That’s Just How Things are . . .

I just read a locked post about a meeting with executives in a particularly appalling industry in which completely appalling racist and sexist statements were said over and over while the non-executives explained that these statements were appalling and the executives could not comprehend that there was anything appalling about what they were saying. “It’s just the ways things are,” they said.

Which is true as far as it goes. There is an appalling amount of racism and sexism in the world. That’s no excuse for perpetuating it.

Then I read this article in The New York Times about segregated proms in Georgia:1

Students of both races say that interracial friendships are common at Montgomery County High School. Black and white students also date one another, though often out of sight of judgmental parents. “Most of the students do want to have a prom together,” says Terra Fountain, a white 18-year-old who graduated from Montgomery County High School last year and is now living with her black boyfriend. “But it’s the white parents who say no . . . They’re like, if you’re going with the black people, I’m not going to pay for it.”

. . .

[T]hey questioned their white friends’ professed helplessness in the face of their parents’ prejudice (“You’re 18 years old! You’re old enough to smoke, drive, do whatever else you want to. Why aren’t you able to step up and say, ‘I want to have my senior prom with the people I’m graduating with?’ ”).

The black prom is open to whoever wants to attend. The white one is not. So much for post-racist USA, eh?

The white students haven’t worked hard to change things because that means bucking their parents, which is a lot of bother. Who’d buy them their fancy prom clothes? Plus, segregated proms are just the way things are in their part of Georgia. Why rock the boat?

I get laziness. I’m typing this in my pjs. There are times in my life when I could have spoken up and didn’t, when I didn’t fight hard enough. Being white and coasting on your privilege is easy. Taking risks is hard.

But you know what’s harder?

Living with racism every day of your life.

I’ll wager that, like me, most of those white students aren’t forced to deal with racism on a daily basis. They can slide on by without thinking about it for days, weeks, in some cases, years.

There are so many reasons to rock the segregation boat. In this case, those white students would wind up with a prom that’s more fun, with way more of their friends, and more importantly, they’d be part of something they would be proud of for the rest of their lives.

  1. I noticed something about that article. Two white students were quoted with their full names. Two black students are mentioned by full name, one by her first name, and two of them is quoted, but there’s a series of quotes at the end of the article that are attributed to unnamed black students. I was wondering if that was because the students declined to be named. But there are photos of them here. Was it because the reporter failed to jot down their names? A decision of one of the editors of the piece? Whatever the reason it struck me as an odd note in an otherwise excellent article. []


  1. Reverie Books Reviews on #

    OH MY GOD!!! this is ridiculous. so much for moving ahead. and I am SO ashamed to admit that I am from GA.. where the hell in GA is this… *goes to investigate further*

  2. Justine on #

    Reverie: It’s not just Georgia. The meeting I referred to at the beginning of this post took place far from Georgia and the completely naked racism and sexism in that room has much wider ramifications for US society at large.

  3. Karen on #

    I’m from Atlanta and a few years ago when there was a lot of attention from the press and they tried to have one prom, but the white parents put up such a fuss that they went back to having two proms again. Sigh. Totally crazy.

    @Reverie: Mont. County is located in the southwest portion in Mount Vernon. A world away from Atlanta.

    But Justine is right. Until someone really tries to change this situation, it will continue. Still can’t believe they’re still doing this in 2009.

  4. cbjames on #

    Why don’t the white students get jobs and buy their own prom clothes? They basically lost my sympathy and my respect right there.

    I’ve a seventh grade student whose family cannot afford to buy her the things the rest of her peers have. She has found two weekly babysitting gigs and now pays for it all herself. Surely 11th and 12th graders have more job opportunities than a 7th grader does.

    Take a stand against racism. Drive your own car to the prom.

  5. Icy Roses on #

    True Story: Never living south of the Mason-Dixon Line in my life. Decided this a long time ago, pretty much right after we learned the Civil War in fifth grade.

    That article was in Seventeen Magazine, I believe? I’m glad they’re calling attention to it. Karen is right. They did try to change it a few years ago, and the parents freaked out. Wow, I wonder how they feel about having a black man as president? I bet they just walk around in a state of denial every day.

  6. Katie on #

    Well, I have brown skin, I’m from Canada, and the only racism I’ve suffered is from other brown/black people.

    But I can understand why those kids wouldn’t stand up to their parents. It’s their family. They might think their parents will utterly reject them if they do what they think is right. That’s a pretty tough decision when you’re 18, to choose between some friends at school and the people who raised you and who do love you no matter how racist they are.

    Also, I think there is a documentary out there about one of the towns with two proms. I think Morgan Freeman offered to pay for a prom that everyone was welcome at. They rejected it at first, but a few years later a filmmaker got interested and asked M.F. if the offer was still on the table. And this time the town didn’t refuse. Can’t remember what year, but maybe 2006 or -7 or -8…

  7. Katie on #

    duh. The article you read is about that school.

  8. Tim on #

    Wow, I actually thought you were talking about research you were doing for the 1930s book for a minute. I just can’t believe that people still think like that in 2009! Maybe I’m naive coming from Australia, but I just didn’t think things like that still happened.

    Not, of course, that Australia is racism-free, but I get the impression that Australian racism is a different kind of racism. Not less-severe or any “better”, it’s just the motivation and reasoning behind the racism is slightly different. Or so I gather. I’m not a racism expert or anything like that, so anyone with more knowledge should feel free to correct me.

  9. Jenn on #

    Yeah, this article was in my Seventeen Magazine. I think that part of it was that some of the schools this happens at don’t have a school prom, the ‘proms’ are parties thrown privately and that contributes to the segregation, although by no means does this excuse the fact. Like someone above said, on year Morgan Freeman stepped in and gave a prom to one of the schools in Mississippi, which was actually a documentary that will be on HBO June 29.

  10. angharad on #

    I wish that people could talk more openly about these things. The bad things get said, unoppossed, in private spaces. In public, people mouth the platitudes, but send their kids to the white prom. I live in a place with a high school population that’s african-american and white, with other minorities not well represented. The white kids don’t go to the school dances. The white parents don’t encourage it. They don’t like the music, they don’t like the behavior, they don’t like the way people dance. If you go to the lunchroom, you’ll see black and white people sitting together. If you go to Sport Night, you see people who group themselves naturally by team, not by race. But when they dance? Segregation.

    What should you do about it? Tell the white kids to go to the dances? But the white kids want to listen to ColdPlay. What happens when a significant population of white people show up at the dances and want to hear “their” music? You could say, “Yay!Compromise!” but . . . I am really uncomfortable with white people showing up at a venue and trying to change stuff to suit them, even when it’s called “Compromise.” On the other hand, why go to a dance if they don’t play music you like? So you get a few people who cross lines to be with their friends, but most of the white people stay home. Because it is not their scene. And nobody talks about it.

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