I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha in 1984. I think that was the year. Maybe it was 85, I honestly don't recall. But somebody raised the question of a kid having a hand in his own destruction. He wanted to pledge, and he found the hazing too rough. If he dropped from the pledge program, he would have the stigma from the fraternity that he wasn't man enough to do it. If he continued and got hurt, he would blame himself for being stupid.
My crazy theory is that it has a lot to do with the way people think about black manhood, and that is why this problem persists in black fraternities. Basically the (bad) idea is that only a black man can teach a black man how to be a black man, and the separate and distinct kernel of that blackness is the 'hard' experience. IE only a 'true brother' will pledge you hard so that you will be tough enough to handle what a 'real black man' will have to face in life.
To me that is a ghetto mentality no matter how you slice it. Now my line was pledge quite roughly, to the point at which one of our sessions was interrupted by cops asking us pledges out of earshot of the brothers if we were ok. But for me - well, that's what I wanted to do, but I did it without any of the deeper black manhood issues hanging in the balance.
I pledged for several specific reasons but with one overall purpose in mind. That purpose was the make the most out of every big man on campus credibility cookie I could garner. The reasons were as follows.
1. Black unity
2. Alpha affinity
3. My best friend
4. My roommates
On Point One
What I could believe in 1984 was that a black man would be president in my lifetime. What I could not believe is that one would do so without being part of the black Establishment. So my part and parcel of belonging to the frat had a great deal to do with what I said in my interview. "I am going to be part of the black leaders of tomorrow, we're all going in the same direction and we're all going to end up in the same place, I might as well join up today". That illusion was well disabused before I left college, but it seemed like the right idea at the time. I figured out black diversity the hard way, but I did figure it out. If I would have known at that moment what I knew a couple years later, I probably would have not pledged.
On Point Two
This was basically the question 'Why Alpha', and it's basically as much answer as Myers-Briggs would give. Alpha was a personality match. Tradition!, First among equals, arrogant... blah blah.
On Point Three
One day I was hanging out with my best friend, whom I thought to be one of the smartest guys I knew. He was wearing a cardigan sweater over a white t-shirt. As we got out of his car to go to lunch, he pulled out a pair of black Ray-Bans from his glove compartment. When he put them on, I joked that he looked like an Alpha from a step show. He told me that he was an Alpha. What!? He said it was the hardest thing he ever had to do. Damn. I had to do that.
On Point Four
It turned out that my roommates were going to pledge Alpha. We could study together, we could help each other through the program. We turned out to be the only three out of the pledge class of seven that finished the program.
On the whole, in retrospect, I'm glad that I pledged undergrad and if I had to do it all over again, it would be a toss-up. I'm sure that if I had to go to college, I would have tried not to care so much about the BMOC cookies, or at least expected a whole lot fewer from the frat. However, the fact that I got to be a national officer in my engineering organization turned out to be the introduction to business travel and the world that made me. It's hard for me to imagine the other me I might have been without that particular introduction to non-geek intelligence. But that's something of another story...