Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Racism on the Dance Floor

I'd heard about segregated proms in the deep South. But I could have sworn that was yeaaars ago. But apparently I'm wrong. Last year, yes 2008, was the first year that Charleston High School, in Charleston, Mississippi dared to have their first integrated prom, and only then because the actor Morgan Freeman offered to foot the bill.

If that seems as unbelievable to you as it does to me, then you too should try to see the documentary film, Prom Night in Missippi, that tells the story behind the tuxedos and taffeta. The film screened at Sundance this year and has won a handful of awards. More importantly though, it has people talking about race and racism. Listen here for an interview with director Paul Saltzman.

Sometimes here at the Meltingpot, we start to believe that everyone is living mixie, blended, colorful lives. Look who lives in the White House, right? But then we are confronted with the truth. Do you think Charleston High School and the people of the town represent the majority of Americans in the South? Or are they the exception? And mind you, this wasn't only a case of Whites not wanting to be with Blacks. Bad feelings flowed both ways.

What do YOU do when you hear about towns like Charleston? Do you pledge to avoid the entire state of Mississippi for like another decade? Do you make jokes and thank God you live Up North? In another country? On Mars? Or do you do something else? I think Mr. Saltzman had the right idea in exposing the truth through film. Sometimes that's all we can do is tell the rest of the world what's happening and watch humanity change itself.

What do you think?



Anonymous said...

I've heard of this,but like you, thought it was something that happened years ago. Racism in general is frustrating but its infuriating when you find children( 16,17,18) being overly influenced by their parents racism. It's just sad but I'm glad that they are finally intergrating. Sometimes all you can do is pray for them.

Quiskaeya said...

In some areas of the country it really is easy to live as if the rest of the country is diverse. Stuff like this sounds more like something from a high school history book than really life. However, the reality is our country has still work to be done where race is concerned.

I wrote a post yesterday about how some Christians still pound their fist against multiculturalism. It's a form or racism even if they try to make it seem it's pro-America. So sad!

JBH said...

I'm glad that the truth is being told. Even though it's sad.

I agree with Yvonne: A parent's influence is downright sobering and sometimes scary. And I'm not just referring to the deep South. I've heard it from the mouths of kids down the street or in my kids' school. At those times, I pray for humankind. And I become more determined to be an agent of change.

KB said...

This was in the news throughout 2008 and was sad, but also eye-opening. The important thing to remember is that racism and ignorance lives, even though thankfully it's on life support, additionally, it's not regulated just to the South. Some of the most insidious forms of racism can come from "enlightened" people from various regions of the country.

Nif said...

I spent most of college wanting to live on Mars...*sigh*

MackDiva said...

As a person who grew up in Texas, this doesn't surprise me. Heck, I graduated from high school in 1989, and we didn't have an integrated homecoming court until my junior year. Up until then, we had two -- one White and one Black.

And before all you northerners go patting yourselves on the back, let me tell you that I experienced some of the most blatant racism ever in NYC. I was trying to move into areas that weren't very minority-friendly, and I was brushed off in some interesting ways. One woman told me that the apartment I was trying to move into was too far from my job. I probably wouldn't have been offended had she known where I worked.

Racism is sad and unfortunate, but it's real -- even today.

Anonymous said...

My mom grew up in Charleston and proudly met annually with others for a Charlestonian reunion. She's recently passed away and I can ask her what she remembers or thinks about this prom. I do know that Charleston is a small, small city that only recently got a McDonalds! I remember back when I was 3-4 (yes, 40+ yrs ago)visiting for my great grandmother's funeral. Ibathed in a steel tub in the middle of the floor. This was quite unlike my home in urban Toledo!! I think we are often unaware how dissimilar pockets of the US are. Remember during the recent elections how strong Obama did in large urban areas as compared to smaller cities and rural areas? There are places that don't have DSL, WalMart, daily mail delivery, sewer systems or even shopping malls. Extrapolate from that the huge differences in cultural in these areas. Talk to someone from Minnesota and Wisconsin and learn of the racism against Native Americans, something that really surprises me! Southern culture is so very different in its attitudes towards education, women, minorities! And someone from there would shake their head and say the same thing about northern culture. My dad would say 'Keep living. Life is interesting.'

LT said...


To all of my posters, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I think talking about these things is how the healing begins. Really, I learn so much from you all. Campbele, thank you so much for telling us what life is like/was like in Charleston. Perspective is always important to remember.

susan said...

The incident in Jena (the noose hanging from the tree at the high school in TX) told me this kind of thing wasn't history, and I did know about this high school. And while there's bad blood running both ways, in that same town I bet there are blacks and whites who didn't agree otherwise the prom wouldn't have happened.

I grew up in Detroit. Let the media tell it, there are no white people in the city and blacks and whites don't live together. Not true. Are race relations poor-yes. Is that true for all Detroiters and our suburban neighbors- no.

There are always those who go against the tide and as long as that is happening, I am hopeful.

Anonymous said...

I´m white. I grew up in the not so deep south. (Virginia) I grew up in a racist landscape. It was unfortunately normal. I grew up confused. I thought that the little black girls had great hair that bended and twisted in different directions with barrettes and ponytails while my "white" hair hung limp. I didn't understand the hate when the smartest girl in my class was black.

I left the south and joined the military where racism wasn't accepted. I finally felt like I was in a place where people were just people in a uniform working together. It was grand.

But I would come back to my hometown and locals and family members would spat racist remarks as if I was in on it. I never was, but became unable to keep my mouth shut. I started confronted people about their ignorance. I have felt comfortable in my hometown since.

Now with my brown Colombian daughter, I have even less tolerance for racial ignorance and have had to pretty much write one family member out of my life over racist remarks. I cannot have my daughter listening to such ignorance. period.

Its always a shock to me when I am confronted with racism being toward Hispanics, Asians, African Americans. I forgot for a while until Obama ran for President! It seems that all the racist came out of the woodwork. Somebody I know was all democrat until Obama won the nod. Sad really.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Great Blog.