Friday was a sad day for North Grenville. Early in the day, a photo was circulated online showcasing a poster that a female student at St. Michael Catholic High School made to ask her boyfriend to prom. Called a “promposal”, this trend, made popular by social media, has been taking high schools by storm over the past several years, as boys and girls try and find unique ways to ask a potential date to the traditional end of high school celebration.
The typical promposal often involves a poster with a cheesy pun, but some teens across Canada have gone as far as posing the question with large letters written in the snow, on a Tim Hortons doughnut bag, and even written on the side of a cow. While you might call some of these grand gestures a bit outrageous and silly, they are generally harmless. Just a little bit of fun for these soon-to-be-graduates at the end of their high school career.
Unfortunately, the poster circulated on social media turned what is supposed to be a light, fun and romantic gesture into a racist nightmare. To ask her boyfriend to prom the student wrote: “If I was black I’d be picking cotton but I’m white so I am picking you for prom.”
This, written on a black bristol board surrounded by white cotton balls. What made it even worse was that the students decided to post a photo of them holding the sign on social media, grinning from ear to ear.
The original post spread like wildfire over social media, garnering almost 100 comments throughout the day. The general consensus was outrage that a local student could even think that this was an appropriate joke to make, others implored the public to leave them alone because they were “just kids.” When CTV News picked up the story, the students submitted a comment to them saying that they were sorry for taking a picture with the inappropriate sign, and that they recognized the act was wrong. “We apologize to anyone that it has offended and feel deeply and truly sorry for our actions,” they wrote. “We hope to be able to move on from this in our lives.”
St. Mike’s also issued a statement stating that they do not support, tolerate, or condone any act of racism, and that they are responding to the incident. “The school board has policies, procedures and programs in place which layout a definitive course of action in such situations.”
Regardless of their apology, the fact that this act of racism occurred in this community in 2020 is shocking. Especially at the hands of our youth.
While, compared to many, I haven’t been living and working in Kemptville for very long, I have heard that it has become a much more tolerant community than it was in the past. A great example of this is last year’s Pride parade, a first in North Grenville, which drew about 1,000 people into the downtown core to celebrate love in all forms. If that’s not the marker of a progressive and welcoming community, I don’t know what is.
Until now, I haven’t witnessed such a blatant display of racism in this community since I moved here. Granted I am a young Caucasian woman, and I understand the privilege that comes with that. I have never experienced discrimination when I walked into a room, no matter where I was.
That being said, I have been working as a reporter in this community since 2015, and have written stories about many people from other countries being welcomed to the municipality. The work of Refugees in North Grenville comes to mind, a group which brought two Syrian families to the area and helped them make the municipality their home. Another recently formed sponsorship group, called Open Arms, welcomed an Iranian man late last year and, when I interviewed him, he said he felt nothing but welcome in North Grenville.
There will always be people in a community who are scared or intolerant of people they think are different than them. But it was my impression that these people were few and far between. With this blatant act of racism, it makes me think that we have a bigger problem in this community than I realized.
Because, let’s be clear, the fact that the student who made the sign didn’t think her statement was an issue, is a big problem. Someone that young doesn’t get those morals and ideas out of nowhere. It is not unlikely that her parents knew what she was doing, but didn’t care enough to tell her how inappropriate and discriminatory it was. It may have been an act of ignorance, but the fact remains that it was a racist statement that should not have a place in our schools or society in general.
It is too bad, but also necessary, that this has been spread so widely online. It is unfortunate that our community is getting negative publicity because of the senseless act of two teenagers. At the same time, I am glad that it is getting this media attention, because it is holding them accountable for their actions. This type of racism should not be tolerated in this community. North Grenville may be much more tolerant than it used to be, but we obviously still have a long way to go when it comes to creating a community that is safe for anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. Let’s take this as a serious learning experience to do better.