Dear Stephanie, Mareshia, Quanesha, and Keela,
Ladies, let me begin by saying, "Great job!" As prom season approached, most of your classmates were probably busy fretting over which limo or person or up-do or form of birth control they'd be bringing to either the prom for white kids or the prom for black kids, both held annually (and very separately) in your small south Georgia town of Rochelle. But you guys were like, "Oh my God, we live in a place where there's a white prom and a black prom. We should do something about that." And you did.
The story, as it's been relayed by the media, is that you girls — two of you white, two of you black — have been friends since elementary school and thought prom would be a lot more fun if you could attend a dance together. So you took to Facebook and quickly raised enough money to throw Wilcox County's first integrated prom on April 27.
Your cause has attracted all sorts of attention, mostly because the idea that segregated proms still exist is mind-boggling in much of the country, even in much of the South. It's such an old-timey concept that I bet you could walk into a bar this summer, tell the bartender that you attended your high school's first integrated prom, and easily be served the alcoholic beverage of your choice. They'll just assume you look really good for 65. (Don't really do this.)
In fact, don't be in too much of a hurry to grow up. If your story — rather, what your story has become — demonstrates anything, it's that grown-ups have the capacity to be real jerks. When an issue is even remotely political, leave it to the adults to act like children. For this, and on behalf of adults everywhere, I apologize.
As your school superintendent Steven Smith noted in a statement, students often "see skin color through their parents' eyes." He's basically right. Racial bias is the result of nurture rather than nature. But lots of smart young people, upon realizing that their parents' beliefs are awful, cultivate their own perspectives. Smith's statement is a generalization, of course. It's also a pretty easy way to pass the buck.
Smith also pointed out that the segregated proms aren't school-sponsored events; rather, the dances are organized and funded by local parents (of kids you know, no doubt). He even voiced his support for an integrated prom.
But — and I'm sure you're aware of this — in most places, schools do sponsor proms. Integrated ones. A long time ago, and likely in an effort to wash its hands of whatever racial tensions might result, Wilcox County High School stepped aside and let private entities worry about prom.
That didn't solve anything. It's more likely that your school's refusal to make prom its business for so many years and to turn a blind eye to the "separate but equal" events taking place each spring exacerbated racial division. The Washington Post reported that police — again, adults! — turned a biracial kid away from the white prom last year (and were apparently warranted in doing so because it was a private event). If that prom had been school-sponsored, that wouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened.
Then there's the fact, ladies, that the racial separation brought to light by your honest effort to sponsor an integrated prom proved to be tantalizing political fodder for partisan groups and politicians. While you plan your event — a Parisian Masquerade Ball sounds so fun! — you're being used by people who are older and should know better than to capitalize off of kids.
Last week, a progressive organization called Better Georgia took up your cause and asked that Georgia politicians "publicly support the students of Wilcox County who are fighting to end a 'separate-but-equal' high school prom."
Keep in mind that at this point you'd already raised the funds you needed and the event appeared to be a go. Gov. Nathan Deal's spokesman Brian Robinson responded thusly: "This is a leftist front group for the state Democratic party and we're not going to lend a hand to their silly publicity stunt."
Real mature, right? Even if Better Georgia's attempts to goad politicians into publicly endorsing your prom were disingenuous and inspired by little more than partisanship, Deal's office could have dismissed the group and strongly supported an integrated prom. That led to blog jousting about Better Georgia and back-and-forths on Twitter and Facebook. (Deal on Monday said he expected local leaders to find a "long-term solution" that benefits all students.)
As the story evolves, it gets further and further away from being your story — the story of four girls who just wanted to go to prom together. Your names don't even come up anymore.
In the past, I've been a vocal opponent of proms. All the money (sorry, poor kids!), all the anticipation, and all for an event that seldom lives up to anyone's expectations. But I have a feeling your prom might actually live up to the hype.
To prove adults are good for something, allow me to offer a little advice: Don't drink and drive. Stay away from the guys who've already graduated high school but still show up at after-prom parties (I didn't — frowny emoticon). Take lots of pictures and make lots of memories with your best friends. And, if you can manage it, ignore all this political bullshit. There'll be plenty of time for it when you grow up.
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