Negros + Pre Prom Parties

Driving over to the Celebration in Black Writing festival in Philly on Saturday, I noticed that a party was happening on the sidewalk in front of a apartment building. The host point out, driving down Diamond street in South Philly, that the festivities that we observed were a pre-prom party.

The scene was eclectic. Balloons, a barb-q-pit, aunties, and uncles, mommas, daddies and babies outside, in chairs and on a little snatch of a stoop.

For these pre-prom parties, high school seniors rent limos, wear fancy outfits and the entire block comes out to send them off. They take pictures together and everything.

Its an expensive affair that can range from, I would imagine, a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars when clothes, hair, photos, food and limos are taken into consideration.

The host when on to say that she is a teacher and thinks its a waste of money, because many of the students haven’t invested nearly as much money in college.

Of course the sociologist + anthropologist in me was fascinated.

As she was talking two things came to mind.

The first is that these prom send off parties can be read as a proxy for weddings.

When else can and do working class Black families get together, get dressed up, take pictures, cook and a few members ride in a limo.

The only time that comes close is at funerals maybe, and those times are somber and devastating. Prom parties are more upbeat and joyful, I would imagine.

Given the fact that most working class teens only have minimum wage work to look forward to (the majority of this country works in the service industry and our two largest employers are Walmart and the Government) and the fact that some of their friends get sent to prison and murdered (Philly had 305 murders in 2009 and 333 in 2008), it makes sense to me, from their perspective, to make a big deal out of the prom.

Have you been to or seen a pre-prom party?


Too much ballin? or A reasonable celebration given the conditions?

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  1. says

    I haven’t been to a prom party. I hadn’t even heard of them until I read this post. I do understand the reason for them.

    For some, the prom/high school is as good as it gets.

  2. says

    I’ve seen the same argument used for celebrating 8th grade graduations in Chicago. They’re extravagant affairs, and many people say it’s because that will be the only graduation many kids will participate in.

    It’s sad, yes, and problematic, yes. But at the same time, who am I to tell a 13-year-old at an 8th grade graduation or a 17-year-old at a prom party (I stumbled on a few of those living in Baltimore) that they can’t have a day that’s completely theirs? That they can’t have a time to celebrate themselves?


  3. admin says

    who am I to tell a 13-year-old at an 8th grade graduation or a 17-year-old at a prom party (I stumbled on a few of those living in Baltimore) that they can?t have a day that?s completely theirs?
    Precisely. The inability of well meaning Black folks to understand the conditions that give rise to a $3K prom is problematic. Its like dang. This is all SOME people have. Shoot.

    And lets not talk about college educated folks living outside of they means. Its like come on…..

  4. Carl Clayton says

    Interesting. I wonder if there is something anagalous with lower class whites or Latinos… Care to expand on the college eduacated people living above thier means.

  5. says

    Hey Carl,

    I wonder if there is something analogous too. I knew Mehjicanas in Oakland who had Quinceanera’s when I lived there.

    Re-the College educated folks link. Well, when a college educated person (irrespective of class background) looks at a working class persons choices around money, and passes judgment around investing in education. It runs the risk of pathologizing working class negros.

    College educated folks, often buy more college/house/car than they can afford, in this. I have done this. So have some of my peers. I know better now. Spending money outside of ones means isn’t something that ONLY working class and low income folks do.

  6. says

    Never been to one, but I remember when I picked my date up the whole block came out to send her(us) off. I think the idea is cool though. It’s all within the graduation/celebration that goes on at the end of the year.

  7. arieswym says

    This just sounds like a prom sendoff. I had one, (I’m from Philly – North Philly) mainly with my family. Everyone came over, to see me in my dress and to just gather. By the time my sister had hers it was larger, with members of the family, neighbors, and people from her track team.

    Both of ours were pretty regular in cost and extravagance but I think that over-the-top prom celebrations is an American phenomena. I’m thinking of the magazines, the planning that begins months and years before, and the dreams of living up to the princess imagery.

    How was the Celebration of Black Writers at Church of the Advocate?

  8. Renina says


    Thank you for commenting. I never thought of the Americaness of the function. #umhmm.

    The Celebration of Writers jawn @ the church…I didn’t make it to…needed to nap as I was running on 2 nights of 4 hours of sleep. BUT the next days festivities were awesome. Philly is great, and I can’t wait to go back.