
katie

wait, what if the same girls won a salsa competition or a hula competition? Or what if a black sorority won a square dancing competition? basically what the ‘haters’ (oops am i co opting black culture by using that word?) want is for the competition to be black only. Is it not blatantly obvious that that is just as wrong as something being white only?

final verdict: “bring it on” was awesome and the model should be followed in the stepping world.

8 03 2010
CB

I’m with Katie. Being angry over the white girls winning even though their routine was the best one sounds pretty racist to me.

8 03 2010
Vjane

LB says race is an arbitrary increasingly irrelevant category and will become obsolete. I say it will never become obsolete as long as black people insist on separating their race into a relevant category by calling themselves African Americans.

8 03 2010
slab pie

I think it is easy to say that race is irrelevant if you are white.

8 03 2010
districtramblings

that’s a good point. I guess what I meant was, it should be irrelevant, even if it’s currently not.

9 03 2010
G

“You could pit an all-black group and an all-white group against each other in a potato sack race, and somehow the results would be racially charged and controversial, because the fact is, it’s just weird in this day and age to separate people based on race. What does “race” even mean anymore? It’s an arbitrary, increasingly irrelevant category that will be completely obsolete in fifty years anyway.”

–You are exactly right, the whole thing is stupid and people should be ashamed of themselves for getting upset about something (aside from having lost the competition…which is all ego driven anyway.)

If I’ve learned anything in India it is that we need to Release and Relax: release the antiquated sense of self (race, gender & class) and relax. (you know?)

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