Hit or Miss

Eating the Cheshire Cat

Eating the Cheshire Cat. I finished the first novel suggested to me after asking for reading suggestions, and it’s a humdinger. Set in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (home of the University of Alabama), the novel traces the intersecting lives of three young women.

Now, I’m not a young woman, but I did grow up in Alabama. Reading this novel caused me to reflect on how different my life would be now if I had just gone to the University of Alabama like the rest of my graduating class (instead of fleeing north to DePauw).

The secretive, moneyed world of the greek system was a major focus of book. Growing up in Alabama, I heard terrible things about the Greeks and THE MACHINE, the secret network of white fraternities and sororities that controls the campus. Supposedly, the alumni of THE MACHINE control local and state government in Alabama as well.

Notice I said “white” greek system. In the entire history of the University of Alabama, not a single African-American has ever made it through Rush and pledged one of the “historically” white fraternities or sororities (there are, however, traditionally black greek chapters like AKA and Kappa Alpha Psi).

After growing up with a fear of and prejudice against Greeks, it’s a wonder I ever joined a fraternity at DePauw (and only then because 85% of campus was greek). But it was okay. Rampant homophobia aside, at least my chapter was integrated — we had black, Asian, and international members. When I described to people how the greek system was in Alabama, they just laughed and thought I was making it all up.

But I wasn’t. And I had almost begun to forget about it all until I read this book.

If I had gone to the University of Alabama, I probably wouldn’t have joined one of those fraternities. I came from a wealthy suburb of Birmingham, but I wasn’t old money. Would I have joined one of the fringe fraternities? Would I have been active on campus with music, theatre, and student government? Would I have come out and been president of a gay student association? Would I have gone to grad school for Library Science and then chuck it all and get a job as a hall director (two careers I had never even considered in high school)?

I’ve spent 7 years trying to purge myself of the Alabama mindset I grew up with. It’s really a scary thought for me to try and even imagine what it would have been like had I stayed there. No matter how much I may gripe about my current job and about living in a small, rural Missouri town, I’m still pretty satisfied about the way my life has turned out.

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Not to imply, of course, that staying in Alabama makes you a bad person, right? 🙂

Max | 25 Sep 2000