S. Georgia prom reaffirms demand for social progress

Racial segregation in the 21st-century United States seems paradoxical. Wasn’t that a mid-20th-century thing? Not in rural South Georgia. When the schools in this area were forced to desegregate in 1970-71, several school-orchestrated proms—a rite of passage—were shut down to minimize the contention around racially integrated dances. Since then, parents and students have organized these private events. White students have attended one prom, and black students have gone to another. It was simply tradition that students who went to the same school or even lived next to one another, would be unable to attend the most anticipated event of their high school career—all because of their race.

Four students from Wilcox County High School are attempting to change that by holding the first prom where all 400 of its students are welcome. The notion of having one, integrated prom was brought up last year and has garnered increasing amounts of support. Quanesha Wallace, one of the event’s organizers, has faith in its success. “This is going to be the biggest prom ever to come through Wilcox County,” she told CNN. She and a few other students have been fundraising all year, accepting donations, and spreading the word via social media, flyers, and word-of-mouth.

The feedback has been very positive overall. The prom’s Facebook page drew thousands of supporters and uplifting comments, and Wilcox County Superintendent Steve Smith stated, “I fully support these ladies, and I consider it an embarrassment to our schools and community that these events have portrayed us as bigoted in any way.” The principal of the high school even placed the idea of a 2014 prom on the agenda for the next school board meeting.

Yet not everyone is keen on the idea. Posters for the dance are frequently torn down, and the people who usually plan the dances have chosen to be uninvolved. Nevertheless, Quanesha and her fellow peer supporters have a lot planned for the County’s historic prom, including a Masquerade theme, catered food, and a unity toast. As prom approaches, some supporters are worried they will not get high attendance, but the turnout thus far looks promising and even if it isn’t a huge hit, they garnered enough attention to voice their disapproval of this antiquated and discriminatory tradition. That’s what really matters.

It’s inpirational that a few students can make a historic and lasting difference in their community. Moving as it is, I can’t help but think of the mere notion that segregated proms are real and openly acknowledged. We pride ourselves in being the progressive, modern, forward-thinking United States where it has become commonplace to say, “Come on guys, this is the 21st century. We don’t do [insert outdated practice] anymore.” Yet when you hear stories about students who have to fight for a whole year just to be able to dance next to someone of a different skin tone, it makes you reconsider just how far this country has actually come. Various countries, including India, Pakistan, and Liberia, have had a female head of government. We have not.

On the 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, of the 134 countries analyzed, the U.S. sits at number 19. A report done by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked us as number 16 in the list of the best countries to be born. And despite the U.S.’ spending $98 billion a year on maternal care, 49 countries are better at keeping new mothers alive than we are. While various countries in the Americas and Europe have legally recognized marriage equality, the country that the world still sees as the image of progress and opportunity has yet to federally recognize it.

Even after decades of attempting to produce equality and acceptance across racial lines, Barack Obama in his election as the first African-American president was not free of racial hatred or accusations of being a “foreigner”, “socialist”, or “terrorist”.

On a worldwide scale, what is occurring in Wilcox Country is small but indicative of our flawed perception of this nation’s social progress. Many of us simply assume this country is the best place to live, where outward discrimination has been replaced by tolerance and forward-thinking. Country comparisons show otherwise. But with determination and the support of our community, we can be the next Quaneshas break away from the traditions that hold us back.

 

—Angela Della Croce ‘15 is an Economics major. She is Opinions Editor of The Miscellany News.

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