If you’ve taken any kind of world history, you learned about areas with a legacy of colonization: India, America, Hong Kong, much of Africa (it’s all the same thing, right?), Wash. U….wait, what? One of those items is not like the other—Wash. U. is, at least ostensibly, free of European men oppressing and exploiting us for our resources. There are at least a few pompous, old white men on campus, but it’s not like they oppress the rest of us or anything (well, I suppose that’s open to interpretation). But still, the legacy of colonization—with all its nasty connotations of oppression, disenfranchisement and suffering—continues, at least linguistically. Kappa Delta just started a colony at Wash. U., which in Greek lingo means that a new chapter of the sorority has been founded here. As several members of the Class of 2013 Facebook Group pointed out, the term “colony” is problematic and needs to be examined critically.
This isn’t to say that the entire Greek system is evil or that Kappa Delta isn’t welcome here. They’re just using regular Greek lingo. So what’s in a colony? It’s just a word, right?
Well, the legacy of colonization is still present in numerous modern nations. Opium Wars, anyone? Well, that happened like, over a hundred years ago. How about apartheid in South Africa? These are just a few examples of colonization and associated racist, oppressive and generally immoral actions. India, for example, gained independence in 1947, a fact which did not immediately erase the effects of British colonization. The partition of India and Pakistan was done hastily and poorly, resulting in bloodshed on both sides and ongoing conflict in the region.
Hell, the legacy of oppression is still present here in America, an unpleasant fact that is usually glossed over by rosy “melting pot” rhetoric and cutesy reenactments of the first Thanksgiving. “Indian reservations” might mean “casinos” to you, but they’re an institutionalized holdover from an era of oppression, carried out in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” According to the New York Times, the rate of sexual assault on reservations is more than twice the national average. Even the narrative we learned in 5th-grade American history emphasizes the struggle of Americans against the oppressive British Empire. Uncomfortable? Definitely—but ignoring uncomfortable aspects of history and culture is how society progresses. And these are just instances perpetrated by European countries.
Speaking of uncomfortable, the promotional postcards distributed around the South 40 are pretty much devoid of anyone other than pretty, smiling white women. Well, these are the individuals that occupy sororities in the mind of American popular culture (“Legally Blonde,” anyone?). But in reality, there are Asian, black, Middle Eastern, Native American and Latina sorority sisters, and they are just as important to the Greek community as anyone else. Not including an ethnically diverse range of women sends the explicit message that minorities aren’t welcome. Or at least don’t belong on promotional material.
And yes, I realize that the newest members of Kappa Delta aren’t consciously drawing on a legacy of oppression, racism and White Man’s Burden when they chant about sisterhood and have cupcake fundraisers. Apartheid cupcakes? Not so appetizing. But language has more power than people who cry “political correctness!” consider. There’s a reason words like “retarded,” for example, aren’t considered acceptable: because they carry a lot of baggage—emotional and otherwise—that is hurtful. Just because it’s not offensive to you doesn’t mean it’s not to someone else. Like wearing racist Halloween costumes, using the word “colony” smacks of ignorance and ethnic privilege. Simply replacing the word doesn’t get at the root of issue, however; the reasons why the word is offensive need to be discussed. Maybe its all Greek to me, but is there a reason sisterhood needs to be associated with military oppression?