Imagine this. It is 2013. You are a black high school student. You’ve grown up in the same county, with all the same friends, and in the same community you have been used to all your life. You have always gone to school with kids of different racial backgrounds. And, some of your closest friends are white. But, as you are planning your prom, you have mentally been preparing for a segregated prom night. You will be attending the “black prom.” Conversely, all your white friends will have a separate prom. This might sound like an absolute joke or the plot of some weird retro fantasy movie. But, the truth is, this is a true story for students in Wilcox County, Georgia. And recently, some of the students there decided to do something about it.
This year, a group of black and white students decided that it was long past time for the school dances to be integrated. They set out to raise money from local groups and parents for their “new” idea. They even created a Facebook page. And, this wasn’t the first time this has been in issue. In 2007, another Georgia high school had their first integrated prom. And, in 2009, Charleston High School had their first integrated prom too.
In each case, the “separate but equal” proms were coordinated and planned privately by students and parents. None of the high schools actually sponsored these separate proms. Many of the supporters of separate proms cited “tradition” as the primary catalyst for the separate accommodations. In the case of Charleston, actor Morgan Freeman offered to sponsor the prom back in 1997. The school didn’t take him up on his offer until 11 years later. And, even after the school accepted the integrated high school prom proposal, some white parents STILL organized a separate prom for their kids. Tradition?
But, herein lies the insidious nature of “tradition.” Tradition will cause some folks to do some truly asinine things. Tradition drove these black and white parents to organize separate proms for groups of friends who hung out together, played sports on the same teams, and grew up in the same churches. All this in the name of tradition. Their argument was simply that the proms and homecomings had always been that way. So, why change them?
Well, quite simply, because it is wrong. It is wrong for any high school student in this country to feel like they can’t spend the crowning moment of their high school career with their friends regardless of their race. And, the parents who thought these separate proms were cute and quaint should be ashamed of themselves. This country has been racially desegregated for over half a century, yet these folks were just holding on to it because of “tradition?” That is purely ludicrous.
Sadly, there are still many other high schools, mostly in the South, that suffer from a need to hang onto poor traditions like this one. And, while these students received mostly positive reinforcement for their cause, they also received bigoted, racialized responses as well. Some white parents kept their children away from the integrated proms. Some students tore down their signs or spouted slurs at them. And, for what reason? Because they wanted to spend prom in one room. One room just like the classrooms they share, the restrooms they use, the gym they practice in, the restaurants they dine at, the department stores they patronize, and every other federally desegregated institution in this country.
In my humble opinion, this seems like black students had to accept the separate proms just because white parents didn’t want their kids to go to prom with them.
Can you say racist? I don’t like to throw that word around all willy nilly. I really don’t. But, what other reason is there for this type of shenanigans?