Wednesday, February 11, 2009

insist on segregated high school proms

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered racial integration of all schools, including all their events. In 1970, the one high school in Charleston, Mississippi finally allowed blacks to attend, but white parents refused to allow black students to attend the school Graduation Dance.* Thus began a tradition of separate, parent-organized White Proms and Black Proms, a tradition that lasted until, incredibly enough, 2008.

This story is told in a movie that I'm looking forward to, Prom Night in Mississippi. Directed by a Canadian, Paul Saltzman, it covers Morgan Freeman's successful effort to end this racist tradition, by offering to pay for an integrated prom. Or rather, his successful effort to almost end it. Although last year's integrated prom at Charleston High School was a success, a group of white parents still held a separate prom for some white students.

And what are white parents' justifications for allowing their children to attend school with black students, but not the prom?

Saltzman, the film's director, provides this answer: "When I was doing the research and asking people 'What was the problem in having the prom together?' what whites usually said is, 'You know, blacks are into drugs; they're into violence' and on and on and on."

Chasidy Buckley, a black student who attended the integrated prom, provided a similar answer: "A lot of the white parents were concerned about safety. They were afraid that fights were going to break out, but the prom went smoothly. It was great; nobody got hurt or anything."

A rich irony is that while the integrated prom went smoothly, a fight broke out at the whites-only prom.

While unfounded fears of violence fueled white parents' fears, it seems clear that there's another, more covert reason that some don't want their children dancing and partying with black kids--their heads are filled with stereotypical images of black hypersexuality. Many parents fear drinking and fighting at such events, but they also fear heightened possibilities for sexual contact. And, as one white student notes in the clip from Prom Night in Mississippi below, that includes sexy dancing, especially "grinding."

White kids often grind when they're dancing too, but black and white kids grinding together? "Heavens no," many white parents think, "not my daughter!"

I remember talking once to a young white woman from another deep Southern state about her dating experiences in high school. She said she'd only dated white boys, "because like my mother always warned me, everyone knows that black boys are only after that one, single thing."

"Oh really? And what's that?" I asked, thinking that if it was the one thing I thought she meant, a lot of white boys are pretty much only after that one thing too.

"Sex," she said. "Especially with a white girl!"

"Oh come on," I said. "Do you realize what you're saying?"

"Right," she answered, "I know it sounds racist, but my mother was right. I proved it."

"You're kidding. How?"

"Well, there was this one time that a black boy sat next to me in the cafeteria. And guess what? He asked me out on a date!"

"Um, okay. So? Hasn't a white guy ever asked you out on a date?"

"Sure lots of times." She furrowed her brow in thought. "But it's different, you know? Because like, I'm white. So, it's easier for white guys to ask me out."

"You mean, it shouldn't have been that easy for that black guy to ask for a date?"

"Right. But he did ask, right away like that. So it was obvious, if he was going to ask so soon, even though it was harder to ask, then all he wanted was sex."

"Needless to say, you didn't give it to him. I mean, you didn't agree to a date."

"Of course not. I knew what he was after. My mom was right. I'll never date a black guy."

Now, this was about ten years ago. I hope that attitudes among today's younger white Americans have changed, and that their parents are also less delusional about supposedly predatory black sexuality, and the supposedly heightened threat from black kids of drug use and violence.

Fortunately, that such a generational change is happening appears to be one point of this intriguing new film, Prom Night in Mississippi. From what I can tell, it still lacks a distributor; if so, I hope it finds one, and soon.

*According to CNN, "Federal courts forced schools in Charleston, Mississippi, to desegregate in 1970, but no judge ordered the high school proms to merge."

[h/t to Jessica Yee, who wrote at Racialicious about white oblivion in Canada, where she attended the opening of a photo exhibit based on this film]


  1. the conversation about the girl listening to her mother kinda reminds me of when i was in high school and i dated a black guy. my dad and his parents were furious, and it was really uncomfortable when i brought him over to introduce him. my mom and stepfather, however, were really welcoming and not once mentioned the obvious racial difference between us. my dad, on the other hand, felt it necessary to point out that i am white and he is black, and he does not approve...well, my high school was majority black, did he expect me to date the one white kid, who smoked pot and ditched school rather than the nice young man who got good grades and was nice to me, who just happened to be black?
    and i just know that it's eating them up that my brother is dating a black girl. does it matter to them that she's the sweetest, smartest girl, and she's really made my brother become more responsible? no, because human decency apparently doesn't cross the line of interracial relationship. sorry for the venting, but it gets to me that i'm related to these people...

  2. I live in the DC/MD area and the schools around here haven't had separate proms as long as I can remember, but I vaguely recall separate elections for the prom kind and queen, so there'd be two sets.

    I had no idea schools were doing this nonsense of separate proms. Seems like an inexcusable waste of resources, from tying up the time of teachers and parent chaperones to paying for the hotel and refreshments if the school can afford it. Music tastes can be accommodated to have a nice mix of rock, soul, Latin, etc. Geez! These people are stuck in a time warp. My prom was in the 70s and had all that at a hotel and was very, very nice for everyone, and black and white kids.

  3. My first boyfriend was white. He didn't catch any flack for being in an interracial relationship, but I did..from my black classmates.

    Oh, but his parents did "remind" him that interracial marriages fail more than than others. We were only seniors in high school at the time and they'd been so sweet to me on several occasions. But I guess us being together for a few years finally freaked them out.

  4. Post racial America huh?? riiiight. Is this what it really boils down to.....Sex??? I am so tired and I mean physically tired of this s--t!!! It taxes my brain thinking about how crazy some white people are. tO Think that they are teaching the next generation this type of thinking is just bad. (i'm soo tired I can't think up a better word other than bad)

  5. Dear Friends :

    The Haters are all those sick people with inferiority complexes, with dysfunctional family childhood, abused childhood, inadequacies, Sociopathy.

    We are living in the times of PostRacism, when Racism is denied by the worst preachers of Hate and Perpetrators of Murders and Attacks.

    PostRacism is Sheer Hypocrisy, Sheer lies and dissimulation, falseness, feigning, preteding to be very charitable.

    Wolves in Sheep Skins, pharisaism and imposture.

    That is what is Hate TV and Hate Radio. Here is a list of links. The First one form UCLA is Wonderful :

    Racist Media, Racist TV and Racist Radio - The cause of many Racial Murders and Hate Crimes - Big List of Actions

    By the way. I have erased and I have closed my commentaries and put them in Strong Moderation and Strong Filter, against all the filth, dirt and Racist Imbecility that I receive. What a bunch of Idiots without Useful Occupation !

    Vicente Duque

  6. Roxie - your black classmates were more concerned about your politics than the race of your boyfriend. Their concern is whether or not you're a part of the problem of racism, not so much who you're dating. It's a political issue, not a racial one. And as for your boyfriend not taking any flack, if you know that his parents did tell him how hard it is to be in an interracial relationship, are you sure you know everything? And even that small bit of parental warning is "flack."

    to Roxie - It is ALL about sex. LOL! To be more specific, it's an issue of "who's da man?" And "da man" can protect and satisfy his women. For a long time, white men were getting a 2-for with black women's sexuality. 1-sex/rape with black women 2-shaming and humiliating the black men who couldn't protect them. Now, it's just an issue of being afraid black men will exact revenge.

  7. cool, finally something morgan freeman can feel good about. a movie I definitely wanna see, thanks for the info, macon.

  8. "For a long time, white men were getting a 2-for with black women's sexuality. 1-sex/rape with black women 2-shaming and humiliating the black men who couldn't protect them. Now, it's just an issue of being afraid black men will exact revenge."
    That is a very, VERY interesting point regarding why some wm "fear" black men's -- revenge.

  9. "That is a very, VERY interesting point regarding why some wm "fear" black men's -- revenge."

    You never considered that?

  10. @no1skate:
    It's not really possible to know what their real concern was. As I had dated a black guy before, was often perceived as something other than black (but not white), and as we're all in HS at the time--so if that was the case we weren't sophisticated enough to express it directly.

    I'm sure he didn't, b/c when I told him about what I had faced, he thought it VERY odd that anyone would say anything. And his parents saying what they did, didn't come till MUCH later.

    to Roxie - It is ALL about sex. LOL!

    Are you replying to me or cinque?

  11. "and as we're all in HS at the time--so if that was the case we weren't sophisticated enough to express it directly."


  12. "You never considered that?"
    @No1kstate - Not that I can recall. Not like you worded it. I've considered in a wider, broader, more general sense why whites fear us, as follows.
    Fear of losing their unearned advantages, benefits, privileges .. fear of revenge, karma or payback via black power (supremacy) resulting in the institutional mistreatment of whites, fear of the white race's recessive traits being dominated into oblivion, fear of allowing black people an even, level and fair playing field, fear of black men's sexual prowess - which does tie into your valid point. But until now I've never really considered the white fear of our sexuality as something they believed black men would visit upon white women - as REVENGE - for what white males have gotten away with doing to black women during (and beyond) slavery and Jim Crow.

    With all of these (and other) fears, I see a little more clearly why whites have been suddenly purchasing LOTS of firearms and ammo since Obama won his party's nomination.

    Race relations in the US is going downhill fast. Most whites can't see their bias/racism. And they ARE afraid...

  13. @Just me:

    Let me clarify myself at bit. It's not so much "revenge" as in "I'm gonna get you, sucka!" But more or less the fear that black men will do to white women what white men have done to black women. You know how sometimes, a trait people most dislike in others is actually a trait they hold themselves? So, it's like white people just assume free black men will abuse the privilege of patriarchy visa vi white women the same way white men abused the privilege of patriarchy visa vi black women.

    I'm not sure this explanation is any less convuluted, but I know from growing up with the black men in my family if nothing else that black men aren't looking to rape white women in revenge for racism. Now, a single individual may well rape a white woman in response to his own personal feelings in regards to race and power. But it's not a collective feeling, and I don't think whites think their is. I think whites just fear that free black men will demonstrate their freedom, their new social status by treating white women as white men have treated black women. By dominating white women as white men have dominated black women. And as a personal thought, I also suspect that in the past, white men also feared that their free access to black women would be shut. And in fact, a mob of white men did kill a black preacher in SC who was telling the women of his church they didn't have to yield to the sexual desires of white men. But that's historical and not so much present.

    This also goes to this notion that black men just have some insatiable desire for white women for their whiteness, their "sleeping snow white beauty" as it were. And it's not that white skin and flat butt is more sexually desirable (and I won't get into the biology of fertility), but that it's attached to superiority. And one way for black men to announce their equal status to white men is to control and dominate the superior women who are white.

    That make sense? I'll try to think about it more and write blog it out later. Sorry, Macon, for my own "plug" as it were.

  14. Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing has raised some compelling theories based largely on white people's historical obsession with black male genitals and the frequency black male victims of lynchings were castrated - and worse.

    Her observations re how whites delusionally disconnect from reality (or was that James Baldwin) their unjustified anger and FEAR of the black male libido suggest to me a chronic "white schizophrenia problem."

    A large segment of white society seems convinced and conditioned to believe that a preponderance of black men lust after white women, hence the "programmed" mental justification among many why black men should be feared, watched closely, CONTROLLED, KILLED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT or LOCKED UP, by just about any subtle or convincing means at hand - employing minor and petty offensives (War of Drugs?) at rates that far exceed those of whites doing the exact so-called crime, but that's another subject.

    This fear, obsession and oppression is surely born out of a surreal "white (mass-mind) projection," especially when one honestly examines who was raping whom - at will - during the savagery of slavery, black codes, Jim Crow, and now, in today's so-called justice system.

    According to THEIR "white racial frame" context, we would do to them exactly what they have done, and are still doing covertly, to us. I believe you and I are both saying and seeing the same thing.

  15. @just me

    Cool. I was just afraid I hadn't explained myself properly. That's all.

    And as far the lynchings, well over half the people lynched weren't even accused of rape. For example, Ida B Wells got involved in the anti-lynching campaign because some business men had been lynched. The whole "rape" thing was just an excuse.

    And, I've never understood white men's fascination with black male genitals. Black female genitals, yeah. I get that. But the collective fascination we throughout history - I mean, cut off a man's testicles and keeping them as souviners is a little homo-erotic.

  16. My high school's prom, as a school event, was open to anyone who wanted to attend. In the area of New England where I grew up, though, there are a series of dances for high school students each year called the County Assemblies, or Counties. They were supposed to be a private debutante-esque event organized by parents. In theory, at least, invitations were distributed to girls by lottery - but it was long an open secret that only the "right sort" of "nice" girls with respectable boyfriends got invited.

    Girls are required to bring a suitable male escort. I know none of the girls from the inner-city high schools got invitations, only girls from majority-white, wealthy towns. I know for certain economic status played a huge role in who got the invites, though I think my senior year one of the rich girls from my school might have brought a black boyfriend who lived in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town.

    According to my younger sister, who is still in high school, this year Counties will be held in a larger location and will be open to girls who attend the "good high schools."

  17. I would like to be the first to welcome this small town to the year 2009.


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