Last week a story from Maple Valley Schools came to light. It was innocent enough. A promposal (prom proposal) from a young man to his sweetheart asking her if she’d go to prom with him. But the would-be innocent promposal was tainted by an out of left field, unexpected racial slur that had social media lit up, locals shocked, and news media tuned in.
The promposal sign, which could be seen in a photo posted to social media, said, “If I were black I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white I’m picking you for prom?”
Maple Valley’s superintendent, Michelle Falcon, sent out a statement after the incident, assuring the school district has a zero tolerance policy for such behavior, especially when it disrupts education. Undisclosed disciplinary action will reportedly be taken against the student per district standards. The incident is not the first racially motivated problem Falcon has dealt with in her time at Maple Valley, and Maple Valley is not the only school district in the County Journal readership that has had racism flaunted by students in the last couple of years.
The community is waking to an underlying, pervasive problem of closeted racism and racial insensitivity, and the problems aren’t being exposed because of old uncle Charlie who blurts out a racist joke at Thanksgiving. They’re coming to light in words and actions of local youth, in and outside of school.
The question comes to mind, how can this be? How can it be that the last couple of generations, namely generations X and millennial, that were brought up post Civil Rights era, are seeing a resurgence of overt racism and racist recruiting (into white nationalist/supremacist organizations)?
The first part of the puzzle is simple enough. The racism never went away. It lingered in dark parts of our communities, festered under the surface of unconfronted bigotry, and waited for an opportunity to resurface. The Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr. is not the distant past, friends. In the greater timeline of our nation’s history, the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s was yesterday. My parent’s generation still remembers those days well. While many of that era have aligned themselves with the truth that all men are truly equal, deserving of every part of the American dream, is it surprising that some of the prejudice and racism of that period survived from that time? Is our view of history so narrow to believe that hundreds of years of racism is so easily wiped away by only half a century’s separation from a time where institutional racism was still legal?
The next step of the puzzle is more difficult to unravel, but the lines can still be traced. I’d be foolish to compare the current sociopolitical climate to that of the 50s and 60s. A racially insensitive promposal is nothing compared to a black student being jeered and mocked for entering the doors of a newly desegregated school. However, it costs white people nothing to pay attention to the ways people of color still feel marginalized in modern times. Similarly, it costs our predominantly white communities nothing to own up to our insensitivities, unspoken prejudices, and the legacy of white privilege passed down from our forefathers. Yet these are simple steps to which I, as a white person raised in this community, consistently see resistance.
The student’s promposal was certainly unacceptable, without question. But at the end of the day, it’s not about the isolated incident. It’s about a culture and society that still has reconciling to do with its past. It’s about a community that’s left just enough room for some prejudices to be permissible. It’s about a legacy that’s been allowed to endure, and will continue to endure until all of us collectively say, “No more.”