As with every year, I’m enjoying the prom photos that I see as I scroll through my various social media feeds. There is something magical about the glimmer in the eyes of young men and women as they stand, dressed to the nines, doing their best grown folk impressions on prom night. I’ve been especially impressed to see how these prom goers are expressing themselves—culturally with their fly African-inspired gowns and tuxedos, and even socially (I’ve seen so many stories of young queer couples making statements about their love by choosing to go to prom openly and together, for example). Our youth are a lesson on how we’re doing and where we’re going as a community, and I’m proud of what I’m seeing.
But there is one prom trend being displayed in photos that is beyond appalling and that we need to address as a community immediately: photos of Black men posing with guns next to young Black girls (presumably from their family) and their Black male prom dates.
I’ve seen comments praising this obscene and dangerous behavior under the pretense they are setting an example for how serious folks are about ensuring Black girls are treated respectfully, and how the Black girls we love will not be taken advantage of on prom night by Black boys who are clearly only out for one thing. What these photos show, however, is that many of us have no idea how to advocate for Black girls and their safety, we are looking in all the wrong places for those responsible for mistreating them, and far too many people think pulling out guns on Black boys is a game or a vehicle to bring us likes and clicks on social media.
The Black boys who care enough about our daughters to formally ask them to prom, who prepare financially to dress for the occasion, and who have enough respect to show up at our doors to courteously escort our babies away may become the men who break their hearts, but are most likely not the ones who will sexually assault them or coerce them into doing things they don’t want to (sexually or otherwise). The last thing any Black men need to be doing is posing yet another threat of violence towards Black boys, especially considering the alarming rate at which young Black men are killed by police, White vigilantes, and other Black men.
Black boys are not habitual suspects in cases or gun range targets; they deserve just as much love and respect as Black girls do.
Also, let’s remember that these photos of Black men pulling guns on Black boys before prom have the potential to be seen outside of our communities, and show others that they certainly shouldn’t trust Black boys if they are not to be trusted by their very own. These photos are unintentionally damaging propaganda, and are rooted in a historical narrative that says all Black boys and men are savages and on the prowl to harm those we treasure most. More so, what the gun-toting dads and uncles in these photos don’t realize is that what they are communicating about their daughter’s prom dates, they are also communicating about themselves—that Black men are dangerous and untrustworthy.
If we want our daughters (and hopefully none of us are working to protect our daughters only, but all Black girls and women) to be safe in their social circle and communities, we should spend our time and energy teaching and leading young Black men on how to give Black girls the respect and decency they deserve—not as our prized possessions, but as human beings. It is foolish to threaten young Black men with guns on prom night, but it is more than okay to have conversations with the young Black men our daughters are dating about who our daughters are as people and how we expect them to be treated. Embracing young Black men positively, and getting to know who they are as individuals, will tell us (often immediately) of their character and how they will treat the girls in our lives. And if we are going to go as far as to threaten the young men our daughters date with arms, we need to be willing to mentor the young men in our families on how to treat the women they intend to date, and women period. After all, we end the abuses the women we love experience by addressing the men in their lives—teaching them to respect women’s autonomy, teaching them about consent.
Speaking of consent and autonomy, protecting Black girls doesn’t happen with guns, but with communication. We should be having conversations with them about autonomy over their bodies, what their bodies are worth, and how to make good choices about who to share their bodies with long before prom night, otherwise we better buy more guns and more ammo because Black girls’ bodies are going to be threatened in some way every time they leave their homes. Moreover, if studies are correct, many of our daughters have already had sex before heading to prom anyway, so we have to recognize and deal with this fact. Sex is natural, guns won’t stop it, and teaching girls about consent and how to have safe sex, might save their minds, heart and bodies.
The same way that sex for teens is natural, the adults in their lives trying to block and stop that sex is also natural. Prom night, for many, is the first time we really get to witness how our baby girls are blossoming into grown women. It’s scary, yes. But falling back on patriarchal behaviors, that are also rooted in racist tropes, won’t shield Black girls from violence either. We owe Black boys, our daughters, and ourselves much, much better, because as Audre Lorde taught us, using the master’s tools will never dismantle his house.