The Black Prom Experience

Yesterday, while having a conversation with a coworker, who just happens to be white, we somehow found ourselves viewing a video of a black prom sendoff. If that sounds like a specific sub-genre, then good; it totally is. After 5 minutes of a synchronized dance routine to a Beyoncé song by two completely different kids, who weren’t even going to the prom mind you, the young star of the night finally unveiled herself and her dress to wild applause. Her date for the evening stood off to the side for the entire time and waited patiently. He wasn’t a part of this shit at all, as if he was merely an accessory but I’m getting a tad off track.

Let me set the scene just a bit more. This shit was outside of a house in what I would definitely label an urban metropolitanan area. Nothing wrong with that at all, but after the smoke machine set the faux stage (yup, niggas had a smoke machine), someone unfamiliar with such a sight definitely could deem this as something from a different planet altogether.

Off top, black proms and white proms are completely dissimilar. Not just on the surface, but to it’s very core. Not for nothing, some high schools in the south still have racially segregated proms on some 1950’s shit.

For many black and brown kids from cities like mine, proms are looked at as a right of passage of sorts. It signals the immediate end of the carefree world of the high school experience and ushers in the seriousness of adulthood. In many cases, it’s the culmination and the very end of 12 years of scholastic training. However fun it may or may not end up being, it becomes more of a memorable moment than the graduation itself. Sadly and realistically speaking, not all kids graduate from high school but more often than not, they can and do go to the prom.

It’s one of the few instances in ones life where you’ll be dressed to the nines for no reason, although sometimes slightly inappropriately. Real talk though, outside of court, church, or funerals how many of us black men have a reason to wear a suit? Let alone a flamboyant one. Something that’s custom made and matches what a completely different person is going to wear.

Just as a bit of insight, I’m in no way speaking from some pedestal of bourgeoisie. As a younger man, I too fell victim to this brand of cultural nigga shit. My custom suit was tailored by a friend of my father, who also made suits for NBA Legend Charles Barkley at the time. After all was said and done, he charged us the friends and family rate of $500 for the suit and a custom shirt. I then went out with an uncle and scored some shoes and  lucky for me, we found some that matched perfectly. They were made of alligator (at least that’s what tI was told) and ran a young nigga around $300. We’re not even going to get into the rental car and the post prom trip to Busch Gardens in Virginia. Just know, I spent many hours sweating in a burger king kitchen for shit that I only wore one fucking time. No really; just once.

For white kids, prom (no “the”) is just the last dance of high school. Boys might wear a suit they already own or rent a nice tuxedo. Girls tend to don a dress that’s reserved for special occasions or buy a moderately priced one. Sometimes the couples will match, and sometimes they won’t as it’s not really the biggest issue of the event. Then all the homies’ll pitch in to share a limo or some shit. Culturally, this is a critical point where one might start learning how to be economic and practical with money, even when it’s  not your own.

Life lessons son, keep the overhead low.

But those more economic and practical kids are from a different place wholly. They don’t exist in circumstances where living to see 18 years old is a huge deal. So a moment like this can easily be taken for granted from those on the other side of the proverbial tracks.

Now, in all honesty, I have to speak to some of my peoples need to…lets just say overdo customs and or social events in our communities. There is definitely a sect of us who adhere to what some may deem unnecessary extremes in regards to hair and fashion. Ugly, racial code terms like “ghetto” or “ratchet” get tossed around willy nilly, and as much as I loathe that shit, I can kind of understand why.

Niggas learn early how to shine.


If we’re being transparent though, all people inheirantly want to be noticed for something at some point in their lives. Whether good or bad, we as a country especially, feed into the idea of that one glorious moment in the spotlight when all eyes are on us.

Now imagine that you’re 17 years old, have been completely marginalized, ridiculously undereducated, and set up for probable failure. Those conditions can naturally create a thirst for positive attention and reinforcement that in many cases will only physically manifest itself this one time. It literally might be the best night of a kids life. Friends and family gather simply to celebrate and see them dressed up. Pictures are taken, music’s playing loudly; shit sometimes there’s even cake. Something of this magnitude may never happen again for a kid where I’m from. So although some of us have a penchant to be a tad loud on a few fronts when prom season rolls around, just know that months of preparations are made for that single night in the Spring.

The phenomena of “promposals” have taken the locker full of roses or handmade card and turned this gesture up to 100. Ultra elaborate requests are made, some using the entire student body to ask a girl out for that magical night. More often than not, these days anyway, it’s filmed and thrown up on personal social networks, adding even more celebration to a once humdrum, although nerve racking experience. Truthfully, this moment is likely to be the only one of its sort in a young black girls life. Barely half of all U.S adults are not married and it’s not looking like the numbers will change for the better anytime soon. In 2010, 48% of black men identified as never married compared to 45% of black woman in that same year and that number keeps climbing as years pass. This obviously means that being asked to the dance by way of “promposal” might be the only time a young lady can get that so-called fairy tale moment of a knight in shining armor on bended knee. I guess the days when your prom date ended up being the girl you married, had children and built a life with are gone. Moreover, although the stats have lowered recently, a typical girl is more likely to become a mother than a wife.

In some of the most inescapable and glaring ways , yes, somethings that black and white people do are inherently different. The seperation in the customs of black and white proms are a direct reflection of how contrasting our upbringings can be and usually are. However, it is also an indictment on how life exists afterwards for kids from polar opposite backgrounds.

Sometimes that one night represents a coming of age; other times it represents the beginning of the end.

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