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?
Is the prom officially school-sanctioned, or is the school allowing parents to manage the two segregated proms as privately run events not officially tied to the school?
On people naturally wanting to ‘be with their own types’ – some people don’t define their ‘types’ by race. There’s a lot of similarity among members of my social circle, but race isn’t necessarily one of them. I want to be around people who share my interests and values, and honestly, this would probably exclude lots of other white people for me.
I’m sure this person has sociological data to back this up. I’m sure this person has something that explains it is a matter of preference for those with a particular skin color rather than a result of social and economic pressures as well as systemic racism. And I’m sure this person has got examples of other segregated events in other parts of the country. And I’m sure our well reasoned friend here has a reason why the kids who went to school together want an integrated prom as well.
I have seen this come up elsewhere on FTB and these are not official school functions, which is how the organizers of the segregated prom can get away with this nonsense.
According to an article from WSFA-TV, Montgomery, the school does not sponsor any proms.
The white supremacist prom and the integrated prom are each private parties, so it is legal for them to invite or not invite whomever they choose. This is similar to what parents did against lesbian students at Itawamba County School in Mississippi in 2010.
I say that the segregationist parents and their places of business should be publicly identified, so we know whom to boycott. I certainly wouldn’t want to subsidize their lifestyle.
I have two observations.
1) Ian, you’re breaking from your practice of calling actions racist, not people.
2) I can’t find it anywhere in my being to blame or disagree with you in the slightest for doing so here. Those people are racist, this is outrageous, and those people are seriously fucking racist.
Technically I am calling people’s faces racist…
“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.”
There’s somewhere, buried under all the racism, a point about the de-facto segregation that occurs in the northern USA, and how northern white liberals like to congratulate themselves on not being ignorant racist southerns, while approving of gated communities, red-lining, ghettoization, etc. I feel like the author of that comment might not be the best person to make that point, though.
Hey, I found an act for the white prom!
Agreed. Ian’s definitely persuaded me that it’s almost always more productive to refer to actions or ideas as racist than people. Buuuut… When someone’s raison d’etre seems to be racism, I feel pretty comfortable just calling that person “a racist” even if it’s linguistically sloppy.
Anecdata, FWIW: I’ve lived in majority-white areas and I’ve lived–and currently live–in diverse areas. I much, much prefer the diverse areas. That is not an intellectual decision driven by my politics, either–I just prefer it, for a whole host of reasons. I strongly doubt I’m a special snowflake.
I think when dealing with people who have thought about it and decided to live and rationalize their racism, it’s fair at that point to say they’re racists. Whether or not it’s the best argumentative tactic to call them that will probably vary from case to case.
Probably worth pointing out that at no point in my piece did I call anyone “a racist”, nor do I think it’s ever an acceptable term under any circumstances.
The same is true for me. I grew up in lily white rural Upstate New York, lived in Buffalo for a few years, and now live near DC. Far and away, I prefer the places with diversity, and it actually looks weird to me when I go home to visit family and people are mostly the same color/culture.
The evidence is likely to depress you a bit:
Likewise. It’s oddly comforting encountering a couple of foreigners chatting in a language I don’t recognize.
I think you and I are just gonna have to disagree there. I like to think I understand your reasons for rejecting the term, but I can’t bring myself to agree with them.
For reasons I’d rather not go into, I can’t start a MoveOn drive, or anything similar, no matter how much I agree with the cause. Ian’s suggestion here, though, is crying out for one.
Yeah, you just referred to their “racist faces”. What invivoMark said.
Stacy, I believe that comment of his that you quoted had a strong element of che(tongue)ek.
Quadroon? As in a person who has one black grandparent and three white ones? Wow. Haven’t heard that term since ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’. Didn’t realise that anyone who wasn’t a racist governer of Western Australia in the 1930s actually used that term.
Dude, the 90s called.
As stated above, many of these events are private so there’s no actionable crime or violation. It is weird that in 2013 this is still the case anywhere. There’ve been a few cases like this scattered around, though. Almost all were private events and had been going on since the 1950s.
It also shows how bad things can just become… habits. That is, people make dumb appeals to tradition or whatever, and teenagers especially can build elaborate (and rigid) social “rules”. And then you wake up and find that you’ve been doing something like this for so long that nobody remembers why. (This doesn’t make the actions less racist, but the defense I almost always hear is “we’ve always done it this way”)
Kudos to the students who want to change that kind of terrible social inertia.
Yeah, they’re always “oh, it’s not racist, it’s just the traditional name/logo/event/etc”. And then you have to explain that it is. in fact, the racist traditional name/logo/event/etc.
I asked my cousin, a teacher living Stone Mountain, GA (formerly HQ of the Klan, now a toney bedroom community for African Americans) about this and was told that in many Georga small towns you’ll find this attitude. Interestingly, she says the kids (black AND white) and their families very strongly support these self-segregated events. The two cultures are so different that (in her words) “everyone is happy to stay in their own lanes”. She also notes that folks of either persuasion are “different down here” (she was born and raised in Los Angeles).
You’d think such attitudes have no place in a modern world, among we urban sophisticates–but then, are there not exclusive events for Jewish kids? Moslem kids? Christian kids? What’s the difference?
GregB: I think that there is a difference, in that exclusive events for religious groups are likely to be directly tied to a religious activity; at least in my own experience (tagging along with friends in Christian and Jewish youth groups despite not belonging to either), non-religious events or activities organized by religious groups haven’t been exclusive. A prom, on the other hand, seems to me to be an event that is for the school community as a whole, not a particular sub-group. I suppose this could be my liberal Canadian bias speaking, but it’s baffling to me that kids who hang out together at school, as is stated in the articles about this particular community, are seen by the parents who sponsor the segregated proms as being so fundamentally different that they can’t party together.
GregB, one might think that you are implying that a segregated prom is actually remotely defensible.
One might also suspect that you don’t know the difference between a religion and a race. Let me give you a clue. People who belong to a race do not all hold common beliefs, partake in common activities, share a collective culture, or participate in the same rituals. People who belong to a single religion do all of the above.
And while I’m certain that most people involved in the segregated proms are totally fine with it, that’s part of the problem. They’re wrong to be fine with it, because it is fucking racist.
I don’t even see how your religion analogy – even if it were valid – would support segregation. Could you imagine trying to go to prom with all of your Christian buddies, but being denied entry because your grandfather was atheist? Would that piss you right off? If it wouldn’t, then check your batteries!
On other ostensibly segregated events and activities, I think the difference lies in what type of event. There’s a difference (to me) in a local chabad providing activities to Jewish kids or a community organization that provides activities for Black kids or a women’s program and a *school event* which is being privatized so that it can be legally segregated. I’m having a hard time figuring out a good rule for when it’s okay, but if you’re providing some special service to a group of people based on unique needs of that particular subgroup, the motivation is much different than when something is segregated but to no real purpose other than to segregate.
Part of the other issue is the extent to which certain events are really actually segregated. I knew several organizations that provided various outreach to Black kids who had a Black leadership, but were often happy to work with non-Black volunteers. Women’s centers often have events where they strongly encourage male attendance or participation. I wouldn’t say organizations like that are ‘segregated’ so much as tailored to specific needs of specific populations.
GregB apparently overlooked this:
Most people will tend to be comfortable with the status quo. It’s called system justification. Regardless, “well, it’s OK with (a lot of) them!” is not an argument against challenging racism.
Oops, forgot to append linky:
Indeed. I did a whole series on System Justification Theory a while back.
That is not an intellectual decision driven by my politics, either–I just prefer it, for a whole host of reasons. I strongly doubt I’m a special snowflake.
Definitely agree with you. I actively seek out situations where i can be with people who are unlike me.
I like Crommunist’s idea of some awesome music act, whatever these kids today are up to with their bippin’ and their boppin’ and such like, making the integrated prom WAY MORE AMAZING..
@Stacy Well oddly GregB is wondering exactly *where* he made arguments *overlooking* anything.
Rather, he seems to have simply given a datapoint from a person near the situation (that being, the rural south and in particular Georgia), which (pace the suggestion from the article) it’s not simply a matter of Evil White People shooing away anybody who didn’t pass the Paper Bag Test. Instead, if not here (and I’m not sure you can even tell this is the case from this brief piece) then no doubt in many other small burgs in GA, the white kids would feel just as awkward, would be equally shunned if they went to the black proms.
GregB thinks that he should also explain (since it was asked by our Canadian friends) that the Federal government, or really any US-based government, can’t really go into private affairs and demand that person x socialize with person y. That, on it’s own, is probably a Good Thing (I don’t know, in Canada do demand that wedding parties have proper allotments of Arcadians, Quebecois, Scots and First Natives?) though it is obviously lamentable that people Down South still hold those attitudes.
@CatieCat I agree, it is an excellent idea. In fact, you’d only need to do it once or twice and the kids in those little towns would be stampeding to be the next to hold a mixed event. All it would take is a Beiber/Beyounce’ paired performance and the whole business would quickly wash away. Or so I’d guess…
@28 How the heck do you falsify “System Justification Theory”?
Social science is hard! Therefore everything relating to social science is invalid! Especially the bits that shed light on my prejudices!
No! Social Science shouldn’t be used to validate an individual’s own half-baked notions! It should recognize that it is in it’s infancy! It’s practitioners should rip any hint of ideology from their knuckle-laden heads! Then it might progress! Instead, it just farts around with blather and mushy oatmeal notions festooned with the label “theory”!
Funnily enough, it isn’t actually the obligation of anyone here who knows social science to go around disproving your notions about social science. It’s your responsibility to support them, with something other than your say-so alone.
While Greg is being an asshole I still think that system justification theory can be a bit… out there. Kind of a ‘what do you mean I don’t have different priorities’ thing.
I personally have a tendancy to avoid diverse groups as I worry more about offending somebody I know, while people are unlikely to be offended by never having met me. However, diverse in the previous sentence is not defined by race alone.
Segregated prom? I don’t even….. Why can’t people have more liberally imperial attitudes about this and shut the ‘freedom of association’ creeps down faster?