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Posts Tagged ‘America’

Black and White Proms?


curtis thumbnailMary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

Was the play list at the segregated “white prom” for Wilcox County High School in Georgia scrubbed of any Beyonce or Rihanna? Was Drake dropped? And what about Justin Timberlake? The superstar credits black artists as role models for his music and moves. Since he’s white, I suppose cuts from his hit “The 20/20 Experience” could pass, as long as they didn’t feature a guest vocal by Jay Z.

 Students from Wilcox County High School who fought to have an integrated prom. (Screengrab from a video by WSAV)

Actually, if I could have scored a ticket to that private, invitation-only event, I’m sure the aural experience would differ little from that at the school’s first “integrated” prom last weekend, organized by a diverse circle of friends. The four young ladies – two black and two white — were frustrated by the color line drawn years ago and maintained for the sake of tradition, according to those who continued it year after year and defend it even now. Those defenders say separate proms for blacks and whites are not about race at all, but different tastes in music and dancing.

Wayne McGuinty, a furniture store owner and City Council member, who is white, told theNew York Times he had donated to fund-raising events for separate proms in the past. He said they don’t reflect racism, just different traditions and tastes, and he used as an example his own 1970s high school years, when separate proms featured rock or country music. “This whole issue has been blown out of proportion,” he said. “Nobody had a problem with having two proms until it got all this publicity.”

But that’s not true. The reason it got publicity was that people did have a problem with the situation, young people who socialized together and didn’t see any reason to split up on this important evening in their high school lives.

If parties were based on musical tastes alone, as McGuinty’s rather shaky excuse maintains, race wouldn’t enter into it, unless he’s saying a black person is not allowed to like a little Blake Shelton now and then and a white kid must abhor Usher. Considering viewers regularly watch the two men spar on NBC’s “The Voice,” along with Shakira and Adam Levine, I’d say McGuinty and other “white prom” supporters are living in a past that never really existed – one where races and culture remain pure and separate. It’s hard to believe McGuinty never attempted his own version of the electric slide at a wedding reception or boogied down to a disco medley.

Pop culture in America has always broken rules and crossed lines authorities created to keep races apart. Jazz, a uniquely American art form, could not have been created without a fusion of cultures. There has been pushback, too, with denunciations from 1950s adults who saw racial subversion and contamination in Elvis’s hips and Little Richard’s shouts, and their grown-up children who just don’t “get” hip-hop.

It’s “those crazy kids” in Wilcox County who led the way. Though some dissenters ripped down posters advertising their all-are-welcome event, the publicity about their efforts, which included a barbecue to raise money, drew attention, financial support and volunteer disc jockeys from Atlanta and Texas. They no doubt spun a variety of tunes with a beat that was easy to dance to.

Unsaid, of course, in the convoluted reasons justifying two proms in 2013 is the notion that kept school social events separate long after Southern classrooms integrated. Some of the denunciations in the 1950s, as well as before and after, were about blacks and whites not only dancing to the music but also dancing together, and what that could lead to.

Well, with a president of the United States– with one black parent and one white parent–now in his second term in the White House, that’s an issue that’s settled, as well.


curtis thumbnailMary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

What would you have done?

A museum dedicated to George W. Bush lets visitors put themselves in George Bush’s shoes as they consider what actions they might have taken at some of the most pivotal turns in Bush’s presidency. We’ve always said that history would be kinder to Bush than the electorate was because time would reveal what he knew and we didn’t. 


Published: April 20, 2013
UNIVERSITY PARK, Tex. — More than four years after leaving office, former President George W. Bush has a question for America: So what would you have done?
In a new brick-and-limestone museum, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?

The hypothetical exercise, which includes touch screens that let users watch videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Mr. Bush did, revisits the most consequential moments of his administration. In the process, the country is being asked to re-evaluate the two-term president who presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the nation’s history.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be officially dedicated on Thursday on the campus of Southern Methodist University in a ceremony that will bring together President Obama and the four living ex-presidents. Leaving aside for a day the partisan rancor that marked Mr. Bush’s tenure, they will help celebrate his eight years as president and six as governor of Texas.

The $250 million complex houses the 13th official presidential library, and the third in Texas, but it is the first of the iPad era. The exhibits are filled with modern gadgetry and 25 different films and interactive videos. Many of the artifacts of the period are on display — a butterfly ballot from Palm Beach County, Fla., a replica of Mr. Bush’s Oval Office, the bullhorn he used at ground zero and a gnarled steel beam from the World Trade Center demolished on Sept. 11, 2001.

The museum’s 14,000 square feet of exhibits present the presidency Mr. Bush intended (tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, faith-based social services) juxtaposed against the presidency he ended up having (terrorism, war and financial crisis). Large screens recall the day the towers fell in New York and the invasion of Iraq. A glass-topped Defending Freedom Table allows visitors to pull up briefing materials, videos and maps as if on a giant tablet.

No president produces a museum known for self-flagellation, and Mr. Bush’s is no exception. It does not ignore controversies like the weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq, but it does not dwell on them either. In the Iraq display it says flatly, “No stockpiles of W.M.D. were found.” But then it adds, “Post-invasion inspections confirmed that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to resume production of W.M.D.”

A six-minute introductory video narrated by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledges disputes over Iraq and interrogation techniques while defending them as efforts to protect the country. “If you were in a position of authority on Sept. 11,” she says, “every day after was Sept. 12.”

The museum touches on other crises and setbacks as well, including exhibits on Hurricane Katrina and the president’s failed Social Security initiative. But it also features often-overlooked achievements, like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has treated millions of people with AIDS in Africa, and the creation of the world’s largest marine preserve.

“The museum itself is the Bushes’ personal statement about what they think was important,” said Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, who oversaw the construction. But Brendan Miniter, who managed development of the museum, said that Mr. Bush wanted the exhibits to avoid editorializing and, for example, insisted that critical letters from troops be included. “We try to let it speak for itself,” Mr. Miniter said.

Mark K. Updegrove, director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, said the tone should come as no surprise. “It’s unfair for us to assume that an exhibit depicting a president’s administration will be objective when the president is alive,” said Mr. Updegrove, who is working on a book on the father-and-son Bush presidents. “But there’s still great value in getting a president’s perspective on his administration.”

An intriguing aspect of the museum is who is featured and who is not. There is a statue of Mr. Bush with his father, a section devoted to Laura Bush’s travels, a video by his daughters and even statues of the family dogs and cat. In addition to Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush’s two chiefs of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. and Joshua B. Bolten, also narrate videos. But former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Karl Rove, the president’s political strategist, generally make only cameo appearances in news footage.