Sunday, May 31, 2009

Segregated proms

A week ago, The New York Times published a slide show on one of the last bastions of open segregation in the US: prom night at a school in Georgia. I won't comment on the content there: see it for yourself.

But I will say that this example is yet another one that shows how privatization has been effectively used as a means of perpetuating segregation in the US since segregation became practically impossible by state means some 50 years ago. While Europe is full of public swimming pools, university libraries that are open to any member of the public (not only students), and all kinds of community sports facilities, in the US we find country clubs which restrict membership not based on race, but based on who you know, which is perfectly legal. If you want to join a country club, you generally have to be recommended by a few current members. If they happen to be privately racist and don't want to recommend a person of color, that is their prerogative under the law.

When outdoor public swimming pools open over here, everyone rushes out to them. I cannot imagine the kind of invective you can read here in the comments on this article announcing that public schools are opening in my hometown of New Orleans last summer. When segregated public facilities were ruled illegal some 50 years ago, southerners responded by railing against taxation and moving their hard-earned money to private facilities. You can still feel all of that two generations later in the insipid comments above. Imagine how poorly funded those swimming pools must be if they do not open until June. Swimming pools in Freiburg open in April, when temperatures are still freezing by the standards of New Orleans.

When I visited my alma mater, Tulane University, back in 2004, I was neither allowed access to the library (I wanted to check my bachelor's thesis), nor was I allowed to swim in the university pool. In Freiburg, I can check out a book from the university library anytime I want, though I am not sure about university sports facilities -- the facilities for the general public are closer and suffice, so I have never tried.

Anyway, hang in there, Georgia. With any luck, your grandchildren will have as much of a hard time imagining segregated proms as you have imagining segregated public schools.

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