My colleague Ernie Suggs Tuesday evening caught up with Priyanka Banks, a cast member of VH1’s former reality show “Sorority Sisters,” that came under a firestorm of controversy and was ultimately killed. She was not informed formally about her expulsion from her sorority. She found out like the rest of us: via the Internet. She harbored no regrets over the experience and noted that there was not physical fights on the show. She felt the boycotters could have put their energies elsewhere. And she said she’ll always be a Delta at heart.
Here is what he wrote, followed by his Q&A with Priyanka.
On Jan. 13, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. celebrated its 102nd anniversary.
To mark the occasion, the nation’s largest black sorority levied the death penalty against five of its members who were the stars of the controversial – and now canceled – reality show, “Sorority Sisters.”
According to the Delta Sigma Theta national website, which quietly listed the women on the “expulsion” list, Lydia Mitchell, Priyanka Banks, MeToya Monroe, Adrene Ashford and Shanna McCormick can no longer wear any paraphernalia or merchandise with references to the sorority. As expelled members, they are also prohibited from participating in activities that indicate membership in the sorority. If caught, they can face legal action.
The Delta decision came days after Alpha Kappa Alpha, imposed two-year suspensions on its two members — April McRae and Joy Hammond — who were on the show.
Two other sororities – Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho — were also represented on the show, but those organizations have not announced any sanctions.
The show, which was supposed to depict the everyday lives of adult members of these ancient black sororities, was doomed from the start.
Several highly organized groups petitioned the show and lobbied advertisers to back away. Each week the lobbying got bigger, while ratings slipped and advertisers bailed. While VH1 initially vowed to back the show, they dumped the remaining episodes last Friday.
While it wasn’t clarified on the website, several Deltas I spoke with Tuesday said that unlike a suspension, an expulsion from Delta Sigma Theta is permanent.
So in essence, Mitchell, Banks, Monroe, Ashford and McCormick, will never be recognized as Deltas again, after being so strongly identified with the sorority through a reality show whose existence has been completely scrubbed off of VH1’s show page.
I sat down with Priyanka Banks on Tuesday night to discuss her banishment and where she goes from here.
How are you feeling right now?
I am a little disappointed in my organization. Most of the time, when someone is expelled, it is a process. But I never received a letter telling me anything.
So how did you find out about the expulsion?
I found out through the Internet. It was shocking. I can’t say I am hurt, because the organization is made up of people and people are hateful. I can’t be surprised, but I was baffled.
What disappointed you most about it?
The domino effect. We have sorors — Deltas — who were making death threats against us. That was common knowledge. So if you know we were getting death threats, why wouldn’t you punish those who were doing that to us? Why wouldn’t you investigate that?
Are you saying they should expel the girls who threatened you?
Exactly. I never told anybody that I would kill them. They were the ones acting like we were in a cult or a gang. Calling us sluts and whores. They threw the book at us, because everybody didn’t like us. They talk about a code of conduct, but you can’t pick and choose when you use the code of conduct.
I know you have gotten a lot of online bashing, but what have the personal experiences been like?
My line sisters support me. Some older Deltas are upset, but you can’t worry about that. At the end of the day nobody’s opinion matters except my mother’s.
How did you get on the show?
A casting director Facebooked me and she was Greek. People are trying to throw VH1 under the bus, but a Greek woman cast me. I went in for a green screen to test my personality and they cast me.
How did that woman find you?
Somebody may have referred me. But this is not my first professional piece of work. You know I burlesque dance. But I got it. It was just that simple. They had been casting for this show for years. Before we came out, we shot a pilot that they were pitching and VH1 picked it up.
How was the show pitched to you?
The pitched me that they wanted to see us doing community service.
Did they show community service on the show?
Yes they did. They also showed us going to church and working together. That is real. But people can’t get past the catty arguments and try to act like it doesn’t happen in real life. That is the problem we had. I didn’t always get along with my line sisters, but at the end of the day, we did our community service. If the first episode was all community service, nobody would have watched it.
Were you cast as a specific type?
I was cast as an edgy girl. I grew my hair back out and they told me to shave it. They cast everybody for a reason. The Caucasian girl? There is no secret why she was cast. I was the outspoken one.
What did you hope to get out of being on the show?
I hoped to launch my business, Priyanka’s Palace. A big shoe line that fits women with wide and big feet. I wear a size-11 shoe. You do everything with purpose. I would never go on reality television just to show my butt. I had a purpose.
Did you get what you wanted out of the experience?
Yes, the show helped my business. I gained a lot of fans. I met cancer and AIDS patients who said I gave them a reason to live. That means more than any sorority can give me. If I can touch a life through a television screen, I don’t need anything else
Was the actual experience what I thought it would be?
The shooting and how we were treated was good. But everybody who worked on the project doesn’t want to show their face now. A lot of people ran when they saw the backlash. You shouldn’t want to hide. It was our reputations, those of us in front of the camera, that were on the line.
Did the backlash surprise you?
Yes. We never fought on the show. We weren’t drinking in our letters. Priyanka never did that. I barely wear paraphernalia anyway. I saw a lot of hatred. When you start attacking physical issues, something is really wrong. Black people hating on black people is crazy to me. If you don’t like reality television, don’t watch it. You trying to take black peoples’ jobs because you in your feelings.
Do you feel VH1 supported you through the boycott?
VH1 doesn’t know much about Greek life. And I never heard from that casting director again. But I will always be grateful to VH1. They gave me a chance. This is the entertainment business and it is tough. I thought having high ratings was all that mattered. I didn’t know the boycott could be so bad that people would leave. They use their power for the pettiest things. People are out their getting killed and you targeting us? Why you not using your power for that?
One of the criticisms for the show was that it seems scripted, or at least forced in how the cast constantly referred to their organizations.
I really didn’t talk about sorority life. I never signed up to represent my sorority. You never heard me saying ‘Delta this. Delta that.’ I get it. The first episode was a lot to take at one time. As far as scripted, I think it was a lot of improv. But you are set up in situations where somebody might say something crazy to you off camera. So what is going to be your reaction?
Were you edited fairly?
I was edited to entertain. Everybody had their embarrassing moments, but that is what you sign up for. The contract says they will edit you the way they want to. So I knew I was not always going to be portrayed in the best light. In the beginning, I was labeled the bitch. Then I was molded into a businesswoman. I wanted to talk about my business.
The show emphasized the fact that you work as a burlesque dancer. But the fact of the matter is that you are actually a full-time credit analyst for a communications company.
Yes. My hairstyle, my name… has never hindered me from getting a job. Nothing has ever hindered me achieving anything. I don’t have to be how you want me to be. I don’t have to look like you want me to be to be successful. But reality television just shows a piece of you. The cast was so big that they couldn’t capture every moment. People had to wonder how the hell I put out a shoe line by being a burlesque dancer. So that is when people started saying that I was a stripper. But I work. I have a savings account. I am working full time to get money to build my business.
Why did you pledge Delta?
I attended Alabama State University. I did my research when I got there and saw them around campus. When you first see sororities, they look good from the outside. They had a program called Sister-to-Sister, where they adopted a freshman. So, as a freshman, a Delta mentored me and guided me through that year. They were doing good things. So that is what attracted me.
What year did you pledge?
I pledged Spring ’09 and I was also Miss Alabama State, a college queen. I was very, very active on campus with my sorority and as the queen. I visited many HBCUs speaking and representing my school. I was on the step team. I was heavy into theater. I did everything. That is why this is disappointing, because I probably did more community service than anybody. But at the end of the day, you don’t need a sorority to do community service.
So what is next for you?
I want to get my shoe business online. And I am looking for spaces to open a storefront.
Do you see any more television in your future?
Of course, I will never stop auditioning.
So, I have to ask – given your reasons for wanting to be a Delta in the first place and to have it taken away from you based on a television show – was it worth it?
Honestly, it was worth everything. Before this show came out, I had never seen so much hatred. This showed me something about people. At the end of the day, you can’t take away my experiences as a Delta. Or what I know as a Delta. This piece of paper means nothing to me. You make those letters. They don’t make you. I am going to keep my paraphernalia. Once a Delta, always a Delta. People are going to always know Priyanka is a Delta.