The Public Shaming of “Un-Woke” Black Teenagers Makes Me Kind of Uncomfortable.

Racist Promposals

Prom season is just around the corner. In the age of social media, that means feel good stories, viral dresses, and viral “promposals” — the more extravagant and/or offensive, the better.

For those of us who are several years removed from high school, watching a “promposal” take place is basically like witnessing a train wreck, especially when these public events get racist.

Last year, a viral promprosal, which involved a white student having her black male intended getting “arrested,” as a prank, sparked some heated debates. This time around, a handful of teens are ending up Internet famous with racially-charged prom asks that invoke the dreaded name of Donald Trump, among other ridiculous gags. But the particular “will you go” message that really struck me, involved a black teenage girl, a non-black boy, KFC crowns, and the phrase “dark meat.”

The minute I spotted the image — first on Twitter, and then later in an online forum — I knew what was coming. There would be reasonable, sympathetic comments from pretty much only black women. But, there would also be a barrage of messages blaming everything from feminism, to black feminism, to “swirl” sites, to weaves, to skin bleaching, to low self-esteem, and poor parenting. Basically this image was the fault of all black women. It was also the fault of a poor misguided young black girl whose self-esteem issues came seemingly out of nowhere.

Folks have also been sharing the link to her (now private) Instagram account, where the black teenage girl in question has been throwing out some pretty ridiculous arguments to defend the picture. I have a feeling that years from now, probably in her early to mid-twenties, she’ll look back on this situation and cringe — like a full body cringe. Until that day comes, she’s got a lot of learning to do, and mocking her probably isn’t going to teach her anything.

The reason I have faith in this girl, is because I know so many black girls who used to be her. I’m nearly twice her age and recall my own teenage moments of racial cluelessness, despite being raised by pretty pro-black mother. I’ve known black women activists, both on and offline, who confess to subscribing to respectability politics, and other problematic views in their younger days. But, the difference between us and the KFC queen, is that we didn’t have our every misstep out there for all the world to see and comment on. We didn’t have to deal with a flurry of total strangers descending upon our social media pages to tell us why our way of thinking was wrong. Current day me would probably listen to a fellow black women trying to tell me what’s up, but 17-year-old me would probably double down on her foolishness.

[In “Confessions of a Former Coon,” vlogger Philogynoir admits that her “pre-woke” stage wasn’t pretty.]

That’s the thing about “wokeness.” It takes time. And, for some of us, our journey might take longer than expected. The current culture of social media and internet activism speeds things up so much that we assume everyone is working at the same pace. In many ways I envy contemporary teens, because they have instant access to information I didn’t come across until I was paying bills and living on my own. But, even though the truth is definitely out there, many young people will ignore the message, or miss it altogether. For every Amandla, there’s a seriously confused high school senior who thinks that a KFC crown is a perfect accessory for a bouquet of roses.

I hope that one day this girl catches a clue, in fact, I hope that she catches several clues — she’s going to need them. But no amount of name calling is going to get her to where she needs to be. If and when she finally does wake up, I imagine the humiliation of having her poor choice ridiculed the world ‘round will probably make her realizations much more deeply painful than they need to be.