It happened again.
Last Friday night, I was just standing there — unassuming, unprovoked — when the same words I’ve heard time and time again ripped into me like an untreated, open wound.
“You don’t seem like the type to be in a sorority.”
Eleven words. Eleven seemingly harmless words, which are always meant light-heartedly and yet, for some reason, they always make me feel just a little bit hurt.
I ask the person to elaborate.
“It’s just you seem so… It’s just that you’re not...”
The person always pauses then. They gesticulate, hoping that their arm movements will fill the words that they don’t quite know how to say. Of course I know what they mean to say and yet they never say it: you’re not white, not blonde, not skinny, not Aritzia-wearing — Danni, you’re not that type of girl.
What interests me the most about this is that initially I didn’t consider myself that type of girl either; on Imagine Day I simultaneously sneered and avoided the UBC Sororities table, thinking back to the sorority flyer that had instantaneously graced my bin just a few weeks earlier.
I remember offering a few pitying glances at all the smiling women surrounding the table, unassumingly trapped in a web of glitter and pink smoke. I thought I was better, smarter, above all of it. I had no idea that a year later, I would find myself at that table.
I learned pretty quickly upon joining a sorority that I would have to explain myself to outside parties. Strangers, acquaintances, my best friends; they talked at me like I had temporarily misplaced my brain and had proceeded to sign my life away. I began to wonder if the people who questioned me thought they were better, smarter and above me, especially because I didn’t seem like “the type” (code for: not white).
It only took a few times for it to eventually begin to irk me. Why did I constantly have to explain why my presence graced this space? Why did my participation have to negate everything I previously stood for? And even more importantly, why did it suddenly define me?
I began to feel like less of a person and more like a 24-hour advertising company constantly listing my Top Ten Reasons to Join UBC Sororities:
“No, sororities aren’t like they are in the movies,” I would say.
“No, I have never been hazed, UBC Sororities has a zero tolerance policy on hazing.”
“Yes, they are diverse.” Sometimes I would even add in, “Did you know that all UBC Panhellenic Sororities have philanthropy events where they raise money for charities?”
This grew exhausting, especially as I wasn’t seeing direct parallels between the things I was saying and my actual experiences; why did playing sorority have to be so hard? Why wasn’t I allowed to mention how ugly I felt being around seemingly perfect women all the time or how hard it was to dance in a frat house with all my new sisters and friends yelling the N-word in my face? Making friends was hard, trying to juggle my old friendships and commitments with my new ones was harder.
And yet, I was the one who had centralized myself in this catch-22. Even though no one was making me say all these positive things, it felt like a torturous silent agreement that was self-inflicted, yet never ending. Would admitting the truth be admitting my own failure; would it prove the point that this space was impermissible and that ultimately my body’s melanin was cemented in nothing but maladaptation?
With this, I turned on my hair straightener, singeing every curl into a straight black line and proceeded to walk into a room where I cast myself as the role of the outsider. Whether I knew it or not, a part of me resigned that I would never be able to truly belong.
Soon after I talked to a friend — when the question came up again about why I was in a sorority — I readied myself to recite my rehearsed spiel. But then I stopped.
“Oh, I’m the token, the gateway Black,” I said. I laughed and he started to laugh too. “I’m just a means to an end, a way to recruit hotter Black people.”
Looking at those words I said so often hurts to see now. It hurts to see how detrimental to my confidence internalizing my difference was. But I thought I was being funny — that I had finally found a way to be in on the joke instead of the butt of it. Those who questioned me liked that answer better.
Despite this, my membership continues.
A year and a half later, there is still a part of my belonging that feels conditional — token even. There are times when I feel excluded, unappreciated and like I’m standing just outside of a circle I was never meant to be close to. Those moments have been some of my darkest at UBC.
But for all of those moments where I have felt like leaving, there are so many more moments I cannot shake. Sisters who have stayed up painting and hot glue-gunning with me three nights in a row, new friends who have edited my essays into the early hours of the night and have laughed with me until my sides hurt. Sisters who are always ready to challenge, motivate and propel me forward.
And it is this that continues to confuse me the most. How can the thing that so regularly builds my confidence be the very same thing that breaks it down?
Maybe everyone is right, maybe I’m not the type and, who knows, maybe that’s even because I’m Black. But I look to a future that is very different than my present. I look to a future where the burden isn’t placed on minorities to justify their existence in these coded spaces. A future of our presence.