Racism, discrimination still exist in Southern schools

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I remember going to my senior prom in high school: spending all day getting dolled up — doing my hair, my nails, my make up; putting on the dress I had spent (too many) hours picking out; taking millions of pictures with all of my friends until we saw flashes every time we blinked; dancing away at the Hilton downtown for hours. And then I think about what my night would’ve been like if only some of my friends had been able to go with me, and I know it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as it was.

Unfortunately, that is the kind of prom that students in Montgomery County, Ga. experience. In this county, segregated proms have been held almost every year since 1971, when its schools were integrated, according to a New York Times article. The white students attend prom on one night, and the black students attend a different prom on a different night; while no black students are allowed at the white students’ prom, white students are invited to the black students’ prom, though, according to the article, few actually show up.

It isn’t only in Montgomery County where segregated proms are a tradition. Last year, Morgan Freeman offered to pay for the first-ever integrated prom in his hometown in Mississippi. While students were open to the idea, the parents were against it and, according to the Times, organized a competing private prom on the same night.

It is the parents who seem to be central to the continuation of the segregated prom in Montgomery County, as well. The prom is not planned by the school but rather by outside committees of students and parents. According to the article, it is not the students that would have a problem with an interracial prom — friendships between black and white students are common — but rather, their parents.

“Most of the students do want to have a prom together. But it’s the white parents who say no.... They’re like, if you’re going with the black people, I’m not going to pay for it,” said Terra Fountain, a graduate of Montgomery County High School, in the article.

It’s hard to imagine that such blatant racism exists. And while the parents clearly are in the wrong in this situation — who goes against Morgan Freeman? — I cannot place the blame fully on them; the school’s administration and students are also at fault.

The parents are the most vocal about their opinions — they are doing almost everything they can to ensure that an integrated prom doesn’t happen, even if it means planning a rival prom on the same night. But this doesn’t mean that they have ultimate control over the situation. Are they in the wrong? Absolutely. Are they teaching their children a poor set of values, and making themselves look bad in the process? Definitely. But are they the only ones that have a say? No.

The students that are attending these segregated proms are at the end of their teenage years, getting ready for their first taste of independence — college. There, they will no longer be able to rely on their parents to tell them how to think and act, and they will have to make their own decisions about what they believe. They’re old enough to know right from wrong and to stand up for what they believe. This means that if they have friends of another race at school, they should be brave enough to want to spend time outside of school with them as well and share high school milestones like prom with them.

I fully believe that racism and discrimination is an important enough issue to risk going against one’s parents’ wishes. Why haven’t any of the students refused to attend their respective proms, or why haven’t they invited all of their friends — black or white — to join them, regardless of any rules their parents may have put in place regarding who is allowed to attend? The students here have a real chance to make a difference and to show their parents that their beliefs are wrong, but they ignore it for a night of dancing and partying with only a select group of their friends.

The administration, too, could have taken steps to combat the parents’ plans years ago by planning a school-sponsored prom open to all students. The New York Times article mentions that Luke Smith, the principal of Montgomery County High School, said that there are no plans for a school-sponsored prom in the future because at the last one, in 1995, attendance was poor.

But what Smith fails to realize is that one year is not enough of an effort to go against decades of tradition. Of course attendance was poor the first year; not only was it a huge change from the past, but it’s also likely that many of the students who likely would have attended were “encouraged” not to by their parents.
The administration is not supporting racism, but they are also not taking a stand against it. By allowing the proms to continue, they are only supporting, although passively, the discrimination the parents are espousing.

Perhaps if the administration and students both stood up for what is right, and a school-sponsored prom were held for several years in a row, it could replace the tradition of segregated proms that currently exists, giving students the push they needed to go against their parents’ outdated beliefs.