Prom Night in Mississippi by Christina Le

Segregated events for students of different color would seem like a faraway event of the past for many after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision that segregated schools were unconstitutional. However, The film Prom Night in Mississippi covers the journey of Charleston High School’s first integrated prom in 2008. It offers a look into the continuation of segregation in schools far past 1954. In the film, it is apparent that the root of the continued segregation lies in the stubborn idea that a parent in the film was taught, “If God thought we are all the same, he would make us all the same to start with.” This idea that black and white people are inherently different and should be separated is still encouraged upon the youth by many parents in Mississippi. The film is a reminder that racism and segregation are truly not an issue tucked away in the past, but a prevalent and prevailing idea that is supported by many people.

Although the film revolves around the students at Charleston High School, it also covers their home life and the factors that shape the people and area around them. It appears that generally, it was not the students themselves that were against integration, but the parents of many white students. An unnamed white student decides that she will not attend the integrated prom, and her mother decides to have a private white-only prom, which is supported by other white parents. Although most parents of the white students allowed them to go to the integrated prom, many also encouraged their child to attend the white prom, therefore supporting the idea that the segregated and exclusive prom was acceptable.  This is a strong example of enforced master narratives that can persist across generations. The idea that it is acceptable to have a private prom that excludes black students even when there is already a prom that already been paid for supports the master narrative that the black students are not worthy to share the same experiences as the white students.

One white student named Jessica was threatened at her house by her stepfather when she was seen with her black friend Calvin. She is one of the rare white students who outwardly goes against what her parents have taught her and states, “When my family wasn’t feeding me, Calvin was.” However, most students who disagree with their parents’ racist ideas often feel that they are unable to reveal their true thoughts to their parents, as one student named Billy Joe states, “There’s people around here that will disown their kids if they try to mix things up like that.” Interracial couples are strongly discouraged by many white parents. A student named Omega says that she had never thought about dating outside of her race because she had always been taught to “date white.” Heather’s father grounds her and takes away her phone to discourage her relationship with a black boy named Jeremy. A common argument among the white parents was that God does not want black and white people to be together, and therefore an interracial relationship is morally wrong. Growing up learning that God is all-loving, I was appalled to learn that parents were using this as an actual moral argument. Although many of these parents are clearly racist, they believe that they are doing what is right, which is alarming. The master narrative created that black people are worth less than white people is so deep-seated that some are blind to their own racism and turn it into something they believe to be just.

Charleston High School itself seemed to avoid taking action to prevent the ongoing racism in the school system. The administration refused to show Chasidy Buckley the proof that she was not the valedictorian and she claimed, “I was discriminated against being the valedictorian of my class because I’m black.” A white student accused a black student of threatening her with a gun, and although a teacher present affirmed that the accusation was a lie, the principal did not take action. This indifference allows for the continued discrimination against black students and the idea that “at this school, the whites always win” and discourages the black students from standing up for themselves.

The professors on the panel expressed that they had experiences in the South that reflected that of the black students from Charleston High School. There were small actions that worked to institutionalize racism, such as a black student unfairly losing his valedictorian position and instances when black students would find out about important opportunities after white students. Studying African American History today, it is important to address the fact that institutionalized racism is still very much present today. It is necessary to realize that although we have made progress, there is still much more work to be done and that people must continue to bring awareness to this issue and find new ways to truly integrate black and white people.


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