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The good Old Row experience

Xavier Burgin

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Here’s a quick (it’s not quick at all), awesome story: The South rose. Lincoln freed the slaves. Epic ownage on the American frontier. The South loses. Whites and blacks live in perfect harmony, bathed in the sweet, slippery slope of equal rights.

Cool. So, I had a few overlapping, factual errors and egregious generalizations (I’m pretty sure a Nigerian rose as president after Lincoln was assassinated), but my shameless hook, fishing you in to reading this article, has been planted. Here’s another awesome treat:

I’m probably one of the few black people to set foot in every white fraternity house on this campus.

Hey now, Xavier, you’re just being silly. When you came here as a freshman, you got kicked out of a fraternity house party when you walked in their backyard. The bouncer tried to eat you, but sweet, baby Jesus had you on cruise control to live. If their non-Caucasian radar went off when they were intoxicated, surely, there is no way you could’ve waltzed into each of their houses.

That’s where you’re wrong, ill-devised, imaginary devil’s advocate. I pulled a reverse racist politician trick; I had a white friend.

As a high schooler, I had a pretty vague understanding of the greek system. My family was steeped in the historically black greek tradition, but its influence on my childhood was subtle. I had been accepted to other universities, but Alabama soon became my top choice. I yearned for distance from my family, but not enough to completely shed my cloth of adolescence. During the summer, my friend asked if I’d like to attend summer rush (or whatever it’s called) to preview greek life on campus. I politely declined, considering my time staring into the deep depths of my ceiling more prudent. He eventually caught my attention when he showed me the online preview that stated students would be introduced to black greek organizations, as well.  This was an enormously robust lie by the University, but digging further into that is irrelevant.

I arrived on campus that weekend to find myself in one of the most dubious positions imaginable. The future pledges were dressed in a uniform manner: slacks, boat shoes and a nice collared shirt. What was I in? Khaki cut-offs, Jordans and a shirt with the letters “Coogi” inscribed on the front (Lord help me, I’m so happy my fashion sense has changed).

I was the only black person in a sea of future Republican candidates. And yes, everyone noticed. I was stuck on the tour. No one would’ve been brash enough to ask that one black guy to wait outside each house while they spoke to everyone else. So, for the first and last time, I was allowed to set foot in every fraternity house on Old Row and New Row. I even saw a guy fall off a makeshift waterslide and go unconscious, but that’s also beside the point.

The houses were regal. At least the parts kept up for alumni. The back houses, where they partied, reeked of beer and vomit. The sun seemed to incubate the smell. Each house had a plethora of pictures dating well beyond the 50s and 60s dedicated to their members. The majority of the staff was black, save a few of the women cooking in the kitchen.

Let me make this clear: I was treated well. No one was racist or belligerent towards me. I was just there. I even met another black guy who was a part of one of the fraternities, leading me to assume I was not the first to make this trek.

This entire fiasco did not strike me as newsworthy until recently, when I told a friend of the awkward situation. So, yeah, that’s another accomplishment we can put on the books for black achievement at UA, I guess.


Xavier Burgin is a senior majoring in New College and studying film production. His column runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

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The good Old Row experience