Jewish World Review May 12, 2003 / 10 Iyar, 5763
Prom night -- all white
Put yourself in the shoes of a 17-year-old black student at
Taylor County High School in Butler, Ga., about 150 miles south of Atlanta.
For weeks you watch the news and see an integrated American military machine
take apart Saddam Hussein's regime. You read on the BlackAmerica Web site
that about 18 percent of U.S. casualties in Iraq were African-American. You
see the country celebrating a great victory and waving the flags of
Then you come to school and find out some students in your class
are holding an all-white prom.
How would you react if you were that kid? You can't sue because
the event is being held off-campus. It's a private party, and no person of
color is welcome. Yet the party is being held under the banner of Taylor
High's junior prom. Yes, there is an alternative prom where everyone is
welcome, but still a number of your classmates do not want to celebrate with
The night the all-white prom happened, May 2, I sent a producer
and camera crew to interview the all-white partygoers. Guess what? None of
them would talk to us. Neither would the adults who chaperoned the event.
But the students did express themselves in another way -- they made a wide
variety of obscene gestures in front of the camera.
Now, this white prom nonsense is a small story on the landscape
of America. But what is not a small story is the way the powers that be in
Georgia reacted. The principal of Taylor High, Bonnie Branan, would not
comment publicly. The superintendent of schools, Wayne Smith, told me the
prom was legal and that's that. And the governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue,
sent his press secretary out to say he was "disappointed" in the event.
But Perdue would not answer questions or condemn the prom. His
spokeswoman says he is too busy. In reality, he is hiding.
So if I'm a 17-year-old black student, I am getting the message.
Nobody in power is on my side. Nobody is willing to state that a segregated
school event in the year 2003 is unacceptable behavior. Nobody really cares.
Stunningly, some people criticized me for even talking about the
story. The rationalizations came so fast I thought I was playing goalie for
the Philadelphia Flyers. "Blacks have private events, too." "How dare you
criticize the governor, he doesn't answer to you." "You are anti-South!"
The issue, of course, was never addressed. So here it is in
black and white: Holding an event organized within a public school that
excludes students on the basis of skin color, ethnicity, religion or any
other defining characteristic is cruel, un-American, and should be condemned
by all responsible public officials, including teachers and administrators.
Here's what I don't get. What is it about the UNITED States that
folks don't understand? United means we are all in this together. The
killers on 9-11 were after Americans of all colors. The soldiers who are
defending us against those killers and their enablers are all colors. So why
are we dancing around this prom issue?
Americans who love their country will speak out against
injustice and cruelty to fellow citizens, especially children and teenagers.
That 17-year-old black student at Taylor High has been taught a lesson that
will stay with him the rest of his life. And that lesson is that skin color
can disqualify you from attending a social event.
The night of that
all-white prom was, indeed, a rainy night in Georgia.
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