Sunday, May 24, 2009

send their children to all-white proms

[Since it's high school prom season, I thought I'd repost the piece below (which I first posted here), about the ongoing "tradition" of white proms. This is also an update of sorts--The New York Times published a report a few days ago on another example of this tradition of segregation, in Montgomery County, Georgia.

I'm wondering now, how common are these segregated proms, in the Southern U.S., or elsewhere?

In a
slideshow that accompanies the Times story, a white mother explains in a voiceover, "This community and this school system is fine like it is. This is the way that they have done it ever since the school system has been opened and they started having proms. So, it's worked for them thisaway. Why change something that has worked? It's not broken. The kids are fine with it."

Actually, as the
Times article points out, many of the kids, both black and white, are not fine with it.

In another voiceover, Kera Nobles, a black student at the school says, "My high school has been a great one, except for one night that I only share with people that's my same race, and that would be prom night. Yes, it is hurtful, because you just think about how, I go to school with you every day, I sit beside you in class, we take the exact same notes, we use the same kind of paper, the same kind of pencil. I mean, I sit beside you at graduation, but I can't go to prom with you one night?"]

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."

**The film will appear on HBO in July.

[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. It is beyond discouraging to see the up&coming generation carry the racist burdens of their ass backwards parents.

  2. Oh, the South. I'm raising my hands at the keyboard because I'm unsure of what to say next. Sometimes I wonder if they are like post WWI Germany, so unhappy about how things went down that they are stuck in 19th century ways of thinking. Get with the program, people!

    The film looks interesting-- If only we had the disposable income for HBO. Maybe one day...

  3. I read and wrote about this story yesterday. I'm from "up north" though I currently reside in Memphis TN. When I first read this I was shocked. I remember watching the Obama inauguration when Soledad O'Brien interviewed the producer/director of "Prom Night in Mississippi". Back then I just thought it was a Mississippi thing, but now there's this Georgia story.

    I would like to know what are the attitudes of the Black parents? This graduation class is 54 kids strong. Surely with that small number their voices of dissent could and should be heard. But I guess they are fine with the "tradition" as well.

  4. While waiting for the HBO movie to come out try "For One Night", which is about a Louisiana teenager and her friends who try to resolve a prom scheduling conflict (the black and white proms double book the same DJ) by having an integrated prom instead, and stir up a massive local conflict. Its a "lifetime original movie", but if you can get past that it provides some really interesting insight into the types of logic used by the anti-prom white parents, and that of black parents who are disinterested in integrating. The film sets the discussion up as very "old people vs. young people". Aisha Tyler is also in it, as a journalist from New Orleans.

  5. Segregated proms is featured at a hot issue right now on ! Check it out for all the crazy headlines from our schools.

  6. I want to be the agitator on this one, but first let me briefly mention my own experience.

    I've mentioned before in here that where I grew up (north Mississippi), I was the only kid that I knew of that wasn't white or black/African-American. It sucked hard, of course. Anyhow, my high school didn't have an "official" separate prom policy, but certainly did have an unofficial one. Basically, rich white parents took over all planning and it was set a country club outside of town with everything, literally everything, decide by the well-off white parents. In short, they made it so that the African-American kids would have to be willing to surrender their dignity to go. Result: separate proms. I stopped by the prom for the black kids, but had my fun with some black and white friends at a hotel.

    Now, back to the agitation. RiPPa, I'd like to hear your thoughts on what I'm about to say. I think that people in the north and northeast (particularly in the very white states--Minnesota, Vermont, etc...) are kidding themselves. It's easy to judge the south when your "inclusive" prom only has like 5% people of color. In the south,it's more like 25% and up. I think that the "ugly" racist of so-called "progressives" in the north and northeast would come out mighty fast if there were more of those scary dark-skinned people around. Yeah, I said

  7. I think most intellectually honest blacks will concede that forced integration is/was more the goal of white "liberals" than blacks themselves.

    I also think that many blacks would claim to be in favor of forced integration but nonetheless choose to live privately segregated.

    In short, those blacks that are "shocked" at such modern day segregation in a "liberal" society are more often than not playing up white liberal sensibilities while blurring their highly segregated private lives.

  8. I've lived in Georgia all of my life. None of the schools in my district had segregated proms.

  9. @Thordaddy: What exactly is "Forced Integration"? And why label it a "Liberal" thing. This isn't about politics, it's an issue of humanity. Have you ever stopped to think that the ugly truth of "forced integration" as you say was the ugly reality of ENFORCED EXCLUSION? Or dare I say a policy or ideology steeped in White Supremacy?

  10. "RiPPa, I'd like to hear your thoughts on what I'm about to say. I think that people in the north and northeast (particularly in the very white states--Minnesota, Vermont, etc...) are kidding themselves. It's easy to judge the south when your "inclusive" prom only has like 5% people of color. In the south,it's more like 25% and up. I think that the "ugly" racist of so-called "progressives" in the north and northeast would come out mighty fast if there were more of those scary dark-skinned people around. Yeah, I said" - cdwriteme

    Well, I don't know or think what you say is accurate in it's entirety. Sure there may be some places "up north" where those percentages as you say may be valid. Even still, I think or I would hope that even in those cases people would see this as unacceptable. As for me? I went to high school in Brooklyn New York. Uh huh, so for me even that 25% ficgure is too low as I see it. You see when I refer to "up north", I'm actually refering to the northern urban setting that many Blacks ran to seeking a better life in escape of the south. My bad, I wasn't actually talking about the "Little House On The Prairie" crowd.


  11. It's in various places in Louisiana, too, and *of course* it's about fear of sex. It's not universal, but it's common enough, especially in smaller towns. St. Martinville High is one I've recently heard still has black and white proms. There are black and white homecoming queens, too, all sorts of stuff like that.

    People from up north think that way, too, they just aren't so obvious about it. In my high school in California, parents would just do things like not let their kids go to the prom.

    And I wish I had a nickel for every time a Yankee living down here lectured me about racism, then showcased the knowledge of New Orleans African American folklore they acquired at a recent museum talk, and finally, refused to park in my neighborhood because "it is not well enough lit."

  12. I think there's something to what cdwriteme is saying. I don't know many whites in the north would be willing to public come out in support of segregated proms. But then again, I went to a fairly diverse high school in a suburb just outside of Philly. Our student body was about 20% black. I couldn't see this happening where I went to school, but I could imagine if there was a school with only 5% non-white students, and suddenly there was a great influx of black and brown kids and that number shot up to something like 20%-30%, parents being uneasy sending their kids to the prom. Especially if they see those kids as "hip-hop thugs from the inner city." There's a real fear up here that kids that are too "urban" will corrupt "suburban" values.

    RiPPa, I think you going to a school in a large city, and even I going to a school just outside of a city, don't get a full view of what it's like in mostly white small districts. But having lived in a transition zone of sorts, I can imagine it could get pretty bad.

  13. cdwriteme:

    "I think that people in the north and northeast (particularly in the very white states--Minnesota, Vermont, etc...) are kidding themselves. It's easy to judge the south when your "inclusive" prom only has like 5% people of color. In the south,it's more like 25% and up. I think that the "ugly" racist of so-called "progressives" in the north and northeast would come out mighty fast if there were more of those scary dark-skinned people around."

    I think this is true. And I have white friends who actually marry and have children with Black people, but still insist on staying in 90% Caucasian venues at all times.

  14. I appreciate the comments about Yankee/Northern condescension in terms of race, and wish I'd made such a point in my post (as well as Roxie's point that not all schools in Georgia still have segregated proms--my understanding is that it's uncommon throughout the South, and certainly no longer the norm).

    It's all too easy for those outside of the South, and for the media outlets there like the NY Times, to point at Southern racism while ignoring its Northern manifestations, patting themselves on the back while doing so for their region's supposedly lower levels of racism.

    I like the way Abagond put it today in his post on these proms:

    Note to white people: Small-town and working class whites often come off seeming racist and backward in the press, but that is only because they do not have the money to move away from blacks. I mean, why have a whites-only prom if you live in a place that is less than 1% black, like nearly all suburban whites do?

  15. AHA. I need to get that movie "For One Night," obviously.

    On integration as value and goal -- I'm for it of course, it's hurtful to exclude people and it does nobody any good (except maybe the one top dog, I guess) to isolate "groups."

    But. Some STUFF WHITE PEOPLE DO, I notice, is fetichize integration. Like, I was at this club in N.O. the other night where the band was integrated (5 Black members, 2 white, and they're a band, they really work together, so it's not just for show) and the audience was mixed, although mostly Creole/ Black. My white friends thought it was "integrated" and were all happy about it, but I'd have said it was a Black club white people also go to.

    Whatever. The city is segregated in a lot of ways, although there are also a lot of border zones, a lot of bleed through, a lot of crossover, and what not. And there's lots of contact between the races and a lot of friendliness. All of this does not mean no racial divisions.

    I am not always sure why white liberals fixate on "integration" ... sometimes I think it is because they want to seem cool and "aware" (integration as a fashion accessory). Sometimes I think it is because they want to own them a piece of Black culture: they see something Black and they immediately want to integrate it.

    (That is of course when the meaning of "integrate" shades toward "colonize"...)

  16. Also: note that it seems (let me know if this is inaccurate) the Black proms apparently are not Black ONLY proms, it's just that the whites don't accept the invitation.

    And: I think I understand more what I mean about fetishization of integration. White liberals apparently want to live in mainly white spaces with a just a few POC in them for show, but they want POC spaces to be wide open to whites. This seems to be what integration means to them ... and I know a lot of POC who are pleased with this because it is not 100% hostile and it could be so much worse. I have trouble relating, though, because it's just soooo whiiiiiiite.

  17. Hmm... like RiPPA and Kevin Lockett pointed out geography within the north/midest definitely plays a huge roll. The "rust belt" or old industrial midwest (places in Illanois and Michigan, even parts of MN and WI) seem a lot more diverse then the places I've lived on the west coast. Maybe the types of people who stage segregated proms in the south are the people who, in the north, move to the burbs? Or because in many places (outside of majority-black areas) there is greater diversity beyond just the binary of black and white? Many areas with only a 5 or 10 or 15% black population in the Northeast/west (less sure of myself when talking about parts of the midwest outside of Chicagoland) also have similarly sized Asian and Latino populations. Maybe living in a place with a greater variety of people either forces people to become more subtle and distracted in their prejudices, or reduces/redirects fear of "the other"? Ok. End wild theorizing.

  18. It seems to me that this should be posted under the "Things Racist People Do" blog.
    Sure, I understand where a lot of the anger towards whites is coming from - but I fail to see the need in keeping it going.

  19. uglyblackjohn, I'm not sure what you mean.

    For one thing, is there actually a "Things Racist People Do" blog?

    It sounds like maybe you're also addressing this blog in general--are you?

    Who's keeping what going, in your comment?

    If you're addressing the blog in general, I'm not using it to vent my "anger" toward white people--not ONLY for that, anyway. I'm trying to point out common white tendencies. Most American white people don't think being "white" has much of anything to do with themselves--with who they are, how they got there, what they often think and do, and so on. I'm generally trying to get the point across that in a country and culture that's still de facto white supremacist, their whiteness does matter, in more ways than anyone could probably even count.

  20. @ Macon - Oh no...
    Just this post.
    It would seem that racist attitudes are not endemic to whites in regards to segregated proms.

  21. RiPPa,

    Come on... Forced integration is the opposite of freedom of association. If you are "shocked" and think segregated proms are an issue of "humanity" then you implicitly reject freedom of association. Instead, you accede to its antithesis, forced integration.

    The problem of course is that you don't really believe in integrating. Most black people don't really care about integrating with white people, but rather, live largely segregated private lives.

    Tell me I'm wrong and tell me that you make a perpetual effort to integrate yourself into the lifestyles of white people? And then tell me how much of a goal it is to you to integrate with whites?

    And further, if I were to assume that you considered yourself a black progressive then how does this jibe with your rejection of the freedom to associate?

  22. Thordaddy, do you believe that whites are superior to blacks?

    uglyblackjohn, do you mean that blacks also have racist attitudes toward proms? (Seems to me that those cited in the article and the slideshow definitely resent the all-white prom.)

  23. Linda,

    What part of freedom of association-a principle any self-respecting liberal would wholeheartedly embrace and a principle that YOU apparently reject-requires any notions of superiority let alone superiority based on race?

    Do you think most black people reject freedom of association as YOU do even though many are publicly forced integrationists as you are?

    Do YOU really seek to integrate? And just how far will you go and why should the rest of us be required to follow?

    Do you ever ask yourself these questions?

  24. Thordaddy, do you believe that whites are superior to blacks?

  25. Macon D.

    Obviously at the individual level there are blacks smarter than whites and vice versa. At the collective level there is evidence that "whites" are more intelligent than "blacks."

    The question then becomes whether intelligence means superiority. I don't think it means that, but many liberal would say it does.

    In short, I don't think about notions of superiority in regards to blacks. I think this is as it is with most whites.

    But then again, we aren't "equal" and such insistence by liberals actually triggers your line of questioning.

    Are whites superior to blacks...? Or vice versa...? We aren't really "equal" are we?

  26. I'd like to see this evidence that blacks as a collective group are not as intelligent as whites as a collective group.

  27. I'm glad that u finally answered the question, Thordaddy. (Interesting, and revealing I suspect, that you're only willing to answer when a man asks you; I asked you that hitherto ignored question in another thread.) Your answer demonstrates why nobody here should even bother engaging with you: you're absolutely full of shit.

    As for your fulminations about "liberals" and "progressives" and the world they have supposedly wrought, more absolute, childish, and intellectually incoherent shit.

    Have fun dying early from that cancerous hate eating away at your insides.

  28. Kevin Lockett,

    This hateful, scientific racism nonsense abuot intellegence, temperament, etc.. has been going on since Francis Galton, particularly influenced by the work of Charles Darwin.

    One example would be racist Charles Murray. Here's a link to a bit of info on his pseudo-scientific book.

  29. cdwriteme, I know, but I really want to hear Thordaddy explain himself. I want to see if he has the guts to stand by what he's said.

    Or, if he'll prove that he really does think he's superior to blacks because he thinks there's no need to respond to or acknowledge me because I'm black.

  30. Kevin Lockett,

    I see. Thordaddy does nothing but disrupt, there's no point to anything he does in anti-racist blogs except to start trouble.

    He's one of those Fox News watching rednecks who doesn't expose himself to any objective informational sources.

    I'm glad he comes here, though. It gives white members the opporunity to see what arguments the racists make and step up to the plate to research and then debunk said arguments.

    If you wanna slap him around intellectually for a while; I'll sit back and enjoy the show.

  31. kevin Lockett,

    It was my understanding that 500 years of slavery, lynching, oppression and white exploitation set the black man back in all possible manner including his mental progress.

    Are you saying this is all a lie?

    And then there are the IQ tests... But apparently this is scientific rubbish?

  32. Thordaddy - It was my understanding that 500 years of slavery, lynching, oppression and white exploitation set the black man back in all possible manner including his mental progress.
    HUH??? none of that stuff has any influence on the genetics of mental capacity ???

    eg. if you paint a bunch of people stripey, they're not going to turn into stripey people over a few centuries or millenia even.

  33. Why do we let thordaddy get under our skin?!? We all know by now that he likes to get a rise out of everyone so lets stop giving him all of this undeserved attention! There are lots of people similar to thordaddy...there's probably nothing that can be done to keep them from spreading the hate in their heart, so how about we save our energy for those folks that are willing to have their eyes opened? Just a thought.

  34. Derek,

    I don't know the color of your skin, but I (Chicano) see comments from ThorDaddy as an opportunity for white members to show their stuff.

    The misiniformation spread by racists tends to be fairly repetitive and, thus, predictable. It's a golden opporunity for whites to practice putting the racist propogandists in their places.

  35. cdwriteme, I certainly invite other whites here to do that. As for me, I've tried engaging him that way, but it gets tiresome real fast. He just doesn't acknowledge much of anything I have to say, and keeps repeating his same simple points instead. It's like trying to convince someone who's absolutely certain that the earth is flat and 6,000 years old that it's not. There's a ton of evidence on your side, but he's just not buying it, and refuses to even look at it.

  36. Macon,

    Yeah, I see your point. ThorDaddy is like a programmed robot. But, at least it gives white people here who may not be as well versed on the subject as others an opportunity to see the type of arguments made.

    They can then do a little research, perhaps starting from the information contained in rebuttal comments posted by people like you.

    All efforts help in one way or another.

  37. @ Linda - I live in a town that is 49% white and 49% Black.
    I just had a discussion with a group of affluent Blacks who were mad because the prom at the integrated school was NOT segregated as it was in their time.
    This being the South - Segregation-By-Choice is fairly common.

    My neighborhood is 99.9% Black because whites are discouraged from living here (A pre-approved offer to sell an empty lot to a Black woman was pulled when the seller realized that the woman's husband - also an attorney - was white.) The only non-Black who lives here is an Asian woman married to a Black guy.

    Sure most of the Black parents resent the all-white proms. The all-white version is probably viewed as better.
    But when given the choice, many better-to-do Blacks choose to separate themselves from white society.
    It's probably not a racial issue for them so much as a class issue.

  38. Macon D.,

    This blog should be what white liberals and black progressives do.

    In order to hide the fact that liberal-progressives are against the fundamental Constitutional right of freedom of association, they must necessarily characterize any evidence of whites freely associating amongst each other to the exclusion of blacks as racist, i.e., evil.

    Such a stance make these liberal-progressives coercive integrationists. Meaning, YOU are using the force of government to destroy a fundamental aspect of both the Constitution and any truly free society.

    To add insult to injury is the fact that most blacks privately segregate and in no way believe integrating into the white man's world to be beneficial.

    Why are you against the freedom to associate and how does that make you progressive in any way?

    And why do you think asking who is more superior between whites and blacks can blur the fact that you are actually anti-liberal in the most substantive way?

  39. Did anybody notice that I ignored Thordaddy and his questions to me?

    Does anybody wonder why?

    I love a good debate, but engaging with idiots is as much fun as clubbing baby seals.

    Anybody who debates race from a political perspective - liberals vs. conservatives - and fails to provide historical context is a fool in my book.

    I'm sorry, but whatever my political identity, I'm gonna always be Black first.

  40. RiPPa says,

    --I'm sorry, but whatever my political identity, I'm gonna always be Black first. (my emphasis)

    And this bothers me not one wit unless that means you're a coercive integrationist who thinks that whites are evil for associating freely whereby such freedom excludes blacks. Meaning, you have a tyrannical mindset that seeks to use the force of the state to deprive others that which you demand for yourself.

    The sinister aspect of it all is that you don't actually seek to integrate into the white man's world or work diligently to integrate whites into your world, but rather, you ARE black FIRST.

    You preach public integration and most likely practice private segregation like most other blacks.

    This is the liberal-progressive mindset and just because you wish to dispense with labels as liberal-progressives are proned to do it does not follow that you aren't in full accord with its ideological mandates.

  41. Amen RiPPa!
    I have never come across someone like thordaddy before now, and I hope I am spared in the future...I refuse to club anymore baby seals:)

    @cdwriteme- I am certainly not opposed to arguing with racist people such as thordaddy, but it all comes down to respect...and I refuse to engage with thordaddy because of his lack of respect for humans that are either a different color than he or a different political affiliation than he. That's all...oh and I'm pasty white:)

  42. Derek,

    I know, man. His goal is to insult and disrupt only. His mind is already made up.

  43. derek,

    Don't be a buffoon. You think tossing out the "racist" mantra like Halloween candy has any effect in 2009?

    Just ask yourself a simple question.

    Do I believe in the Constitutional right to freely associate and for RiPPa to be "Black first" or am I a freedom-hating anti-liberal?

    PS You haven't come across someone like me because you live in a bubble... Oh wait, you have because I'm just another "racist."

    The mind of the liberal/anti-liberal always uncertain about the reality around him.

  44. I believe in respecting people over any constitution.

    The whole point is not to force anyone to live anywhere or to socialize with anyone. The point is for people to live and socialize with whomever they want and to be judged by their character and NOT be prejudged based on any other factor besides their own personal character PERIOD. If that is wrong and against the constitution, well then I guess I'm a left wing black loving, gay loving, anti-American white married guy who's going to hell and trying to bring the rest of American society along with him.

    Oh well, such is life.

  45. If Whites or Blacks want to hold a gathering with only their own phenotype whats wrong with that. Please Morgan Freemen, if yo want to foolishly throw money around I have a list of things that could use some funds. Blacks in the US are so emotional when it appears that someone don't like them. They are limited in their thinking not to understand that public laws only apply to public places. The US Constitution guarantee your right to associate or disassociate with whom ever you please. As a black African-American I know that the blacks in these areas have more critical things to be worried about.


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