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Black Greek-Letter Organizations 2.0New Directions in the Study of African American Fraternities and Sororities$

Matthew W. Hughey and Gregory S. Parks

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781604739213

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604739213.001.0001

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. “You Make the Letters. The Letters Don’t Make You”

. “You Make the Letters. The Letters Don’t Make You”

The Construction of Memory and Identity in Stomp the Yard

Chapter:
(p.191) 10. “You Make the Letters. The Letters Don’t Make You”
Source:
Black Greek-Letter Organizations 2.0
Author(s):

Matthew W. Hughey

Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781604739213.003.0010

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter analyzes Stomp the Yard, a 2007 film by Sylvain White, and its construction of memory and identity. It argues that the film, which exemplifies “sounds and sophistication of stepping,” perpetuates a set of mythologies about race, class, urban settings, schools, and the memory of the civil rights movement. It also demonstrates how the film transforms these identities and memories into a kind of shallow and hallow commodity that dulls the sharp edge of black Greek-letter organizations’ past and present activism. Finally, it shows how racism, classism, and sexism are portrayed by the film as individual personality quirks or fraternal rivalry.

Keywords:   memory, Stomp the Yard, identity, schools, civil rights movement, black Greek-letter organizations, activism, racism, classism, sexism

The 2007 release of Stomp the Yard, by director Sylvain White and distributor Sony Pictures, helped to usher black Greek-letter organizations into the mainstream milieu. Opening at number one with a first-weekend gross of just over $22 million, and produced on a budget of $13 million, the film eventually grossed over $61 million in the United States and $75 million worldwide. Audiences flocked to witness the story of protagonist “DJ Williams” (Columbus Short)—a new college student at the fictional historically black college/university not so subtly named “Truth University.” Upon his arrival at Truth U., DJ pledges a fictional BGLO named “Theta Nu Theta.” He brings his street and savvy style to the conservative and conventional fraternity, and in doing so learns a valuable life lesson about bridging the past and the present.

Hollywood sentimentalism aside, many professional film reviewers stressed how the film relied on the personal expertise of producer Will Packer (himself a veteran member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.) to make BGLO “authenticity” a top priority: “‘I was on the set every day screaming about how everything had to be real,’ Packer says. ‘I went and put up all my old pictures, paddles and paraphernalia so that everybody could get a feel for this.’”1 Modern film technologies also enabled the film to intimately reproduce many of the sights, sounds, and sophistication of “stepping.”

Additionally, the film frequently references the history of the formal civil rights movement to which BGLOs are intimately connected vis-à-vis the intellectual and physical labor of BGLO members like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, A. Philip Randolph, Fannie Lou Hamer, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Huey P. Newton. The film’s plot device is the drive to convince protagonist DJ Williams (and the audience) that BGLOs are more than elitist social clubs that “step,” but (p.192) are vehicles for the realization of civil rights and personal responsibility. As other film reviewers suggest, the movie offers the mainstream audience a unique opportunity to learn about BGLOs: “Walter Kimbrough, author of ‘Black Greek 101,’ said … ‘Outside of [a hazing incident], black Greeks don’t make the news. We have to use stepping as a vehicle to get a message out.’”2 In many ways, the film attempts to counter the ignorance regarding BGLOs, outside of a render-ing of them as little more than “educated gangs” who step.3

While Stomp the Yard aims to represent BGLOs through stepping, it selectively retells history and constructs a narrative that immerses its audience in a particular mythology of BGLOs. Combining historical photos, traditions of “stepping,” and romanticized aspects of HBCU culture, the film presents a specifically tailored and narrow history of BGLOs that invites a critical blindness to the role of race and resistance, both historically and in the present. As one of the prescient examples of such historiography, the film ends with a still shot of the triumphant Theta Nu Theta fraternity as they celebrate a step show victory. The still shot slowly fades to black and white as the camera pans out to reveal that it is framed alongside canonized photos of other famous BGLO members on the walls of Truth University’s esteemed “Heritage Hall.” Underneath the photo, a plaque reads: “You make the letters. The letters don’t make you.”

While such memorializing visual rhetoric might actually be found in any of the BGLOs’ national headquarters, the film delivers a message to unsuspecting audience members that equates a step show victory with the labors of Dr. King’s Poor Peoples Movement, Dr. Newton’s Black Panther Party, and Dr. Du Bois’s NAACP. The point is that films are catalysts for memorializing. Moreover, the symbolic exchange of meanings in the theater resonate with dominant ideology and official, state-sanctioned memories. Such a dynamic remains at the heart of the social and collective practices of remembering—and these are hardly matters of individual valuation or construction. Thus, Stomp the Yard’s images, especially the last frame of the black-and-white photograph in “Heritage Hall,” are sustainable because film gestures toward a particular sense of history and identity that is engineered for our collective consolation. BGLO activists challenged society’s laws, customs, and structure in ways that were often perceived as unpleasant and uncouth. Retelling their contributions on the silver screen anaesthetizes their actions and makes them into pleasant signifiers of nonconfrontational racial victories that were won as easily as a step show. Such a dynamic is reminiscent of V. I. Lenin’s observations nearly a century prior:

During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize (p.193) them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.4

In this light, film is a participatory public memorial that assists in constructing both our memories and our identities. The film’s cultural significance turns on the fact that it works as a “consolation of the oppressed classes” that “canonizes” BGLOs and their resistive elements within the scope of Hollywood cinema. Stomp the Yard reproduces many of the constraints that some might argue their writers, producers, and directors are attempting to displace; it facilitates an understanding of BGLOs and their significance in the struggles for equality and justice as “vulgar,” “blunted,” and “harmless” iconography. The film decontextualizes stepping’s roots and cultural import so that it functions instead as a one-dimensional spectacle. Finally, it portrays racism, classism, and sexism as individual personality quirks or fraternal rivalry, rather than as cultural or institutional problems endemic to the racialized society that spawned a separate BGLO and HBCU system, not to mention the civil rights movement, in the first place.

Collective Memory and Identity

The term “collective memory” serves to conceptually separate individual (psychological) and collective (sociological) memory.5 In that sense, collective memory is shared, passed on, and constructed by a social group.6

Control over historical events’ meaning may seem incredibly distant from policy making and other “real life” concerns. Yet, history profoundly affects the grand histories, meta-narratives, and “common sense” of our present.7 While collective memory is reproduced through the construction of memorials and national monuments, today we can easily note how the media sustains memory through a continuous stream of representations. In an era of increased digitalization, there is escalating participation in an economy of memories that trade on the production, distribution, and consumption of race, gender, and class. In this vein, memory is cultural. Marita Sturken writes:

To define a memory as cultural is, in effect, to enter into a debate about what that memory means. This process does not efface the individual but rather involves the interaction of individuals in the creation of meaning. Cultural memory is a field of cultural negotiation through which different stories vie for a place in history.8

(p.194) It is germane to consider how film and culture intersect to both selectively remember which certain pasts are remembered over others, as well as how the pasts selected as worthy of remembrance are framed as (ir)relevant to the present. As David Grainge writes in Memory and Popular Film, “The balance of memory and forgetting in American culture—what is remembered, by who[m] and for who[m]—has in recent years become entwined in hegemonic struggles fought and figured around the negotiation of America’s national past.”9 Such struggles gained relevance in regard to race and racial identity as the nation moved, at the turn of the new millennium, into an era of supposed “colorblindness”—a particularly violent rhetoric that obfuscates the disconnect between discourses of racial progress and the material realities of entrenched segregation and domination in the major social structures of everyday life.

These cinematic discourses concerning race and the past have accelerated in recent years. This trend is symptomatic of Hollywood’s articulation and codification of a cultural past. Whether or not films like Mississippi Burning (1988), Glory (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Higher Learning (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), Get on the Bus (1996), 4 Little Girls (1997), Amistad (1997), Rosewood (1997), Bamboozled (2000), Freedom Song (2000), A Huey P. Newton Story (2001), Boycott (2001), The Rosa Parks Story (2002), and Amazing Grace (2006) represent a revisionst program of alternative remembrance or something more benign, they all garner powerful currency in the cinematic remembrance and representation of race and resistance.

While “memory studies” is a rapidly expanding field, those who study the intersection of visual media, historiography, and race rarely employ its frame-work. One particularly insightful divergence from this trend is Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford’s edited volume entitled The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (2006), in which they and their contributing authors argue that struggles over the memory of race and civil rights are not a diversion from the real political work of fighting for racial equality and equal rights: rather, they are the key sites of that struggle.10 In this sense, William D. Routt (2006) argues in “The Film of Memory”:

To put it baldly, I am saying that films, and especially popular films (for of all films, popular films are those made most surely for showing in public), constitute history. Not that they interpret history or substitute for it, but that they are history. Not the past, but history. And not the only history, but, if you like, in some sense the truest sort.11

To examine how popular-film-as-history takes possession of the past by assigning meaning to it, we must acknowledge that such activity is a recollection of agreed-upon dogma that, as Søren Kierkegaard insists, is suffused with melancholy and romanticized nostalgia.12 In this vein, Roland Barthes’s thoughts (p.195) are particularly insightful.13 In writing about the process of mythologization, Barthes refers to cinematic narratives’ tendency to become “naturalized.” So, while a film such as Stomp the Yard may bring generally marginalized topics into the mainstream such as BGLOs, HBCUs, and civil rights leaders, it simultaneously sanctifies and masks references to their socioeconomic, racial, and gendered causes, as well as the greater implications of those associations, educational institutions, and social movements.

Why do these mythologies matter? They matter because the patterned deployment of dominant BGLO mythologies, like those in Stomp the Yard, do not merely depict BGLOs but are constitutive of BGLOs. To foreground this provocative concept, it is necessary to rethink the concept of “representation,” which has a bit of a double meaning. On the one hand, visual images are representations of objects and people that preexist. On the other hand, visual images are also stand-ins that replace things that are supposedly being represented. In this latter sense, representations are processes by which meanings are attached to the objects and people that are depicted. Their meaning does not exist a priori as a sort of essential or fixed reality. The meanings of things are constantly in processes of reformulation and negotiation in social space. Thus, representations of objects and people become constitutive of those objects and people. Until BGLOs are represented in the public sphere, they will have no public meanings, as BGLOs will not exist in “reality” and outside of representational practices. Furthermore, when various representations of BGLOs rely on various socially shared and commemorative mythologies in an attempt to ameliorate the meaning of BGLOs in a particular cinematic regime of representation, those “reel” images can become the defining text for BGLOs in the “real” world.

Visualizing Black Greeks: A Brief Overview

African American fraternities’ insular worlds bear witness to only a handful of manifestations in major Hollywood productions. One such example is the rather innocuous and ancillary plotline of Drumline (2002), in which band members’ social cohesion on an HBCU campus was paralleled to BGLO references and visual allusions. Another representation is Revenge of the Nerds (1984) in which a group of white “nerds” tricked the fictional black fraternity “Lambda Lambda Lambda” into establishing a chapter on their campus. In this case, the black fraternity served as a background device that allowed the plot and rising action to develop; their presence was invisibilized throughout the entire film until the very end, when they emerged to save their “nerdy” brothers. The most infamous cinematic representation of BGLOs is Spike Lee’s indictment of the black Greek system in School Daze (1988), in which the fictional “Gamma Phi (p.196) Gamma” fraternity is portrayed as a cadre of loutish elitists and sexual prurients who maintain a host of self-hating, racial identity psychoses.

Stomp the Yard represents a huge contribution to the available media on BGLOs. However, its marketing and resemblance to recent films in the genre of dance subculture like Save the Last Dance (2001), You Got Served (2004), Step Up (2006), and Take the Lead (2006) (among many others), direct most to frame the film by its overused narrative clichés and dance iconography. Yet, despite the film’s limitations, the film’s theater run proved lucrative and its post-theater run was set. Immediately after leaving theaters, John Malon’s Starz network picked it up for an eighteen-month exclusive pay-television window. After that run’s conclusion in April 2009, it moved to TNT/TBS where it will remain for two years, whereby VH1 and BET will share the film in 2012. In the fourth and fifth years of post-theater play it returns to TNT/TBS, and in 2015 the film finds a home once again with VH1 and BET.14

Narrative Criticism: Blending Analysis and Aestheticism

In order to empirically study these mythologies, I employ the technique of narrative criticism. This method is a valuable tool for scholars seeking to make arguments about “the users of the stories and the state of culture that is revealed in their understanding of symbols.”15 Narrative criticism focuses on a speaker or writer’s stories to understand how they help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences. According to Walter Fisher, narratives are fundamental to communication. Narratives provide structure for human experience and influence people to share common explanations and understandings.16

As in other methods, narrative film criticism begins by posing research questions that guide the analysis and interpretation. Examples include the following: what are the pivotal moments in the film, what do the writers/producers/directors identify as the critical elements they use to give the film a special quality or place it within a specific genre, what are the specific devices the film uses to promote its story line and give the film a specific meaning? The method I present initially involved answering these questions, then built upon this foundation to illuminate the film’s broader meanings. In this sense, the method blends two established paradigms: narrative method and aesthetic criticism.17 The merging of both methods allows for a rich level of insight into unique human experiences.18

(p.197) Step-By-Step Mythologies

Due to the racially segregated character of the United States, many within its borders spend little time interacting with people of different racial or ethnic groups.19 This point is particularly true for whites. “According to the 2000 census, whites are most likely to be segregated than any other group.”20 As a result, popular films about racialized “subcultures” (like BGLOs and HBCUs) offer people, especially whites, narratives for experiences they will most likely never encounter. As the social theorist George Lipsitz notes, racialized films “probably frame memory for the greatest number of people.”21 Further, the film scholar Daniel Bernardi writes:

Cinema is everywhere a fact of our lives, saturating our leisure time, our conversation, and our perceptions of each other and of self. Because of this, race in cinema is neither fictional nor illusion. It is real because it is meaningful and consequential; because it impacts real people’s lives.22

Roland Barthes’s perspectives allow us to read popular media as full of meanings that constitute our everyday lives. Moreover, we can question whether such cultural texts are naturally and innocently capable of producing all sorts of supplementary meanings (or “connotations” as Barthes preferred). While movies have a certain utility, Barthes wanted theorists to bracket function to consider which specific mythologies assist audiences in viewing cinematic representations as innate and authentic, rather than as social creations that are tied to specific class, gender, and racialized interests. By applying this perspective, Stomp the Yard relies on a narrow form of commemoration in which black activists, institutions, and traditions that are commonly contested and problematic symbols in “real life” find temporary resolution in “reel life.” In the following text, I identify four mythologies that help to construct particular memories and identities.

The Miseducation of BGLO Stepping

Stomp the Yard’s representation of BGLOs and stepping compels the audience to identify with the supposed centrality of BGLO stepping within campus life. As soon as the film’s protagonist, “DJ” (Columbus Short), settles into his dormitory room, he meets his roommate “Rich Brown” (Ne-Yo), who casually extends an invitation to a bar-b-que hosted by “some Deltas.” DJ soon ventures out to explore campus. Perhaps not unexpectedly, DJ runs into Rich—where great numbers of students are gathered to watch a BGLO step show. As the Theta Nu Theta (TNT) fraternity emerges to begin its step routine, DJ looks puzzled and asks Rich in a defiant tone, “What the hell are they doing, man?” (p.198) “They’re stomping the yard. Where’re you from?” Rich replies with a quizzical tone of disbelief.

As the reigning seven-year champs Mu Gamma Xi (the Mus) defiantly enter the show, DJ becomes embroiled in an altercation when he accidentally steps in between a line of Mu fraternity brothers (an action signifying extreme disrespect; any outsider to breach a line of brothers demonstrates weakness, lack of unity, and frailty on the part of that fraternity). The point is driven home only minutes later when DJ runs into one of the Mus named “Grant”: “Oh yeah, I remember you. You’re the idiot that tried to break our step-line.” Such an “educational” narrative about the social BGLO scene, which propels campus life, is driven home in no more than eight minutes.

Immediately following the crash course on BGLOs and stepping, the writers and producers emphasize that a winning step show is the center of the BGLO and HBCU universe. In presenting a dormitory dialogue between “Rich” (Ne-Yo), “Byron” (Justin Hires), “Noel” (Jermaine Williams), and “Easy” (Oliver Ryan Best), the characters sarcastically engage the point that while fraternities may have “history,” “tradition,” and “legacy,” winning step shows is what really matters:

RICH:

  • Theta Nu Theta is gonna wipe the floor with Mu Gamma Xi.
  • BYRON:

  • How’s that?
  • RICH:

  • Cause I’m gonna join.
  • NOEL:

  • Dude, why you pledging Theta anyway? They tired … and they never win step championships.
  • RICH:

  • So?
  • NOAH:

  • “So?” What else is there?
  • RICH:

  • What about history? What about tradition? What about legacy?
  • EASY:

  • [laughing] Yeah, legacy of losing.
  • Even TNT, the rather “good guy” and “traditional” fraternity, buys into the logic that stepping, and little more, is the key to success for any BGLO, as illustrated when “Sylvester” (Brian J. White) (president of TNT) approaches DJ to convince him to pledge:

    SYLVESTER:

  • I’m here to talk to you about Theta Nu Theta.
  • DJ:

  • You’re kidding right?
  • SYLVESTER:

  • No.
  • DJ:

  • What about it?
  • SYLVESTER:

  • Some of the members of my pledge committee, they feel that you would be an asset to the house.
  • DJ:

  • Naw, Mu Gamma has murdered your asses for the last seven years and you’re here because you think I can help change all that.
  • (p.199) However, the writers and directors seem painfully aware that the film—the first major Hollywood film on BGLOs since Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988)—cannot simply reduce the complexity of BGLOs to the tradition of stepping. In an attempt to temper this dilemma, agonizingly obvious caveats are sporadically thrown in the film. For instance, the character of “April” (Meagan Good) broaches the subject of fraternities with DJ while they are out on their first date:

    APRIL:

  • So I heard the Mu Gammas are trying to recruit you, so you gonna pledge?
  • DJ:

  • Probably not, I don’t wanna step.
  • APRIL:

  • Being in a fraternity is about a lot more than just stepping.
  • Additionally, Sylvester, the president of Theta Nu Theta, advises DJ that becoming a member of his fraternity (Theta Nu Theta) carries much more than the “sweet deal” of step show grandeur promised by other fraternities.

    SYLVESTER:

  • There’s a screening process, all applicants go through it. You want to apply? That’s up to you.
  • DJ:

  • Funny, cause Mu Gamma come in here offering me a sweet deal and the best you can come up with is, “I can apply.”
  • SYLVESTER:

  • If a sweet deal is really what you’re looking for, Theta ain’t for you. A fraternity, now that’s a brotherhood of men who forge a lifetime bond. Okay, once you are a Theta you will always and forever be a Theta. Now you can go outta here, you can leave Truth as a young educated brother from the hood. And homey that’s great. But if you pledge Theta, you gonna get that same education and you’ll become a member of our lifetime brotherhood.
  • Still, these admonitions fall short, as the great majority of the film’s tone and timbre glorifies stepping as the route to campus popularity, personal development, and brotherly ties. A large portion of the film’s visual space is dominated by stepping. This in and of itself poses no critical dilemma. However, the portrayal of stepping as both a hallowed method and revered goal is problematic. Issues of its circumstance, history, purpose, audience, the phenomenological experience of its participants, and the structural relation of its operations, are all secondary or nonexistent in relation to the critical point of the film: stepping is what defines BGLOs and BGLOs define stepping.23 BGLOs’ complexity, whether thought positive or negative, is severely diluted. BGLO community service is absent, practices of hazing are vaguely referenced (in one scene, DJ is depicted carefully and slowly sitting down due to what appears to be a long night of “paddling” on his posterior, to which the character of “April” gleefully (p.200) laughs), and BGLO members’ historic roles as campus leaders and scholars are neglected. As Tom Mould writes,

    step shows are the first and most frequent encounters with black Greek life. Many black Greeks find this problematic, fearing the reinforcement of racist stereotypes of blacks solely as entertainers as well as a distortion of black Greek life. Stepping has been constructed over the years to portray only a small and idealized part of black Greek identity and therefore presents problems as means of understanding the complexity of black identity.24

    The problem of representing BGLO stepping is by no means endemic only to Stomp the Yard, but is indicative of a larger cultural dilemma that BGLOs faced celebrating the tradition of stepping without being defined by it.

    Down South on “The Yard”: Depictions of Black College Life

    While the film is set in the metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia, the film is rife with images of pastoral landscapes, plantation-style mansions, and smoke-filled pool halls. Whether images of drives through campus, trips to DJ’s aunt and uncle’s large home and sprawling lawn, or jogs through a verdant forest in the midafternoon, the views are more evocative of those in Gone With the Wind (1939) rather than contemporary cinema. Atlanta’s geography is thus eviscerated by the film. And because the audience knows that DJ is headed “down South for school,” the setting captures claims to “authenticity” in ways that would be made problematic by the cinematic presence of high-rise buildings, concrete sidewalks, and Starbucks on every corner. “Cities” are largely coded as “northern,” and “the South” is portrayed as undeveloped, rural, and agrarian; a space far from the troubles of urban modernity where black college youth go to “discover themselves.” Stomp the Yard draws on this cultural narrative to ground its location.

    Truth University is framed as an isolated pocket of turbulence and competition within the milieu of southern silence and bucolic beauty. Truth U.’s inner turmoil is evidenced by a black administration that utilizes unscrupulous tactics, a hierarchical system of wage-labor, and black-on-black classism. The role of academics in student life is so submerged that it manifests itself only in regard to romantic liaisons with “study partners” and the bureaucratic “iron cage” of class registration. While the film contains many depictions of young men and women studying quietly in libraries, such activities are often backdrop imagery that foreground dialogue about parties, stepping, pledging, and masculine rivalry. The “real” Truth University is not academic; rather, it is comprised of nocturnal extracurricular activities that take place at dance clubs, dormitory rooms, and step show competitions. While such a dynamic is somewhat expected given the genre of college-based cinema, the story’s placement (p.201) at an HBCU makes the “real” story revolve around the quest to find an “authentic” form of black racial identity that is closely allied with dancing and partying. Even in the now dated Animal House (1978) or the more contemporary Old School (2003), the Greek-affiliated characters like “John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky” (John Belushi) in the former and “Frank Ricard” (Will Ferrell) in the latter are concerned with the proper grades to graduate and/or appeasing the university administration in order to remain on campus. By stark contrast, Stomp the Yard focuses on discovering an essentialized form of blackness within the HBCU experience—southern roots, family ties, and ancestral linkages to famous black Greeks.

    Such constructions of HBCU life rely on nostalgic fictions of black college life that turn on the implicit acceptance of stereotypical and essentialist renderings of black racial identity, the South, and adolescence. To borrow from Pierre Bourdieu, these mythologies enact a certain “symbolic violence” on HBCUs. As Bourdieu writes,

    In the symbolic struggle for the production of common sense or, more precisely, for the monopoly of legitimate naming as the official—i.e. explicit and public—imposition of the legitimate vision of the social world, agents bring into play the symbolic capital that they have acquired … those inscribed in people’s minds or in the objective world, such as qualification.25

    The production of that imagery effectively conflates “real life” and “reel life” while obfuscating many of the realities of HBCUs in ways that mystify their unique contributions. For example, in comparing black attendance at HBCUs with predominately white institutions (PWIs), more than twice as many African American students at HBCUs reported that campus extracurricular activities reflected their interests (28 percent at HBCUs vs. 12 percent at PWIs), while significantly more African American students at PWIs reported that they “hardly ever” participated in campus activities (31 percent at PWIs vs. 23 percent at HBCUs).26 Furthermore HBCUs award over 25 percent of bachelor degrees to African American students, with 35 percent of blacks earning a bachelor’s in chemistry and the biological sciences, 37 percent in math, and a remarkable 61 percent in physics.27 Also, black students completing their undergraduate education at HBCUs are more likely than those from PWIs to attend graduate school and to complete doctoral degrees in science and engineering.28

    The aforementioned realities have no place in Stomp the Yard, as they do not fit with the narrative of HBCUs as spaces for the exoticism of black bodies. This absence gestures toward perhaps the most disturbing element of the film’s representation of Truth University—HBCUs’ intellectual contributions and co-curricular complexity are diminished while the corporeal aspects of black bodies (as dancers, steppers, and lovers) are both naturalized and valorized. (p.202) Imagery that is particularly violent toward the legacies of black centers of higher learning is used as capital to purchase the audience’s belief that the images they view are both authentic and enchantingly different.

    BGLOs and the Struggle for Civil and Human Rights

    At key moments throughout the film, the audience is afforded visual images and discursive references to the fact that BGLOs played a significant role in the struggle for civil and human rights throughout the twentieth century. As Theda Skocpol and colleagues write,

    African American fraternal groups played many roles in the lengthy struggle for equal civil rights in America that eventually culminated in the modern Civil Rights movement…. If we posit black fraternals as one of the institutional seedbeds for the values and norms that led ultimately to civil rights … African American fraternalists, like African American churchgoers, helped to steel themselves for the collective struggles to move toward civic equality in America.29

    Relying on these notable facts, the writers and producers of the film employ photographic depictions of historic BGLO/civil rights leaders. In an attempt to add complexity to the one-dimensional story of BGLO stepping, the film converts BGLOs’ legacy into a quick, plot-driving device for individual sentimentalism and wistful melancholy about the past struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Alpha Phi Alpha), Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King (Alpha Kappa Alpha).

    In this vein, the iconography of BGLO/civil rights leaders plays the over-romanticized role of fixing personal troubles rather than alleviating social problems. The social forces of racism and classism (embodied in white supremacy and economic exploitation) are reduced to stumbling blocks that one can overcome by simply altering one’s state of mind, rather than confronting the structural dynamics that (re)produce such inequities. Famous BGLO members serve as vehicles to privilege the personal over the political. And while it is a truism that the “personal is political,” the film disconnects individuals’ ability to challenge structural inequality through its insinuation that structural inequality no longer exists. Such neoliberal cinematic constructions of civil rights memory domesticate and belittle the violence, struggle, and pain of not only the effects of white supremacy and a deepening gap between rich and poor, but also the movement that resisted those tyrannies. As Sharon Monteith writes,

    An obvious problem for filmmakers is “receding concreteness,” to borrow Adorno’s phrasing. In (re)connecting with a disappearing history, civil rights film narratives are typically recursive, but what they actually suffer from is “presentism,” whereby the pressures of the present distort our understanding of the (p.203) past. Character-led dramas … promote a single monologic point of view to create what has ubiquitously come to be known as a “useable past.”30

    Filmmakers prioritize locating publicly available or “useable” memories that will resonate with audiences. When they find this synthesis, partial and personal stories masquerade as political and public facts. All human interactions, struggles, and dilemmas are thus reduced to individual dilemmas, confession, and disclosure.

    For example, when DJ walks into Truth University’s “Heritage Hall,” he gazes solemnly at a wall covered in black and white pictures of famous BGLO members. He turns to read a sign that states, “Black Greek Letter Organizations. People who changed history. You make the letters. The letters don’t make you.” During this 140-second stretch of film without dialogue, DJ’s silent exposure to the hallowed halls of black Greekdom magically do the trick; he undergoes a hyper-individualized “civil rites of passage,” through which he suddenly understands that BGLOs possess a legacy that stretches far beyond step shows and parties.31 DJ then immediately pledges TNT, foregoing his previous beliefs and opinions about BGLOs as self-serving, elitist social clubs.

    Stomp the Yard’s reductionism reflects the discursive hallmark of neoliberal thinking, coined by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher: “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”32 Such framing fails to recognize movies as culturally conditioned products that are embedded in our already established structures of feeling and sentimentalizing about the past.

    DJ and Grant: The Janus-Face of the Meritocracy Myth

    The film is grounded by the antagonism between two central characters: DJ and Grant. First, DJ represents the rebel without a cause from the wrong side of the tracks who struggles to find his way in the culture of higher education. Second, Grant is the child of consummate privilege, raised in what E. Franklin Frazier called the “Black Bourgeoisie.” The film relies on these characters to personify two aspects of meritocracy’s dominant discourse. In the first, the character of DJ is an incarnation of the victory of hard work over harsh circumstances. In the second, the character of Grant is the manifestation of a conservative morality tale that dictates those with ethical failings will eventually be stripped of their undeserving success. Together, these two characters are the Janus-faced ideology of meritocracy in which upward social mobility is explained by the personal attributes of hard work and morality.

    According to this particular ideology, often labeled the “American Dream,” the path of higher education leads to a land of limitless opportunity in which individuals can go as far as their merit takes them. According to this mythic weltanschauung, one gets out of the system what one puts into it. Upward social mobility is based on individual merit, which is generally viewed as a (p.204) combination of innate abilities, hard work, the right attitude, and high moral character. As countless scholars have outlined, most North Americans not only tend to think this is how the system should work, but most also believe this is how the system does work.33

    Given this ideological framework’s dominance, Stomp the Yard complies with this Horatio Algiers–style nationalistic narrative. Yet, as Stephen J. McNamme and Robert K. Miller Jr. argue in The Meritocracy Myth, this assertion’s validity is not defensible empirically.34 That is, while merit does indeed affect who ends up with what, merit’s impact on upward mobility is vastly overestimated. Myriad non-merit factors suppress, neutralize, or even negate the effects of merit and create barriers to individual mobility. Stomp the Yard tells a different tale in the respective rise and fall of DJ and Grant.

    For DJ, his personal struggles are couched in the lower-class environment from which he emerges. According to the “culture of poverty” argument, people are poor because they inherit deviant or pathological values from previous generations, creating a vicious cycle of poverty. From this perspective, poor people are portrayed as anti-work, anti-family, anti-school, and anti-success. However, evidence suggests that poor people do not possess “deviant” or “pathological” values, but instead value work, family, school, and achievement as much as those with higher socioeconomic standing.35 Despite such evidence, the film presents DJ as overcoming his background of pathological inner-city thug-culture in order to succeed. DJ exists as a personified site of struggle between abstract morality and a specific lower-class, black, urban background. Because DJ overcomes this environment, he provides “proof ” of meritocratic rule’s legitimacy.

    A great deal of the film’s footage is dedicated to scenes of DJ working for his college education. Due to an understated dynamic of nepotism, DJ’s uncle gives him a job working for Truth U. in the physical maintenance and landscaping department. Various scenes show DJ planting flowers, mowing the lawn, and clearing brush—a type of labor that is framed as sincere and moral—“an honest day’s work.” The film’s repetitive representation of DJ engaged in such work effectively juxtaposes him against his fellow students who can afford to enroll at Truth University because of scholarships or their parents’ money. Unlike others in the film (which portrays no other student workers), DJ earns his education; nothing is given to him or free.

    After a long day of work, DJ trudges along the sidewalk, rake and garbage bag in hand. Suddenly, his uncle pulls up beside him, saying, “Get in, man, I’ll give you a ride back.” As they drive off together, they pass the mansions that are home to elitist fraternity members who sit on their porches or play touch football in their front yards. DJ shakes his head disapprovingly. Noticing his nephew’s distaste, his uncle states, “They getting the very same education as you, so don’t pay them any mind.” In reality, they are probably not getting the (p.205) same education. With business and commerce schools now requiring higher GPAs and with those majors yielding different economic-life chances, access to a fraternity yields alumni networks, test banks, and a host of other amenities that enable college success.

    As a foil to DJ’s character, Grant (aptly named in that his parents’ socioeconomic status confers him with high status) is portrayed as rude, insensitive, and lacking in “moral fiber.” Because of this persona, he quickly becomes the character that audiences love to hate. In one particular scene with his then girl-friend April, Grant proposes to her, but in so doing demonstrates his lack of concern for her as well as his controlling and paternalistic attitude.

    GRANT:

  • April, there’s been something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about [hands her a diamond engagement ring]. It belonged to my grandmother.
  • APRIL:

  • It’s beautiful.
  • GRANT:

  • Try it on. [long pause]
  • APRIL:

  • Grant, what’s my favorite color?
  • GRANT:

  • Red, why? No, no, no, blue. What’s this about?
  • APRIL:

  • I don’t know.
  • GRANT:

  • Please tell me this has nothing to do with that kid [DJ].
  • APRIL:

  • I’m sorry.
  • GRANT:

  • If you don’t come to your senses and quick, you are going to lose out on me.
  • APRIL:

  • I really can’t believe you just said that.
  • GRANT:

  • You are spoiled and ungrateful and I am taking you home.
  • APRIL:

  • You know what, don’t bother. Oh, and my favorite color is green, asshole.
  • As Grant loses his girlfriend April to his nemesis DJ, he begins to exhibit more Machiavellian tendencies: from asking April’s father (a school administrator) to put pressure on April to dump DJ, to digging up DJ’s criminal past to have him suspended from school, and in directing his fraternity brothers to spy on DJ’s step-show practice to win the annual step-show competition. As he engages in more wanton acts of disrespect and underhandedness, he is primed to fall from grace. This dynamic makes Stomp the Yard a stock-and-trade conservative morality tale. In order for DJ to justly de-throne Grant, Grant must prove himself unworthy by losing the girl, losing the step show, and losing his hold on campus dominance. If Grant were not presented as a child of privilege lacking in personal scruples, the film would fail to resonate with the audience, as the clear moral protagonist would not be made manifest.

    (p.206) Conclusion

    The beguiling morality tale of the rise of DJ and the fall of Grant, the destructive reduction of the civil rights movement into a tale of personal redemption and initiative, and the singular focus on BGLOs and their Greek-letter-adorned bodies as manifestations of exotic and essentialized difference all complement the prevailing ideological revisionism and political neoliberalism of the film’s 2007 release. Simultaneously, the film obfuscates such a connection by focusing on retrospective tributes to a past that never existed. Whether we are moved by the photographs in “Heritage Hall” or DJ’s ability to pull himself up by his bootstraps as he works his way through college to obtain Greek letters, the girl, and the grandeur of step show victory, we are encouraged to react with positive affectation.

    However, we are neither allowed to glimpse the ways in which ordinary HBCU students navigate a world in which racial identity will significantly affect on their ability to obtain employment after college,36 nor are we able to gain access to BGLOs’ modern-day struggles as they wrestle with hazing, homophobia, or inter-fraternity high-jinks and hatred.37 Such a vacuum suggests that BGLOs are relatively free of such problems and that civil rights acts of self-collective determinism and confrontation are inconceivable in this day and age. If we take the film at its word, the civil rights movement only exists in history, framed in dusty black and white photos in a neglected college building. The struggles of the past are no longer needed and DJ feels no compulsion to change the world, he just wants to dance in it.38

    In so long as we passively accept film as little more than entertainment, while also submissively ignoring the cinematic construction of “truth” and “history,” we enter into a kind of “spectator democracy” that encourages whole-scale passivity at the exclusion of active consumerism.39 Ultimately, the confluence of ideologies in which the resistive, impolite legacies of civil rights leaders and BGLOs are transformed into muted narratives, and the corporate media impulse to produce profit from larger and larger audiences that desire those narratives, reveals the troubling state of our public discourse about race, resistance, and remembrance.40

    Notes

    (1) . Joshua Alston, “Stepping Out of Line?” Newsweek, January 11, 2007. http://www.newsweek.com/id/52578 (accessed March 11, 1008).

    (2) . Johnathan E. Briggs, “Black Frats Say Film out of Step,” Chicago Tribune, January 12, 2007. (p.207) http://www.umass.edu/greek/uploads/listWidget/11813/Chicago%20Tribune-Black%20frats%20say%20film%20out%20of%20step%2001_22_07%20pdf.pdf (accessed March 12, 2008).

    (3) . See Matthew W. Hughey, “Brotherhood or Brothers in the ‘Hood?’ Debunking the ‘Educated Gang’ Thesis as Black Fraternity and Sorority Slander,” Race, Ethnicity, and Education 11, no. 4 (December 2008): 443–63, and Matthew W. Hughey, “‘Cuz I’m Young and I’m Black and My Hat’s Real Low?’: A Critique of Black Greeks as ‘Educated Gangs,’” in Black Greek Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun, ed. Gregory S. Parks (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 385–417.

    (4) . Vladimir I. Lenin, State and Revolution (1918; rpt. New York: International Publishers Co., 1932), 1.

    (5) . Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, trans. Francis J. Ditter Jr. and Vida Yazdi Ditter (New York: Harper Colophon, 1980).

    (6) . Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. K. Fields (1912; rpt. New York: Free Press, 1995).

    (7) . John Bodnar, “Saving Private Ryan and Postwar Memory in America,” American Historical Review 106, no. 3(June 2001): 808.

    (8) . Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), 1.

    (9) . David Grange, Memory and Popular Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 3.

    (10) . Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford, The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).

    (11) . William D. Routt, “The Film of Memory,” Screening the Past. http://www.latrobe.edu.au/screeningthepast/19/film-of-memory.html.

    (12) . Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983).

    (13) . See Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Laver (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972); Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977); Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974); Dana B. Polan, “Roland Barthes and the Moving Image,” October 18 (Autumn 1981): 41–46.

    (14) . John Dempsey, “‘Stomp’ Romps to $7 Million. Movie Scores Network-Window Deals,” Variety.http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117960390.html?categoryid=1238&cs=1 (accessed March 1, 2007).

    (15) . Malcolm O. Sillars and Bruce E. Gronbeck, Communication Criticism: Rhetoric, Social Codes, Cultural Studies (Long Grove, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2001), 212.

    (16) . Walter Fisher, Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 58.

    (17) . By “narrative method,” I refer to C. K. Riessman, Narrative Analysis, Qualitative Research Methods Series, 30 (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993), and by “aesthetic criticism,” I refer to P. Chinn, M. K. Maeve, and C. Bostick, “Aesthetic Inquiry and the Art of Nursing,” Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice: An International Journal 11, no. 2 (1997): 83–96.

    (18) . Such a methodology is clearly explained in Linda Honan Pellico and Peggy L. Chinn, “Narrative Criticism: A Systematic Approach to the Analysis of Story,” Journal of Holistic Nursing 25, no. 1 (2007): 58–65.

    (19) . Douglass S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

    (p.208) (20) . California Newsreel, “Race Literacy Quiz. What differences make a difference?” 2003. http://www.newsreel.org/guides/race/quiz.htm (accessed January 6, 2007).

    (21) . George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), 219.

    (22) . Daniel Bernardi, The Persistence of Whiteness: Race and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2007), xvi.

    (23) . African American media representation is often discussed along the lines of whether it is a “good” or “bad” representation. Such a discourse, I believe, misses the point. The crux of the matter is well made by prominent social and cultural theorist bell hooks: “Discussions of representation among African Americans usually occur within the context of emerging identity politics, again with the central focus on whether images are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The idea of a good image is often informed simply by whether or not it differs from a racist stereotype …. Issues of context, form, audience, experience (all of which inform the construction of images) are usually completely submerged when judgments are made solely on the basis of good or bad imagery.” See bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1990), 72.

    (24) . Tom Mould, “‘Running the Yard’: The Negotiation of Masculinities in African American Stepping,” in Manly Traditions: The Folk Roots of American Masculinities, ed. Simon J. Bronner (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 77–115, 78.

    (25) . Pierre Bourdieu, “Cultural Power,” in Cultural Sociology, ed. Lynn Spillman (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Press, 2002), 69–76, 72.

    (26) . Charles L. Outcalt and Thomas E. Skewes-Cox, “Involvement, Interaction, and Satisfaction: The Human Environment at HBCUs,” Review of Higher Education 25, no. 3 (2002): 331–47.

    (27) . Provasnik Stephen and Linda L. Shafer, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1976 to 2001 (NCES 2004–062), National Center for Education Statistics (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Education, November 21, 2004).

    (28) . James M. Turner, “African-American Technological Contributions: Past, Present, and Future,” paper presented at Black History Month Colloquium at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, February 20, 2008, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce. It should be made known that two events fundamentally changed the rates of African American attendance at HBCUs. The first was the GI Bill, which increased by the thousands the number of African American veterans able to attend college, while the second was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that increased the opportunities of African Americans to select predominantly white institutions. However, it was not until the 1970s that more African Americans began to select PWIs and by 1980 only 20 percent of African American students in higher education were attending HBCUs. Despite these decreased numbers, HBCUs still continue to play a unique role in American higher education.

    (29) . Theda Skocpol, Ariane Liazos, and Marshall Ganz, What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006), 130–31.

    (30) . Sharon Monteith, “The Movie-Made Movement: Civil Rites of Passage,” in Memory and Popular Film: Inside Popular Film, ed. Paul Grainge (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press,2003), 120–43, 124.

    (31) . Ibid., 120–43.

    (p.209) (32) . Margaret Thatcher, Women’s Own Magazine, interview, October 31, 1987.

    (33) . J. Huber and W. H. Form, Income and Ideology (New York: Free Press, 1973), and James R. Kluegel and Eliot R. Smith, “Whites’ Beliefs about Blacks’ Opportunity,” American Sociological Review 47 (1982): 518–32.

    (34) . Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller Jr., The Meritocracy Myth (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

    (35) . Ann Swidler, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review 51 (1986): 273–86; William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (New York: Knopf, 1996); Lyndelia Burch Wynn, “The Attitude of AFDC Recipients Towards Work,” Sociation Today 1, no. 2 (Fall 2003).

    (36) . Devah Pager and Lincoln Quillian, “Walking the Talk: What Employers Say Versus What They Do,” American Sociological Review 70, no. 3 (2005): 355–80; Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” American Journal of Sociology 108, no. 5 (2003): 937–75; Devah Pager and Eric Grodsky, “The Structure of Disadvantage: Individual and Occupational Determinants of the Black-White Wage Gap,” American Sociological Review 66, no. 4 (2001): 542–67.

    (37) . Alan D. DeSantis and Marcus Coleman, “Not on My Line: Attitudes about Homosexuality in Black Fraternities,” in Black Greek Letter Organizations in the 21st Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun, ed. Gregory S. Parks (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 291–312.

    (38) . Rachael Saltz, “Stomping His Way to Brotherhood,” January 12, 2007. New York Times, http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/01/12/movies/12stom.html.

    (39) . Edward P. Morgan, “The Good, the Bad, and the Forgotten: Media Culture and Public Memory of the Civil Rights Movement,” in The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory, ed. Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 137–66, 161–62.

    (40) . Portions of this paper were based on the work of Matthew W. Hughey, “Remembering Black Greeks: Racial Memory and Identity in Stomp the Yard,” Critical Sociology (forthcoming 2010).

    (p.210) Chapter Ten Commentary

    In this provocative piece, Matthew W. Hughey shows us how the film Stomp the Yard misrepresents the complexity of black Greek-letter organizations and stepping. Although the film’s producer, Will Packer, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, sought to convince the audience that “BGLOs are more than elitist social clubs that ‘step,’ but also serve important social goals, such as advancing civil rights,” Hughey argues that the film perpetuates a mythology of BGLOS that portrays them as little more than innocuous social clubs for students that serve little purpose beyond entertaining others through stepping. Neither BGLOs nor the art and social performances of stepping that developed within them are one dimensional, uncontested, or apolitical. Indeed, an in-depth understanding of both leads to a fuller appreciation of their contributions to American life and African American culture.

    The first two collegiate-based BGLOs organized in 1906 (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity) and 1908 (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority), at the end of a period from 1890 to 1910 in which African Americans formed thousands of mutual aid societies as a bulwark against Jim Crow racism. Henry A. Callis, a founder of Alpha Phi Alpha, said, “Society offered us narrowly circumscribed opportunity and no security. Out of our need, our fraternity brought social purpose and social action.” Yet, critics of BGLOs, such as E. Franklin Frazier, in Black Bourgeoisie, saw BGLOS as fostering “conspicuous consumption” and diverting students “from a serious interest in education.” Scholars such as Martin Kilson, Daniel C. Thompson, Bart Landry, and Lois Benjamin have disputed Frazier’s critique, finding strong evidence of social commitment and action among African American fraternities and sororities.

    Today’s nine BGLOs have played important roles in the civic and social health of America. Delta Sigma Theta sisters marched side by side with white women in the march for woman suffrage in Washington, D.C., in 1913 and during the 1960s, they contributed funds to bail civil rights organizers out of southern jails. Tom Bradley, of Kappa Alpha Psi, helped shape the federal (p.211) Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Alpha Phi Alpha brothers Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, Adam Clayton Powell, and Thurgood Marshall played significant roles in advancing civil rights. All the organizations have numerous local and national initiatives, such as supporting the NAACP, monitoring national legislation, conducting literacy campaigns, registering voters, improving housing and employment opportunities, supporting food and clothing banks, and mentoring youth.

    Stepping arose as a ritual performance of identity among BGLOS as early as the 1920s, if not before, from roots in African American Masonic performance traditions as well as slave dances, and even deeper roots in African dance traditions carried to the “New World.” Today BGLOS frequently use stepping to raise funds for social causes, foster moral education, leadership, character, and community development. As Hughey so aptly shows us, the image of BGLOs and stepping that emerges in Stomp the Yard reduces the history of BGLOs and practice of stepping to an easily digestible commodity that blunts their rich history of opposition to racism and strong advocacy for progressive social causes.

    Notes:

    (1) . Joshua Alston, “Stepping Out of Line?” Newsweek, January 11, 2007. http://www.newsweek.com/id/52578 (accessed March 11, 1008).

    (2) . Johnathan E. Briggs, “Black Frats Say Film out of Step,” Chicago Tribune, January 12, 2007. (p.207) http://www.umass.edu/greek/uploads/listWidget/11813/Chicago%20Tribune-Black%20frats%20say%20film%20out%20of%20step%2001_22_07%20pdf.pdf (accessed March 12, 2008).

    (3) . See Matthew W. Hughey, “Brotherhood or Brothers in the ‘Hood?’ Debunking the ‘Educated Gang’ Thesis as Black Fraternity and Sorority Slander,” Race, Ethnicity, and Education 11, no. 4 (December 2008): 443–63, and Matthew W. Hughey, “‘Cuz I’m Young and I’m Black and My Hat’s Real Low?’: A Critique of Black Greeks as ‘Educated Gangs,’” in Black Greek Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun, ed. Gregory S. Parks (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 385–417.

    (4) . Vladimir I. Lenin, State and Revolution (1918; rpt. New York: International Publishers Co., 1932), 1.

    (5) . Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, trans. Francis J. Ditter Jr. and Vida Yazdi Ditter (New York: Harper Colophon, 1980).

    (6) . Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. K. Fields (1912; rpt. New York: Free Press, 1995).

    (7) . John Bodnar, “Saving Private Ryan and Postwar Memory in America,” American Historical Review 106, no. 3(June 2001): 808.

    (8) . Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), 1.

    (9) . David Grange, Memory and Popular Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 3.

    (10) . Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford, The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).

    (11) . William D. Routt, “The Film of Memory,” Screening the Past. http://www.latrobe.edu.au/screeningthepast/19/film-of-memory.html.

    (12) . Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983).

    (13) . See Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Laver (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972); Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977); Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974); Dana B. Polan, “Roland Barthes and the Moving Image,” October 18 (Autumn 1981): 41–46.

    (14) . John Dempsey, “‘Stomp’ Romps to $7 Million. Movie Scores Network-Window Deals,” Variety.http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117960390.html?categoryid=1238&cs=1 (accessed March 1, 2007).

    (15) . Malcolm O. Sillars and Bruce E. Gronbeck, Communication Criticism: Rhetoric, Social Codes, Cultural Studies (Long Grove, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2001), 212.

    (16) . Walter Fisher, Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 58.

    (17) . By “narrative method,” I refer to C. K. Riessman, Narrative Analysis, Qualitative Research Methods Series, 30 (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993), and by “aesthetic criticism,” I refer to P. Chinn, M. K. Maeve, and C. Bostick, “Aesthetic Inquiry and the Art of Nursing,” Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice: An International Journal 11, no. 2 (1997): 83–96.

    (18) . Such a methodology is clearly explained in Linda Honan Pellico and Peggy L. Chinn, “Narrative Criticism: A Systematic Approach to the Analysis of Story,” Journal of Holistic Nursing 25, no. 1 (2007): 58–65.

    (19) . Douglass S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

    (p.208) (20) . California Newsreel, “Race Literacy Quiz. What differences make a difference?” 2003. http://www.newsreel.org/guides/race/quiz.htm (accessed January 6, 2007).

    (21) . George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), 219.

    (22) . Daniel Bernardi, The Persistence of Whiteness: Race and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2007), xvi.

    (23) . African American media representation is often discussed along the lines of whether it is a “good” or “bad” representation. Such a discourse, I believe, misses the point. The crux of the matter is well made by prominent social and cultural theorist bell hooks: “Discussions of representation among African Americans usually occur within the context of emerging identity politics, again with the central focus on whether images are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The idea of a good image is often informed simply by whether or not it differs from a racist stereotype …. Issues of context, form, audience, experience (all of which inform the construction of images) are usually completely submerged when judgments are made solely on the basis of good or bad imagery.” See bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1990), 72.

    (24) . Tom Mould, “‘Running the Yard’: The Negotiation of Masculinities in African American Stepping,” in Manly Traditions: The Folk Roots of American Masculinities, ed. Simon J. Bronner (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 77–115, 78.

    (25) . Pierre Bourdieu, “Cultural Power,” in Cultural Sociology, ed. Lynn Spillman (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Press, 2002), 69–76, 72.

    (26) . Charles L. Outcalt and Thomas E. Skewes-Cox, “Involvement, Interaction, and Satisfaction: The Human Environment at HBCUs,” Review of Higher Education 25, no. 3 (2002): 331–47.

    (27) . Provasnik Stephen and Linda L. Shafer, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1976 to 2001 (NCES 2004–062), National Center for Education Statistics (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Education, November 21, 2004).

    (28) . James M. Turner, “African-American Technological Contributions: Past, Present, and Future,” paper presented at Black History Month Colloquium at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, February 20, 2008, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce. It should be made known that two events fundamentally changed the rates of African American attendance at HBCUs. The first was the GI Bill, which increased by the thousands the number of African American veterans able to attend college, while the second was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that increased the opportunities of African Americans to select predominantly white institutions. However, it was not until the 1970s that more African Americans began to select PWIs and by 1980 only 20 percent of African American students in higher education were attending HBCUs. Despite these decreased numbers, HBCUs still continue to play a unique role in American higher education.

    (29) . Theda Skocpol, Ariane Liazos, and Marshall Ganz, What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006), 130–31.

    (30) . Sharon Monteith, “The Movie-Made Movement: Civil Rites of Passage,” in Memory and Popular Film: Inside Popular Film, ed. Paul Grainge (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press,2003), 120–43, 124.

    (31) . Ibid., 120–43.

    (p.209) (32) . Margaret Thatcher, Women’s Own Magazine, interview, October 31, 1987.

    (33) . J. Huber and W. H. Form, Income and Ideology (New York: Free Press, 1973), and James R. Kluegel and Eliot R. Smith, “Whites’ Beliefs about Blacks’ Opportunity,” American Sociological Review 47 (1982): 518–32.

    (34) . Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller Jr., The Meritocracy Myth (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

    (35) . Ann Swidler, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review 51 (1986): 273–86; William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (New York: Knopf, 1996); Lyndelia Burch Wynn, “The Attitude of AFDC Recipients Towards Work,” Sociation Today 1, no. 2 (Fall 2003).

    (36) . Devah Pager and Lincoln Quillian, “Walking the Talk: What Employers Say Versus What They Do,” American Sociological Review 70, no. 3 (2005): 355–80; Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” American Journal of Sociology 108, no. 5 (2003): 937–75; Devah Pager and Eric Grodsky, “The Structure of Disadvantage: Individual and Occupational Determinants of the Black-White Wage Gap,” American Sociological Review 66, no. 4 (2001): 542–67.

    (37) . Alan D. DeSantis and Marcus Coleman, “Not on My Line: Attitudes about Homosexuality in Black Fraternities,” in Black Greek Letter Organizations in the 21st Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun, ed. Gregory S. Parks (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 291–312.

    (38) . Rachael Saltz, “Stomping His Way to Brotherhood,” January 12, 2007. New York Times, http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/01/12/movies/12stom.html.

    (39) . Edward P. Morgan, “The Good, the Bad, and the Forgotten: Media Culture and Public Memory of the Civil Rights Movement,” in The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory, ed. Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 137–66, 161–62.

    (40) . Portions of this paper were based on the work of Matthew W. Hughey, “Remembering Black Greeks: Racial Memory and Identity in Stomp the Yard,” Critical Sociology (forthcoming 2010).