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Friday, October 14, 2005

In Da Club

I believe I'll weigh in on final clubs now since it's that time of the year (I see you eager beavers in suits at night...YOU'RE not going that Bain info session). I'll focus upon my personal perceptions and experience with them (I'm not a member of any). For a great background on them, check out this article that The Indy (The Harvard Independent) published on their history and foundings back in 2001.

My introduction to final clubs came during a BMF meeting during the Fall (I believe) of my freshmen year. Prior to coming to Harvard I had no idea what they were, where they were, or what they did. At the BMF meeting someone brought them up and then one of our members admitted membership in one as he defended them and dispelled popular myths about them related to rampant rape and them being only for the extremely rich. This was an individual who I grew to respect more and more over the course of the year (along with other BMF Members who I later learned were members of certain final clubs) and so I ended freshmen year with positive feelings towards them and even was interested in joining one. I saw a final club as, to an extent, what I actually came to Harvard for: good living and social interaction with people who were not like me (racially, socioeconomically, etc.). It would not be until my Sophomore year that I had my first real interactions with the partying side of them, punching season, and a more consumate view of what they truly are. (more in expanded post)

By the beginning of sophomore year I had convinced myself that final clubs were not that bad and may serve clear and beneficial purposes to my time at Harvard. At some point early in the school year I was punched (note: read Andrew's previous post for definitions of terms that you may not be familiar with) for one of the clubs and attended the initial event thinking that I was cool and elite but also going in with an open mind and being humble about my selection (if I can be all that at the same time). My instructions from a friend were to "shake as many members' hands as possible". This I did well and I was invited to the second meeting. Although it was very early on a Saturday morning (NOT COOL!) I decided to attend since the initial cocktail meeting had not been that bad at all. At this punch event we visited the mansion of one of our alums from the club and had a day filled with much to *indulge* in. I was not as participatory in that day's happenings since I wanted to return back to Cambridge early to meet up with my new mentee through the Mission Mentor Program which I had just become a mentor in. I refused to go to see him drunk so I held off on the alcohol as many of the other punchees (or whatever) and club members handled their business. This allowed me to maintain a conscious understanding of what I saw unfolding around me and the introduction to high society or "selling out" that so many of my peers in Trenton warned me of. I was therefore much more stand-offish, less social, and less impressive to the club members. I was not invited to the next punch event.

After this rejection my interaction with final clubs was a secondary one where I would go as the guest of a friend of mines who was a member and usually I would go for an explicit purpose (from a can of soda to a crazy party...whatev). Not to socialize. I remember being in a particular final club's residence and thinking about how different it must have been, say 60 years ago when certain wealthy, elite White members (note: a particular womanizing U.S. President with a Boston accent and ambitious little brothers) had been there. I felt honored though disgusted at the same time. I found myself wanting to steal the flat screen TV on the wall along with all of the nice paintings and furniture that I found in the Harvard Square mansion of this club. "That would be hot," I thought. Wealth redistribution for that boo-tay!

Spring of Sophomore year I attended the birthday party of a friend of mines at one final club and had a lot of fun going to that one and then another one afterwards to party some more with another friend and some blockmates. The suprising thing about both clubs was that they had MAD BLACK PEOPLE. My boy's birthday party had mad Black people cuz he's big in the Black community here but the other club? Crazy. We got to the top floor of the other party where craziness was occurring on the dance floor, in the back room, near the bar, by the window (you get the picture) and I was really suprised at how many Black people (males at that) were up there. All was well until I saw one of my very good freshman friends--a female--near the bar highly intoxicated and stumbling. I struggled to not play too much of the big brother role but asked her if she was OK, if she wanted me to do anything, and if she needed my help. With eyes half open and knees half sturdy, she said that she was fine. I was not convinced. Knowing that she was only a freshman and was already in this environment with tons of socially powerful, drunk, possibly aggressive and horny upperclassmen guys made me extremely uncomfortable. I really had to fight to not cut my night and hers short and walk (or assist her in the act) her back to her dorm. This single event freaked me out so much that I told myself I wouldn't go to another final club again (even this past summer when a really good kid and friend of mine had a birthday party at a final club...I refused to celebrate him in that environment). I haven't been to a final club since that night with my freshman friend.

The social pressure of attending final clubs is very difficult at times. When numerous friends, blockmates, and other individuals that one highly respects are part of them it seems OK. Thoughts of rich White male elitism don't necessarily run through my mind when I think of final clubs. I think of regular, whack, capitalist White guys with drinking habits. Seriously. They have a few Black sprinkles of diversity but are still largely homogenous racially. I don't want to be a token member or part of the organization just so they can say they have a BMF board member "down" with them (note: I'm not a board member of BMF). I don't want to be a member of an organization that invites me to drink excessively without telling me what the organization's purpose or goals are. I don't want to have people give me strange looks in the lounge as I watch BET instead of "The O.C." I don't want to have to struggle (with my public service-doing self) to pay hefty dues to an organization with a mansion (note: these are really just houses...property value in Harvard Square is just ridiculous and therefore makes the real estate values ridiculous as well) worth over a million dollars in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the northeast. Why? To be cool and socially accepted inside and outside of the Black community at Harvard? To converse with the sons of Senators and business tycoons about the mundane of Harvard life? To put on a suit everytime I go to this mansion to "show my respect" to an organization that has never done anything for my cause?

No frickin thanks. I feel just fine in my (real) Black community and my social justice community of White homosexual vegetarians (I got mad love for ya'll though...you know this). These are communities of people who I've had tons of great times with that will last me a lifetime of memories. These are the lifelong friends I came to college not expecting to find who have miraculously (not to mention dangerously) found me. Last week I got punched for another final club and was really suprised. Due to my growing (especially with this blog) reputation on campus as THE angry Black man I thought no club would want me and wondered why the one that punched me did. Maybe they thought that all of my crazy talk is bull and that when it really comes down to it I'm gonna end up consulting or banking like so many of my peers here do since money talks (especially to the poor here who have prospects of making money the likes of which them and their families have NEVER seen). Maybe they thought that they could reel me in and bring me from a radical to a leftist, from a leftist to a liberal, from a liberal to a progressive, from a progressive to a moderate, etc. Not happening. Or, maybe they thought that I would be the prize catch. If they brought in this crazy, Black, PBHA-junky, first-generation Nigerian-American kid from this terrible high school in a predominantly Black predominantly slum city, who couldn't they get their hands on!

I'm here telling these organizations that you will never have me (despite your deep and widespread professional alumni connections). You will never impress me (despite your fancy invitiations and luxurious possessions). You will never understand me (despite myriad Social Studies/Af and Af-Am courses). I'm far too different from what you're used to. You're just not ready. Transition in with some passive, unthreatening Blacks. Get your weight up. Host an open (to the college, University, community, whatever) discussion at one of your mansions about your club. Dispel rumors and debunk myths through this. Most importantly, do not look at yourselves as any better than the rest of us normal folk. Do not look at women from the waist to neck from the front and from the waist down from behind before you allow them in your club. Do not think that since I walk past your club without staring at it longingly in awe that I'm a spiteful square. Your mom. All of this reinforces those stereotypes that people who have never been punched by a final club or who have never been inside one have. I'm not one who thinks final clubs will be around forever but I also don't think that they'll ever be a place people like myself are comfortable until some real dialogue happens between members and critics. Cambridge Common is a great place to start some. As I said in my initial post, "let's get the movement moving!"

10 Comments:

At 4:16 AM, Anonymous alyssa a said...

this is one of the best critiques of final clubs ive read. keep keeping it real homie.

 
At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with alyssa a...I think that this post is patronizing. Jersey Slugger's story about his female freshman friend contributes just as much to the problem of gender roles that he claims the final clubs perpetuate, but in a more insidious manner. His adoption of the "big male protector" role is ridiculous, and just as stereotypical as the "socially powerful, drunk, possibly aggressive and horny upperclassmen guys" that he talks about in the final club, but since it is shrouded in the guise of concern, he thinks it is a more appropriate image, where in reality it just continues to reinforce the idea that women cannot make their own choices, and need men for support.

 
At 5:46 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

My adoption of the "big male protector" role is not ridiculous for a number of reasons. For one, the fact that I showed concern for my friend highlights the fact that I am not the type of guy that would take advantage of her when she was in that state. Others would. This is not to pat myself on the back but I was the only guy among tons of them on the top floor who acknowledged that this young female was past drunk and heading towards incapacitation. The fact that no one else showed concern is problematic.

Secondly, most men in finals clubs are: (1) socially powerful, (2) drunk at their parties, and (3) horny upperclassmen. This is almost uniform across the board of final clubs and their members. The only possibly untrue one is the aggression bit and I used the hedge term "possibly" to address its inherently speculatory nature. Do not perceive this as a stereotype. Look at this as what I have witnessed with my own two eyes in final clubs. If I did not take on the "big male protector" role (or something like that), which drunk, horny, socially powerful upperclassman would have?

Thirdly, my concern is not a "guise" and women CAN make their own choices as all people with the mental capacity to do so can, excluding those who suffer from mental disabilities (either innately, due to age, whatever) and the effects of drugs. My friend's intoxication level, as I gauged it through her verbal and body cues, was dangerously high. At times like this, gender, age, or whatever should not count. All that should count is the safety of that individual. In this instant I felt the need to be a "big male protector" because my friend's faculties were not fully alert and she was in a potentially dangerous environment where social pressures abound. Hopefully you will also look out for a female or male friend when they are also in a similar predicament and not deem yourself as a male/female oppressor not letting women/men make their own choices.

 
At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Guess Why said...

As if any older man/richer man/bigger man/better-looking man who was 18-22 in the United States and was out on a nightlife scene with other 18-22 year olds wouldn't be a) more socially powerful than an awkward 17-18 year old girl, b) drunk and/or high, and c)horny. There are certainly some, I am being a bit facetious, but honestly...that's a ridiculous picture of final club guys and you know it. East Trenton is full of horny, drunk/high, socially intimidating/powerful broke ass, ignorant men every weekend I'm sure...just like every other place in the US, and perhaps large portions of the world. Instead of locating the problem in final clubs, perhaps you should start with a grand social initiative to make men less horny, make everyone less drunk and high, and make all people ugly/middle-class/the same age/and the same size, so that no one has to feel the least bit uncomfortable when they go out at night.

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

or, you could make it so that men don't control the dominant social space and the alcohol so that these already existing problems are exaggerated. I know it's a good argument to just say "the world's fucked up, get over it", but it's also fatalistic, and ignores the unique aspects of this situation.

Yesterday I was talking to two freshman girls that I know (one of them was my FUPpies) and one of them brought up the fact that she and six of her friends had gone to the AD the previous weekend. She told us that each of the drinks they were given was exceedingly strong and five out of the six of them threw up later that night. I'm sure part of that is just being college first-years learning to drink, but I doubt strong drinks were being given to first-year men (especially since they wouldn't have been allowed in the club at all).

 
At 8:16 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

To Guess Why: Don't categorize final club guys as being just like guys the world over that have similar power, substances in their system, and physiological urges. Using your example of East Trenton, the guys out there do not have nearly the same (a) monopoly of space, (b) easy access to alcohol, or (c) intentions while in that space.

In terms of space, show me a $1.4 million three floor house in East Trenton (or most parts of the world). In terms of alcohol, it is much easier in East Trenton to buy illicit drugs (i.e. weed) than alcohol since there's no I.D. needed for weed and anyone any age can sell it or buy it, unlike alcohol; no liquor license, background check, or even edifice needed! In terms of intentions, guys in East Trenton that you're talking about usually hang around outside at street intersections hustling. I use this term to not limit their activities to selling drugs because not all 18-22 year-old men in East Trenton on corners are selling drugs, but they're probably looking to get over on someone in someway...usually for money. Sex isn't at the forefront of their minds in that environment. Money is. If Tyra Banks and a dope fiend both walked by, the drug dealers would run for the dope fiend with the crumbled $20 in their pocket--not the world-renowned supermodel. Believe that. Also, people don't usually take in drugs to the point where they're physically ill or incapacitated while hustling. That's not productive. On the other hand, many final clubs members often do have "scoring" at the forefront of their minds in their parties. This is a perk for being a member and having bedrooms, alcohol, and young women ALL close by. This added to the heavy drinking (among other substances) that occurs in the privacy of their club mansions away from proctors, tutors, and HUPD brings about an environment where one does not visibly see reprecussions for their actions. On the other hand, if you've spent any time with hustlers outside you know that they are CONSTANTLY on the lookout for police, stick-up kids, and others who might get in the way of them and their night's objectives.

I focus on final clubs because they're a microcosm of the macro-level problem of male-dominated institutions and environments in the world. I don't seek to make men less horny, make everyone less drunk and high, or make all people ugly/middle-class/the same age and size. Do what you do. You are who you are. Just be conscious of the discomfort that you may cause when you're handing a young lady very strong drinks; grinding on her to very sexually suggestive music; and wearing a tie, ring, or hoodie with your elite social club's logo on it.

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Guess Why said...

My point is not to say that the world is f@#@d up, let's just get over-- it's to say that let's not attempt to locate a macro problem in one micro situation, thus obscuring our very understanding of what is and what is not possible. I brought up Trenton not to say that they have mansions, but to say that these discussions are relative-- in a house party, whomever's house that is controls the dynamics. If I'm in South Central and I go to a Grape Street Crip party, they control the power dynamics in that party. And you were talking about power dynamics in a party setting-- not in a work setting, which would be presumably comparable to the corner situation which you attempted to compare to the party of a final club. If you went to see your average final club member at his investment banking job, I'm sure he is usually not dancing, picking up girls, or drunk-- he's trying to get his work done. Moreover, I think it's a little disingenuous to make it seem as if East Trenton hustlers do nothing but hustle all the time-- you and I both know that you can hit up the clubs in Newark or NYC and see your fair share of hustlers on the weekend being just as horny as rednecks in South Carolina bars, beach boys at UCLA frat parties, or final club guys at Harvard. How many successful drug partnerships have undoubtedly been undermined by disputes over women? How many parties have ended with your local drug slingers shooting up the club over women? How many of the requisite hood/gangsta movies involve disputes over women (Scarface, Menace II Society, City of God, etc?) For you to claim to be representing the essence of the hood to Harvard, you should be a little less misleading in your portrayal-- it does everyone a better service.

Also, I think the largest problem with the anti-final club discussion is not necessarily that it is anti-final club per see, but that in its attempt to make final clubs the center of the discussion without drawing connections to other spheres of our society, it unnecessarily obscures the real problem, villanizes people who deserve to be villanized no more than many other men in society, and tricks people into thinking that if we eliminate final clubs on campus, these problems would either evaporate or mostly disappear. I just don't substantively see the difference in a final club party and say a Shaquille O' Neal party at a Miami club where he is wearing his jersey and dancing with some girl in a sexually suggestive way. I'm not sure I see what would be a desirable way to equalize these situations without eliminating the individuality of people. Do you understand what I'm saying? Bigger men intimidate women and smaller men...is there any way to rectify that so people don't feel uncomfortable? There are people who are smarter than other people and intimidate people, should we stop them from interacting with less intelligent people to prevent them from taking advantage? What about people who hold prestigious jobs in society that are impressive and intimidating, is there any way to get rid of the discomfort? People are different and differences are intimidating...perhaps we don't istitutionalize difference, but I don't think anyone can support that because it eliminates ethnic organizations, political parties, etc. If we institutionalize some difference, what differences are worthy of being institutionalized? Are friendships worthy or not worthy? Are they only worthy if they are achieving some sort of societal good? Who determines what is a societal good? Do you see how confusing that gets? Also, at some level people are going to control spaces-- either by law, physical dominance, sheer personality, or by possession. I understand going lengths to make people entering that space feel comfortable, but at some point there is a level of comfort they could never reach because the space is not theirs and/or they are at some sort of disadvantage that I argue is not possible to totally eliminate. Perhaps if they had a similar space it would allow them more choices/social options, but I don't see how that would be sufficient for what you're arguing, because people would want to enter others' spaces and people would want people to enter their spaces because companionship and interaction is rewarding and sustaining. I think the best course of action is to, actually attack the overarching culture that you all are REALLY against and attempt to make whatever spaces people choose to develop or the necessarily intimidating differences between people as least discomforting as possible. Perhaps a program to eliminate or discourage drugs and alcohol, an attack against vulgar sexually explicit music and dance, and more options for space and entertainment for all would be a better and more productive initiative.

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Slow down, Guess Why. Your response is blowing what I'm saying for out of its original realm. The social power dynamics between different groups of people that exist throughout society should all be addressed and many should be altered. The issue is the EXPLOITATION of having the upper hand (not simply its existence such as if I, a large Black man, danced near a small, White women in a nightclub. I might be in power socially ((would I?)) but I would not use that power to my advantage against her). Power dynamics are innate in certain ways in relation to physical size but are social in other ways in terms of male/female relationships.

Also, this is a blog. All that can be done here is typing. It is up to individuals to raise their awareness of issues highlighted in this blog and other places and change their actions and attitude accordingly to the betterment of society and its individual members.

On a lesser note regarding the hood/gangsta movies thing, the women were side stories to the main topics (Scarface and City of God were about drugs though Menace to Society's murder scene was derivatively from a dispute about a woman, true).

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony killed Manolo over his sister...and Knockout Ned started the drug war to get revenge for what the hoods did to his wife...women, can't live with them, so you got to die over them too...

 
At 11:42 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

The City of God thing...kinda...both sides of the war ended up forgetting why it started really.

I'm still not budging on the Scarface thing. That was random and kinda just happened at the (almost) end of the movie. It was still mainly about money, coke, and "the American dream" (or nightmare).

 

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