Segregated Hearts and Minds

integrated prom

(ABC News)

Wilcox County High School in Georgia has two Proms and two Homecoming Celebrations each year.  There is one Prom and one Homecoming for students who are white, and one Prom and one Homecoming for students who are black.

If you are wondering how this is still happening in the year 2013, it helps to understand that the school doesn’t pay for these extracurricular activities.  The events are planned, promoted, and hosted by the parent-led “student groups” of teens who attend the school.

“The district hasn’t paid for a prom in 30 years, leaving the planning up to student groups that are free to organize them as they wish, Wilcox County Schools Superintendent Steve Smith told ABC News.”

In the past, black families sponsored the “Black Prom”, and white families sponsored the “White Prom”.  The kids have then historically done what they were “supposed to do”.

This year some kids are saying “enough”.

Tired of living out a historic view of “voluntarily segregated” race relations informed largely by “Jim Crow era” policies, four young ladies have begun the fundraising process to host a racially integrated prom.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised that the school district is strongly supportive of the integrated prom.  However, the school can do nothing but provide space and allow for advertising since they don’t have the money to fund it.

You also wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there are people who are opposed to the new Prom.  You might be surprised to find out that some of those people are students though.

“‘I actually put up posters for the integrated prom and we’ve had people ripping them down at the school,’ one of the young ladies told WGXA.”

The school in Wilcox County isn’t the only one in the region to host voluntarily segregated dances. A number of other schools located in small rural counties do the same.  There’s a similar logic employed by each district: We don’t sponsor Proms, student groups do, they are the ones who decided to hold separate events.

What’s difficult about this reasoning is that it can’t obscure the social inscrutability that caused it.

People don’t just change because the government tells them to.

In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregated schooling.  The integration intended to follow that decision was resisted by many local populations for years.  At some point, deciding to remove dances from the list of “school activities” meant that the schools did not have to enforce laws requiring them to be integrated.

While integrating football teams allowed a socially acceptable exploitation, integrating dances created an environment that infuriated the cultural majority.

To avoid this, many counties created a loophole to avoid doing something that they could not, or preferred not, to do.  By creating events where Federal Law “did not apply”, they encouraged or allowed people to segment their hearts and minds into places where the law did not exist.

Jesus consistently talks about this human tendency in the New Testament.  He spends a tremendous amount of time confronting people whose religious behavior is exemplary… until it no one is paying attention.  He was constantly indicting the “private, independent moments” when they would return to fulfilling the true desires of their hearts.

Jesus’ hope for us wasn’t that we would have the correct behaviors for public performances, instead he called us to submit our hearts to the desires of God through obedience.  His teaching was this:

When our hearts change,

Our desires change,

When our desires change,

Godly behavior naturally follows from us.

For this change to happen, a person has to want to change.  We have to desire to please someone other than ourselves or the collective “cultural self” that demands our performance.

To accomplish this change God offers us his power in the person of his Holy Spirit.  In submission to God we find that his external power has come to reside inside us, and when we allow it to change and move us at the level of our inmost desire we become the person who lives righteously regardless of cultural expectation or state legislation.

In essence, we don’t do what is right because God, or the government, tells us to, we do what is right because we love to please the God who is transforming our heart.

While living in a rural part of our country doesn’t automatically mean that you will subscribe to antiquated ideologies, it does mean that you will likely come face to face with them and be forced to make a choice about how you respond to them.

I’ve learned that my best, and most Christ-like, responses flow from my heart and mind when I allow God unlimited access to every area of my life.

Four young women want to close a loophole created to keep justice from taking root and spreading throughout their region.

I don’t know how any of the individual involved feel about the person of Jesus, but I do know that their quest to end physical segregation is also an assault on the idea that we can live in the denial that comes from declaring portions of our lives “off-limits” to the desires of God.

They have the will, the permission, and the numbers to do it.

All they need now is some money.

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