“Prom Night in Mississippi” is a documentary about the first integrated prom at a small town Southern high school. The filmmaker Paul Saltzman showed it here in Santa Fe to a packed house and led a discussion afterward. Because how people change their minds was on my mind, I wanted to add it to our discussion.
In Charleston, Mississippi in 2008, a number of seniors moved to integrate the two proms, one Black and one White, that had been the rule for generations. Parents and many school staff were opposed, holding onto old, fear-based racist beliefs — beliefs that they hoped they had passed on to their children. You will see in the film that many students “changed their minds” and abandoned their parents teachings and the region’s history. Their determination to create a better, more just and loving society, starting with their high school, is so inspiring. I hope you will find a way to see the film. Here is the link.
When I am listening to talk radio sometimes I wonder what it would take to get through to someone, to actually change a mind, or at least open it. What could I say or do, to him or her? How do we change our deeply held beliefs? What is it that makes the difference, so that the old, misguided way doesn’t suit us anymore? This question is especially intriguing for me as a mediator, working with those who are deeply committed to the positions they have staked out.
And so I think about myself. Have I ever changed my mind about a deeply held belief, shed a prejudice for good? The answer is yes.
Many years ago I was on a flight from DC to Albuquerque. The flight was completely full. Seating is first come first served on Southwest and by the time I started down the aisle, there wasn’t a lot left. I wanted to be as far forward as possible. I am not a happy flier, and the bumps are less violent in the front than in the back so I grabbed the first aisle seat available. (more…)