June 11, 2008

Prom Night in Mississippi

The Bryant Park Project has a good report on this years prom in Charleston, MS - the first racially integrated prom the town has ever had.  This could easily be the story of the small southern Mississippi town that I grew up in, or for that matter any number of towns across the Southeast.  I graduated high school in 1994 and every post-football game dance, homecoming, or special-event dance that I ever attended was a privately sponsored off-campus event for whites only (often at the whites-only country club).  The story was the same for my black classmates.  It was a system supported and maintained by the adults and parents on both sides of the racial divide, but one which I am ashamed to admit that we as students never seriously questioned.  The only subversive act that we managed occurred in the finale of our senior class's homecoming presentation for returning alumni in which we all paired up with dance partners of a different race (thanks for the dance Tracy!).  I recognize how telling it is that we thought this simple act of choreographed boldness was in fact an act of defiance.  Four or five years ago my own high school finally made the switch to a racially integrated school sponsored prom, and to my knowledge the blacks and whites only events were allowed to die a long overdue death.  It would be naive to think that our impromptu snub at the lingering racial conventions had anything to do with it but maybe we can at least call it foreshadowing.  Be sure to watch the slideshow as well.

PS - part of me wonders how much the rise of hip-hop culture, and the music that spreads it, as a near universally defining motif for teenagers, even in rural America, has helped this transition to take place in places like Charleston. 

7 comments:

Pomeroy Kinsey said...

Awesome post. Really awesome. I wish I could've seen that dance. Why couldn't racial integration have been timed to better coincide with youtube's availability? I'd pay anything to see you guys.

I think your point about hip hop, though, seems really plausibly right. I saw an article years ago that attributed thought the same thing about what hip hop had done for race relations. Not so much hip hop, but hip hop's cross-race popularity, that is. I was watching the opening of the Lakers/Celtics game last night, and the slideshow they showed was done to a Jay-Z song, and I had that same thought again - how weirdly enough, hip hop has somehow become this unifying lyric and music for a huge number and diverse cross-section of people.

a conversationalist said...

It was actually the class of '97 that finally bridged the gap back home, so it has been more than a decade of at least prom integration (when I tuaght there for the year I considered my volunteering to help with the decorations an act of penance of sorts). As far as I know, the event is still not held on the school grounds (this may have changed since the renovations). However, I am not sure about the other dances and extracurricular events. My guess would be that like everything else in our little corner of the world, those events remain still mainly segregated. I would be curious, Pomeroy, to know how things were different where you moved to?

j said...

Pomeroy - My immediate question is: "You were watching what last night?!"

AC - 97? its been longer than I thought, then. I think it is off-campus at that building I've never been to.

Pomeroy Kinsey said...

total accident. I was standing in front of a TV and it was on. So technically I was watching basketball on TV last night. I was mainly interested when I saw the Jay Z song, to be honest.

Pomeroy Kinsey said...

ac - I went to a suburban high school that was largely segregated by race because most everyone in the high school was white. So, the handful of Black students did attend the prom with the White students, but it it was de facto segregated by virtue of the housing composition in that suburb. I had the most black friends I've ever had living in MS - by a significant margin.

Jennifer said...

I'm interested in hip hop as a universalizing force too, but I wonder how folks in black communities think about that? A lot of the folks in my classes here are super-critical of the way mainstream hip hop commodifies a certain kind of (troubling, monolithic) black masculinity and sells it to white suburban/rural youth. They might say that hip hop appeals to different racial groups for very different reasons, and that we need to pay attention to those reasons, as well as to the perceived results (racial unity, for example).

j said...

the net effects of hip-hop are certainly up for debate and i'm not up to speed on how all those arguments break down these days. it's definitely a calculated package (although not just a masculine one, as it certainly has its female component, even if it is less marketable) and like everything in pop culture it boils complicated pictures down to a couple of base ingredients and presents itself as authentic - hip-hop is not unique in that. I actually don't think hip-hop is doing all that much for race relations in general, most of the vernacular hip-hop (can I use that expression) is hyper-sexual, misogynistic, and consumeristic to a fault but if nothing else it seems to provide black and white youth with this common narrative that they are both attuned to - admittedly, mostly because it gives them all a chance to dance and think about sex. Sounding slightly contradictory I'll also say there is some value in even this small accomplishment - a point of common reference is a point of common reference even if its giving voice to little more than how it feels to be young, misunderstood and horny. But, like I said, I mostly don't know what I'm talking about - we should probably just listen to Lupe.

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