I went to a high school with an incredibly diverse student body. While I didn’t really recognize it at the time, I was incredibly lucky: I was surrounded at all times by people from all over the world with a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. It didn’t “force me” to be tolerant or anything like that – like all things that happen during youth I just took it in stride. It wasn’t really until I got to the largely monochromatic environs of my undergraduate program* that I realized what it was like for major parts of the rest of the country – surrounded by people who look like you, and taking it in the same stride that I took my variety of classmate.
The idea that someone would want to segregate schools is, thus, very foreign to me. My education benefitted immensely from being cheek-by-jowl with people whose backgrounds were dissimilar to my own. It broadened my world view and allowed me to reflexively challenge a lot of racist and xenophobic assumptions about people who weren’t born in Canada in a way that the classes I took couldn’t hope to approach. The idea of someone choosing to rob someone of that kind of opportunity is baffling.
And yet, we find pretty much exactly that happening in Georgia:
Black and white students at Wilcox County High School in south Georgia aren’t allowed to go to the same prom. Instead, students and parents sponsor segregated proms — yep, in 2013 — and kids that break the skin-dress code are barred entry from the caucasian rager. A mixed-race group of friends who hang out all of the time but can’t wear corsages and dance to Top 40 together are trying to encourage their peers to participate in a radical social experiment called NOT BEING RACIST.
“We’re embarrassed, it’s embarrassing, yeah it’s kind of embarrassing,” Stephanie Sinnot, Mareshia Rucker, Quanesha Wallace, and Keela Bloodworth told WSFA. “We are all friends, that’s just kind of not right that we can’t go to prom together.”
Usually, with these kinds of stories, I can sort of guess what the arguments are on both sides, having heard them before. In this case, I am honestly flummoxed by a number of things. First, how is it legal to host a segregated event in 2013? Second, how on Earth does the school board justify hosting an event like that? Third, how is it that it took until 2013 for someone to stand up and say “this isn’t okay anymore”. Fourth, how many other schools in Georgia (or, indeed, in other states) are still subjecting their students to the humiliation and psychic scars of segregation?
First off, the students who are standing up and organizing the integrated prom should be congratulated for their initiative. The parents of the students organizing the segregated prom should feel ashamed of themselves for perpetuating the kind of systematic racism that has become synonymous with their state and the rest of the South. The Department of Justice should investigate this situation and charge any people who can be found criminally responsible (if, in fact, crimes have been committed – I can’t imagine this is Constitutional).
Second off, there is an opportunity for someone to make the integrated prom a huge success:
ndividuals have been donating to the prom on a Facebook page. But my question following the story thus far is, where is the music industry? A big-name entertainer, or even one with a more modest following, could change the game here.
Music and entertainment have social capital. People from Marian Anderson to Harry Belafonte played roles in surfacing the need for civil rights. What about the artists of today, when we are living in a supposedly postracial world?
How better to blow the Wilcox County white prom out of the water than by supporting an integrated prom so dynamic that anyone going to the white prom felt as if they were the ones being left out? The very existence of the white prom indicates that some people in the town — particularly the parents funding that prom — still think that segregation has social cachet. In fact, a biracial student was turned away by organizers of last year’s white prom.
This, speaking frankly, would be an amazing opportunity for an artist to get well-deserved press for putting their voice where their mouth is — that is, for singing or performing in support of the multiracial audiences the performer no doubt already has. Who could play the integrated prom? I will defer to the organizers on their taste … I’ve reached out to them, but so far we’ve been playing email tag.
It’s amazing to me to consider that in 2013 we’d be here, but there is a wide open opportunity for someone to tread firmly in the shoes of Ray Charles and stand up to segregation in Georgia. Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake just released a hit single together – how amazing would it be to have them show up and perform at the integrated prom?
At any rate, I hope this thing happens, for the sake of the students, and to shove it in the racist faces of anyone who thinks a segregated prom is even remotely defensible.
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*Maybe dichromatic, if we are being generous, owing to a large Chinese population in the school that was somewhat reflected in my faculty
P.S.: This from the comments section:
People just prefer to be among their own all over this nation, and really, all over the world. It’s just that the liberal whites and their quadroon benefactors take delight in pointing out when people in the South do it. Hypocrites.
“Quadroon benefactors”? Really?