Let's Dance Together

I heard a fascinating NPR piece about an integrated prom in Charleston, Mississippi. The Charleston high school has had segregated proms since it was forced to integrate. This year, with influence and financial backing from Morgan Freeman and the right school board, the school put on an “integrated prom”. I know that segregation still occurs, but I didn’t realize that we could have such explicit and unbridled remnants of Jim Crow segregation in a government institution

Although the school had an integrated prom there were still parents who decided that they wanted a “White” prom. In an interview a White student was at a meeting for the White prom, where she heard a mother say, “I don’t want any of those niggers rubbing up against my daughter” (what a historically loaded statement).

What I found most stimulating about this piece is the attitude of the students. Some of the children that attended the prom had to go against their parents wishes. And most students really didn’t think much about the fact that they were going to be prom with people of a different race. They went to school with them and played sports with them, what was the difference?

However, there was an interesting element in the comments of the  White students. Now, this was by no means a statistically representative sample, but the White students that were interviewed didn’t voice that they had felt any regret for having a segregated prom or that there was something wrong with a segregated prom.

At first, I assumed that this was a “White privilege” issue. The parents driving the segregated prom were the White parents and White students were not the ones being systematically excluded, Black students were. White students wanted to have an integrated prom because it just made sense because everything else at school was integrated. Conversely, the Black students benefited from the prom because it was a method of regaining their personhood and their worth.

I still believe this to be true, but it also seemed the Black students that were interviewed had fallen in into the “that is just the way it is attitude”. They accepted segregation because that was the context that they understood and even though there were negative ramifications, they were buried underneath the normalcy of segregation.

The change that occurred was not because individuals stood up and said that something was wrong (the Whites were indifferent and the Blacks were entrenched), but because there was a systematic, institutional change. We often – especially in the evangelical Christian world – underestimate the value of institutional change. We concentrate so much on individual reconciliation. But individual reconciliation can be prohibited by the way the system is set up.

Reconciliation is two sided. This integrated prom at Charleston High School will not, by itself, spark reconciliation in the city as a whole. But changing the system gives individuals the opportunity to personally reconcile with one another. These to elements together are what cause real change.
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5 thoughts on “Let's Dance Together

  1. To be frank…
    I live in Mississippi, and racism is prevalent all over America. It’s ugly face is just usually exposed more in the south. The “that’s just the way it is” attitude is the attitude of many blacks around America while others are outraged. In general, it is that of passivity. What I have a big issue with is the “need” of blacks to try and prove themselves as better or equal to whites in one way or another—that’s precisely what (whites) they want. It’s already a given: you are proof, just by default…living. White people like those mentioned in your blog want to feel above other people, it gives them some self-important role to play and unfortunately many nonwhites buy into this sad diversion.

  2. hey josh. came across your blog again. i’m adding you to my blog feed. thanks for typing up what you’re thinking about.

  3. Racism is everywhere. No matter where you go in the U.S., or the world for that matter, racism exists. It often manifests itself in different ways, but it is there. Looking historically, I think of racism before the Civil War. In the South the racist attitude was that there can be a large number of Blacks just as long as they are segregated from whites and treated as essentially subhuman. In the North Blacks were still treated unfairly, but they were at least given some level of respect. The issue was more that the number of Blacks never got too high.

    Both incidents were racist just in two different manners. This still goes on today.

    The issue of Blacks having to prove themselves is a complicated one. There is just so much sociological, historical and cultural baggage attached. It is wrong that Blacks feel that way, but it is not always the fault of Whites, sometimes it is that some Black people have to dig deep to uncover insecurities that have evolved not only through the current society, but through what they have seen from their parents and others Blacks from older generations.

    Additionally, I think that many whites who make Black people feel as if they need to prove themselves are oblivious to the fact that Blacks even feel that they need to prove themselves. Rarely do we have conversation about issues like that. We just keep trying to take down the tree of racism in one swing rather than finding the right spots to work on.

  4. (((sometimes it is that some Black people have to dig deep to uncover insecurities that have evolved not only through the current society, but through what they have seen from their parents and others Blacks from older generations.)))
    That’s what I was “hinting” at, though I did not say it outright. No, these things are not talked about enough. In fact, often times they are evaded or denied all together but they are important enough. A friend of mine and I were talking one day about this very thing and I told him—it doesn’t matter how many same opportunities blacks are given to excel…..there are STILL going to be some black people who are not going to see themselves as equal to white people. It’s a mental thing more so than anything else. And what good would it do to have all the education and opportunity and still not truly see yourself in any better light. Of course, this is not everyone, but there would be some nonetheless. “White is Right” is universal. James Watson’s comments about black being less intelligent, believe it or not, was taken to heart by many..including other blacks. I have read the article on the interview and the only thing it tells me is that based on a white man’s standards of intelligence, blacks as a whole are not intelligent. Who sets the standards, why were those standards chosen, why are these standards suppose to be the standards to determine someone’s intelligence? I mean really…James Watson is the ” I’m the expert of what intelligence is” guy? Why are certain standards placed by certain people and all people are suppose to except it as some divine doctrine? If intelligence is only a matter of knowing certain material in a book, certain mathematical calculations, playing around with words and figures….then anyone can pick up the right books, study the right material….and be determined to have a “HIGH IQ”. The fact of the matter is not every school system is the same and therefore do not have the same standards. The other fact is that, unless someone has a mental problem, we all have the same brain capacity and therefore the same capabilities, but I am just a bit concerned about the wanting or need to meet other people’s standards as if given as some divine doctrine. This really concerns me.

  5. One more thing, I forgot to mention:
    It’s not about white people making one feel like they have to prove themselves, you have to know that you are something with or without those standards and there is nothing to prove. You are that way by default. It’s all about playing into that mindset, which is ultimately a game.

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