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promnightAs we found out this past weekend in the New York Times Magazine, there are still whites-only proms in many small towns in the American South. Yes, in 2009, the year a black man became president.

Near the end of the school year most high schools in America hold a formal dance called the prom. It is a big night. But in some towns of the South the white parents hold a separate whites-only prom. No blacks allowed.

Here is what one white student in Mount Vernon, Georgia said about it:


Harley Boone:

There’s always been two separate proms. It don’t seem like a big deal around here, it’s just what we know and what our parents have done for so many years. In our school system it’s not really about being racist or having all white friends or all black friends. We all hang out together, we’re all in the same classes, we all eat lunch together at the same table. It’s not about what colour you are…

It is no big deal, it is not about colour.

Now hear what a black student at the same school says:


Kera Nobles:

My high school has been a great one, except for one night that I only share with people that’s my same race, and that would be prom night. Yes, it is hurtful, because you just think about how, I go to school with you every day, I sit beside you in class… but I can’t go to prom with you one night?

The “white-folks prom” at this school was on Friday night, the “black-folks prom” was on Saturday night. The black prom was open to everyone, but nearly all the whites went  to the white prom instead! Either the white students did not understand that a whites-only prom is racist (hard to believe) or they did not care. One of them said, without missing a beat, that some of his best friends are black. What the word “friend” could possibly mean under such circumstances and how it could excuse a racist act is unclear.

PORTFOLIO_LAUB_THUMBGillian Laub, who is used to taking pictures of Arabs and Jews in a divided Palestine, took the pictures for this piece: the smiles of joy on the white faces and the empty look on the black faces, even on the black prom queen herself,  says it all. They did not let Laub in to the white prom. It seems she asked too many questions about racism to be a white in good standing.

The piece did not feature the pictures or words of any black person except for the students.

Note to white people: Small-town and working class whites often come off seeming racist and backward in the press, but that is only because they do not have the money to move away from blacks. I mean, why have a whites-only prom if you live in a place that is less than 1% black, like nearly all suburban whites do?


Thanks to Macon D for bringing this article to my attention through his blog, Stuff White People Do.

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