Monday, April 29, 2013

Fixing Things

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I'm the first in line to complain about teenagers. In fact, for the past two years, I've regularly aired my grievances in this blog. But, I hope my readers (and, more importantly, my daughter) recognize that I do so with humor and affection. Well, usually. Well, sometimes. Well ...

Let's move on.

This post is not about monosyllabic responses, digital addiction, dress codes, or so-called music. What I want to talk about right now is my teenage daughter's generation and how they see right through their parents' and grandparents' bad behavior. How they overcome prejudice that has long been taken for granted. How willing they are to not just ask for change, but to make change happen.

And, how proud I am of them.

When I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies, interracial families were still fairly few and far between — even in my liberal, artsy Manhattan neighborhood. My classmates from "mixed marriages," dealt with everything from the outright rage of bigots to the awkward question of who should they hang out with. "Am I white? Am I black?" Even in New York, there were still remnants of categorization and language from our country's shameful history of human bondage, with terms like "mulatto" and veiled references to the "one-drop rule."

Even the adults I knew who prided themselves on their own "color blindness" still voiced concern about the rest of society and how it would treat these kids. "I'm not prejudiced myself, but ..." Blah blah blah. Simultaneously self-righteous and self-delusional.

What gets me really excited (and hopeful) about the future is how many of my daughter's friends truly do seem to be color blind. They see diversity where we only saw segregation: on TV, in music, in celebrity marriages. Maybe this blending hasn't trickled down yet to their very town, neighborhood or high school, but it's all around them and ingrained in their teen brains.

This past weekend, a bunch of teenagers in southern Georgia took an important step toward erasing a history of thinly veiled ("separate but equal") prejudice in their community. And, in doing so, they inspired adults from all over the country.

For the first time ever, Wilcox County High School had an integrated prom.

All right, when I heard about this a couple of weeks ago, I had to pinch myself. C'mon, I thought, it's 2013. Segregated proms? You have got to be kidding me! But, no. Since 1971, Wilcox High School has effectively gotten around United States laws that would prevent a public school from discriminating against one or another group of students. How? By not "officially" having a prom at all. Instead, the two dances take place as private events, organized and funded by parents. When interviewed, these well-meaning folks have defended the separate galas with that same kind of "ignore the 2,000 pound elephant in the room" blah blah blah.

"It's not that we have anything against the others. Our kids just prefer different music. Blah blah blah."

"It isn't about racism, just tradition. Blah blah blah."

And, here's an actual quote from a member of the City Council. “This whole issue has been blown out of proportion. Nobody had a problem with having two proms until it got all this publicity.”

In other words, if the media doesn't catch wind of it, it's okay? Shame on you. Really.

So, here's the part of the story that I love. Why did the media find out about this? Because the Wilcox High students (or at least a huge group thereof) decided that two proms was one too many. Here's another part I love, that the kids were so common sensical about the whole thing. They didn't get overly militant about it all. They wanted to change this touted tradition because it's dumb. Because it's their prom. Because that's not who they are.

Can you tell I love this story?

Their Facebook page (of course these millenials would leverage social media to the max) explains, “We live in rural south Georgia, where not too many things change. As a group of adamant high school seniors, we want to make a difference in our community. For the first time in the history of our county, we plan to have an integrated prom.”

They succeeded.

And, very soon (maybe even next year), there won't be segregated proms or an integrated prom. 

It'll just be ... prom.

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