Prom is a major event in high school life. However according to Amy Strickland, the assistant principle at Booker T. Washington High school, young black men should not have white dates. On twitter, Strickland referred to a picture of seven white young women in formal dresses accompanied by seven black young men in tuxedos as a “nightmare” for the young women’s fathers. The caption: “Every white girl’s father’s worst nightmare or nah?”
The comment was made in early June but students have only recently seen it. Over a dozen of the African American students in the school have walked out with protest signs because officials did not listen to their complaints. One of the students, Michael Lemelle, said “This was the only actual way we could get someone’s attention, was to walk outside. It shouldn’t have come to this, but [the administrator has] avoided all meetings and public speakings and emails, just avoided them all.” It is clear the students felt they had to take action in the public sphere since their emails and attempts to discuss the matter were ignored. They wanted to make a stand. Just as the school official had the right to say what she wanted to say, the students have their right to exercise free speech as well. The students have stated that though they did not want the administrator fired, they wanted her to know how hurtful it was, and that it would not go unnoticed.
Everyone is protected by the first amendment’s freedom of speech, so we must be more aware of how your words affect other people. Words can be hurtful, especially in today’s world where young black men have a negative stigma already. As a school official, you should be helping to uplift these young men instead of tearing them down.
Strickland’s two daughters both went to the prom with African American dates and had this to say: “I have devoted years of my life to educating students in a predominantly African American school and was named Teacher of the Year for the predominantly African American Portsmouth school system last year. Partly because of my exemplary record of working well and achieving success in an urban school system, I was hired this fall as Assistant Principal at Booker T. Washington.” Working with black students and having a good track record does not mean that what you said is not problematic or could be construed inappropriately.
These are not simply words; this is racism at play. The stereotype that all black men are thugs or rapists have no merit, and there is nothing inherently wrong with dating or being friends with another race. When you make comments similar to Strickland’s, you are perpetuating the stereotype. Black does not necessarily equal bad or violent, and white does not necessarily equal good or innocent. When you see these comments or conversations being made, you should stop them. It may be uncomfortable – talking about race makes a lot of people uncomfortable – but it wouldn’t be uncomfortable if it wasn’t important. Challenge previous notions of thought. Speak up for what is right. Educate yourselves. African Americans have never been seen as equal in the United States. Our titles have shifted from property to three-fifths of a person to sharecropper to separate but equal to thug. We should be seen as people. The negativity must be unlearned not proliferated.
Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Do not do nothing.