I really thought we in Knoxville were making progress on this racism thing. But Sunday was a wake-up call about how far we still have to go. I have to admit I am disappointed and a little depressed.
It started with the Sunday News Sentinel.
There was a prominent article about two local debutante balls – one produced by the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American women’s organization in the country, and the Dogwood Ball produced by the East Tennessee Presentation Society. Held on the same night in March, one featured all African-American young women and the other featured all white women.
There was one big difference. Rosalyn Tillman, presentation chair of this year’s AKA Ball (and also the dean of Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue campus, by the way), told the reporter that being African American is not a requirement for a young woman to be considered to be one of the AKA debs.
But, regarding the Dogwood debs, was this paragraph quoting Anne Trent, chairman of the board of the East Tennessee Presentation Society: “While there is no application process — the Dogwood Ball is by invitation only — there are at least three criteria young women must meet to be considered: they must be sophomores in college and unmarried. They also must be white. Trent says she does not see a problem with the event being segregated.”
That was the position at Cherokee Country Club when the University of Tennessee’s first African-American basketball coach, Wade Houston, was informed by the athletics director that the customary membership that came with his position was “not an option” in his case. And that’s what all the civic clubs in Knoxville said — 30 years ago — when I did a story about their membership policies for the now-defunct Knoxville Journal.
Folks, it’s 2015. Even stuffy old Cherokee Country Club has changed its policy. And the civic clubs opened up shortly after the story ran. This debutante thing is embarrassing. Not only is it wrong and shortchanges the debs themselves by not giving them the opportunity to get to know a diverse group of women, but it looks awful to anyone from outside our community who may be considering moving here or even bringing a business here.
If the morning newspaper article were not bad enough yesterday, things hit a lot closer to home later in the day. Alan and I had purchased four seats at a charity fundraiser in a lovely West Knoxville home featuring a couple of hours of hors d’oeuvres, wine and live music from a racially diverse band. We invited our friends Phyllis and Jim Nichols to go with us. Phyllis is the president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League and Jim is a successful Realtor in West Knoxville. They are African American.
No sooner had the four of us gotten our wine and settled into a couch and chairs around the coffee table than an older woman approached us and introduced herself. We did the same, making amiable chit-chat. Then, unbelievably, she asked Jim what he played. Jim was a little puzzled and didn’t immediately answer. So she made a motion imitating a trombone player and said, “You know, what instrument do you play?” Only then did it become apparent to us that she had assumed that Jim was one of the musicians hired for the evening rather than an invited guest. I jumped in and explained that Jim was our guest and, after a little bit of awkward small talk, she moved on. Jim chuckled and shrugged it off, but I was stunned. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a musician, of course, but why would anyone assume that any African-American man in the room must surely be one? I mean, nobody assumed Alan was there as a performer rather than a guest.
To make matters worse, as everyone was leaving, another woman asked Jim, “Are you one of the musicians?” And she’d been watching the musicians perform for an hour! I guess it’s the “all black people look alike” phenomenon.
Before heading home, we asked the Nichols to join us for a drink at a restaurant because I wanted to see how Jim really felt about what happened.
He seemed disheartened rather than upset. “It’s just normal,” he said. “I’ve been in places where people ask me to bring them a cocktail, assuming I’m a waiter.” Again, there’s nothing wrong with being a server, but for folks to automatically assume it is another thing. While Jim was standing outside a local country club after an event recently, someone handed him their valet ticket, thinking he was there to go get their car.
“It is racism,” Jim allowed. “People just assume. People who say that racism is in the past and that color doesn’t matter — they are white people. They are oblivious to it. The people who made those comments tonight — and the society we live in — don’t even know that what they are saying is offensive.”
Looking back on the two hours we were there, I realized that the only two comments anyone made to Jim the entire evening were based on the assumption that he was part of the entertainment. No one even asked him what he did for a living. They just assumed.
Sunday was an unwelcome reality check.
Sad. And infuriating. We have come so far and still have so far to go. Laws have changed, but hearts and minds must follow. The thickheaded need to think.
Yes, Maria, so true.
I wish it was not this way, but unfortunately we are all guilty of making assumptions about people based upon appearances, where they come from, or how they dress, etc.. Don’t you assume Asians are good at math and smarter than the rest of us? People from the north have a smart mouth, people from the south are ignorant. Black people have more rhythm and are better athletes. Seems Jim handled this with a positive approach.
Cynthia: Thank you for bringing attention to the continued racial bias that exists in Knoxville. As the proud grandmother of a beautiful bi-racial grandchild, I have also witnessed hurtful actions. When will it end? 🙁
To be fair to the attendees at the awesome event. Those are only a few, older Knoxvillians…..and the musicians were incredible.
I am sorry to say I missed the comment stating the Debutantes must be white. That is sad.
There is always room for improvement in our day to day relations with each other.
The HOLA festival brought it home to me…..Knoxville is for us all!
Wow! I’m sorry for Jim and Phyllis’ experience that evening. Changes in attitudes and world views on these and other subjects of discrimination often take generations. It is just unacceptable today and we all should hold others accountable when we hear such remarks…doing so in an non-confrontational way that illuminates the other party(ies) to unacceptable prejudice and/or disrespect. Discrimination and prejudice are “learned” behaviors….they are not present at birth.
Tim: Yes, Jim handled it much better than I would have, I’m afraid. It is a huge mistake to fall back on stereotypes, as Jim’s experiences attest. I have to think that inviting young women of diverse backgrounds to be Dogwood debs would really help break through some of those mistaken assumptions.
Cynthia, you demonstrate great courage and integrity in writing this blog as some of your readers will question why you did it. What’s the big deal? If you’re one of those, you may be part of the problem.
Pam: You really do have a beautiful grandchild. I have a theory. I think mixed race people are the most attractive. (Can you say Halle Berry?) And I think that is God’s way of rewarding us for getting along.
Gina: You are absolutely correct. The hostess and most everyone at the event were very welcoming. It’s not their fault at all. I’m not trying to be critical of the event — it was great. Just pointing out that we still have a long way to go in our town.
I think Jim handled it with a resigned approach to the ignorance he has to face. And, for the record, I don’t assume any of those things about other human beings.
Thanks for your comment, Tim. You are so right.
You’ve crystallized my thoughts exactly, Cynthia. Barry and I had a similar discussion after reading the Sentinel story yesterday. I’ve also been following a comment string among family members of some 2015 Dogwood debs who were unaware of that “criteria” until they read the article.
Just a sad statement on our society…maybe this discussion will spur some change.
Phyllis: You and Jim show courage every day. I am so sorry you have to deal with this.
Laura: I think the fact that the head of the Dogwood debs event flat out said that really cheapens the experience of the young women who have been through the process. It takes a lot of the prestige out of the experience, if you ask me.
Wow. Thanks for sharing, Cynthia.
I remember going out to eat with my brother and his African-American wife about 15 years ago. We waited an excruciatingly long time to be waited on and received bad service when someone finely relented and came to our table. I was embarrassed for our city. I will say that things seem to have improved considerably since then, but as your blog points out we still have far to go.
I commend Jim Nichols for showing class and grace. And I agree with your comment about mixed race people being the most attractive. You should see my great looking niece and nephew!
Preach it, Cynthia! I am stunned that the Dogwood debs quote made it to print — and even more so that someone actually said it. Thanks for doing a timely and much-needed post, but now I’m depressed too.
Cynthia, kudos to you and the Blue Streak for calling out the Dogwood Ball for the sort of institutional racism I naively thought was ancient history. Apparently not. Assuming that the News Sentinel story is accurate in its details, there is no excuse in 2015 for such idiotic blindness to the diversity that enriches us all. Institutional racism supports and validates the “softer” but no less insidious prejudice you and Jim Nichols observed in a social setting. We are all diminished when any civic enterprise enshrines and perpetuates discrimination, even (perhaps especially) when segregation on the basis of race is sanctioned by years of thoughtless precedent. I thought we were better than this as a community.
Having grown up in Southern California, I have always been accustomed to having exposure to different cultures from all over the world. As I grew into adulthood and moved around the country, I’ve found that no area of the country is immune from “learned ignorance”. I applaud Jim and Phyllis for handling this in a dignified manner and I am not surprised given who they are. The shame of it all is that they have to make this accommodation in this day and age. This is far more than a Knoxville issue, it is a national issue that impacts anyone who is considered one of the “others”. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of us all.
Say what you will, but when we’re born we do not see “color”. People are not born racist. Racism is taught by example, horrible example. Cynthia: I agree with your theory. We have two beautiful bi-racial babies in my family. A pure heart (and mind) doesn’t see a difference in black or white skin, nor does it care. This is very sad. Breaks my heart that people STILL think this way.
Ms. Trent went on to say that she thought it was “beautiful” that AKA had an event for “their girls.”
I threw the paper halfway across the room when I read that.
Thank you so much for shining a light on this blight on our city. I am so embarrassed for the Nichols family and humiliated that our city is home to something as disgusting as the Dogwood Ball. I truly believe we, as white people, have to shine the light on the behavior of “our” people in order to end this nonsense.
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) “I have gained understanding from all my teachers.” Why can’t we all understand that? I have something to learn from everyone, which is why complete strangers must find me weird when I just start talking to them. I am sorry for all of us. Bias is alive and well and will continue to be so if we don’t open our eyes and hearts.
The KNS article noted…”for their girls.” My jaw fell to the floor! I couldn’t believe it. I thought this had to be a vintage article on the Dogwood Ball but, sadly, it wasn’t. #whiteprivilegeisreal
Here’s a question though: Is it possible Anne Trent is misinformed? Is it possible that there is no requirement that the debs of the Dogwood Ball be white, but that in practice, it’s just never happened? It would be interesting to know if that organization actually has that requirement in writing in 2015. I know some girls who have had their debut through that organization who (I believe) would be ashamed to know that.
The debutante story is blatant racism so shocking that it requires no explanation. Unfortunately, Jim’s experience is not — only because it happens day in and day out. I don’t think white people, myself included, can imagine the extent to which African Americans must deal with what I’ll call passive racism (for lack of a better term) every time they go out in public. That people like Jim and Phyllis can handle it with such good grace should not let anyone off the hook. Yes, we probably all harbor stereotypical views, but we do not have to voice them. If we can’t or won’t see past them, the least we can do is keep them to ourselves. Thanks to the Nichols for allowing Cynthia to write about what happened to them over the weekend, and thanks to Cynthia for speaking out.
Thank you for putting this out there.
For those who want to know more about the East TN Presentation Society, Inc., the 501 (c)(7) that puts on the Dogwood Ball, here is the link to their latest IRS form 990.
I am completely shocked and grossed out by Mrs. Trent’s comment. My daughter participated in Dogwood this year and had we known that skin color was a qualifying factor she would have never participated. Thank you Cynthia for giving your readers some insight.
Hello Cynthia. As I read your account of your experience at the fundraiser, I was saddened, but not surprised. Many of us who are members of the white majority live in a cultural bubble. For some of us that bubble is relatively small and not particularly inclusive. Until and unless an individual makes the effort to spend time with and get to know people with diverse cultural and ethnic heritages, one’s views of the world can remain quite limited. I am impressed by Jim’s and Phyllis’ grace and patience.
The idea of a debutante ball (why in the 21st century do we still “present” young women?) is positively antideluvian. Add to that the breathtakingly racist statement of Ms. Trent and you have deleted scenes from a Tennessee Williams play. As for the Nicholls, they are the epitome of grace.
Thanks for posting this story. It needs to be told, read and heard. I saw the front page photographs, but didn’t read the story. I just had no interest. I am speechless at the quote.
Who is hosting the Dogwood Ball? I would like to know so that I may boycott all of their services and encourage others to do the same. The venue that plays host to such racism is complicit in its continuation.
What is astonishing is that Ms. Trent doesn’t see that there is anything wrong with their policy that Dogwood Debs have to be white. Fortunately her gaffe has brought this issue into the light and hopefully enough pressure will be brought to bear to change the policy. I don’t think it is the Deb’s fault, rather the adults who should know better.
When we start seeing human beings ONLY as human beings and when we stop assuming things about others based on how they look, we will then treat each other with respect. We are ALL part of ONE race — the human race. And while we’re at it, it would be wonderful if our collective race would treat other living things with respect as well. Thank you for this wonderfully written entry, Cynthia.
I’m in the same position as Mary Ellen; my daughter participated in the Dogwood Ball and I am now appalled and embarrassed that our family was a part of the event. I can guarantee you that most if not every single one of the other parents who had children participate are feeling the same way today, and the girls themselves are likely to be not just disgusted but angry that their names are now linked to an event that seems to have such disturbing and moral underpinnings.
That should read IMmoral underpinnings. Typo.
Thank you Cynthia!
Reading this made me choke up. First of all it was brave to expose this and secondly I felt some of the pain. I was glad to read that people who participated in the all white ball felt appalled. I hope the express their shock and then never have anything to do with that group again. They are all “our girls”. Why can’t some people just get over it!
Thanks for bringing this all-to-common reality to everyone’s attention.
Cynthia, Thank you so much for putting this out there. It needed to be said and needs to be acknowledged. When I read the paper yesterday I was beyond stunned. To hear about Mr. Nichols’ treatment is simply unfathomable.
I am saddened for this beautiful city that I love so much. Each an every one of us is diminished each day this behavior is allowed to continue.
My hope is that discussions like this will serve to help create a culture in our community where this is not tolerated. We are better than this. I know we are.
According to the article, Ann Trent has been chairperson of the East Tennessee Presentation Society for 25 years. So nope, I don’t see how she could be “misinformed.”
One of the reasons Community School of the Arts exists is to create an all-inclusive community in the heart of Knoxville. A couple of our students have been AKA debs; what they learn and gain in the process is impressive, and Rosalyn Tillman is a top-notch mentor to these girls. But what does it say to African-American children, particularly boys, when Jim Nichols in a tux is presumed to be a waiter or a valet or an entertainer? Hats off to Cynthia Moxley for this blog entry.
OK, Rachel Craig, misinformed was a bad choice of words. I guess I am just hopeful that the requirement is not actually in their by-laws. Clearly, it is their practice. I just wonder if that requirement is written down somewhere. Because if it is, this is even more disturbing.
Thank you for this article. I was disgusted by Ann Trent’s comments as well and am so grateful you are calling them out on this blatent racism.
Also, there is a psychological term for what someone in the comment called passive racism – it is “micro-aggression” – and two faculty members of the UT psychology department are doing excellent research on these experiences. They are great public speakers and teachers if you would consider bringing them in to your organizations to educate people about this issue. Their names are Jioni Lewis and Michael Olson.
Well said, Mox. Very powerful and enlightening (yet again). Thank you.
Thanks for sharing the story about the incident involving our friends, Phyllis and Jim Nichols. While it is both outrageous and offensive, it is really no great shock. Stereotypes die hard, particularly among those in the majority community who grew up in segregated times, when the only reason a black person would be at a social event WITH white people would be to sing, dance, or serve! Jim Nichols is a class act, as is his wife, and is to be commended for handling this unfortunate situation with his usual class and dignity. With respect to the Dogwood Ball, to have and to promote a racially segregated event this day and time is reprehensible, divisive, and a complete “throwback” to a time many of us would rather not relive. What it further says about this community, to me, is that some things will never change. It also advances the perception to people outside this community that we are a backwards thinking, “back-water” town that gives “lip-service ‘ to the notion of racial and cultural diversity, and still believes that people of color should “know and remain in their place.”
Cynthia, thanks for blogging about this shameful incident. Only when enough people condemn such behaviors, will they stop. Or at least decrease. Upon reading that article, I was at a loss for words.
Unfortunately, as much as I love Knoxville, it is a very “vanilla” town. Knoxvillian’s (in general) don’t deal very well with diversity.
Being Jewish in this area, I have personally had similar run ins with racism and prejudices on a fairly regular basis. It’s sad and often hurtful.
The level of ignorance about people different from them is astounding, sad and sometimes shocking.
We have a long way to go here in Knoxville. Thank goodness there are many wonderful people like yourself and patient people like Jim that can begin the education process and hopefully make a difference.
BRAVO! I hope your post goes down as one of the most significant opinion pieces of the millennium in Knoxville. This desperately needed to be said.
Your piece needs to “trickle up” to the unenlightened few whose “Old South” beliefs and actions are reprehensible and are holding Knoxville as a whole back.
I’m doing my part to share this post with my friends of all persuasions, including many who are stunned and hurting today over this sad reality. I’m with several above who, sadly, aren’t exactly surprised that these attitudes and actions still exist here. Racism is just beneath the surface or is still out in the open in some circles, as you witnessed, and needs to be eradicated for good! Let’s keep this critically important conversation going and make sure it reaches far and wide in the community.
Please note that there are no quotation marks in regards to the requirement that the girls must be white. I question if Anne Trent truly said this.
I’m a white woman married to an African American man. On some occasions we have encountered some very rude individuals in our town, especially the older ones. We’ve also noticed the more affluent they are the more they seem to object. People like this make me sad. My parents raised me to see that everyone is the same in the eyes of God, as they should be through all human eyes. There was one particular night that an older couple in the parking lot of the restaurant we had just eaten at were being especially rude, we decided to have a little fun. He was pushing me along in my chair and saying loudly drivin’ miss Daisy, driving miss Daisy! They looked mortified! They quickly got in their car and drove away! We laughed all the way home!
This is also a story of racial maturity.
First, Jim & Phyllis are first class. The grace with which they handled this speaks volumes.
But I also admire the class of Cynthia and Alan who didn’t just look the other way. They took a stand for their friends.
Humanity links us all. May we see the links that join us and see beyond the things that separate us. Because in truth there is no separation.
I am proud to know you.
I almost fell out of my chair when I read the comment in the NS yesterday, then this. It all makes me very sad. Shame on all of us. Thanks for calling attention to it.
A lifelong Southern woman – I find it odd that there are still debutantes at all… the entire concept seems out of step with reality. The entire events ( both the AKA & Dogwood) seem to only make the class system more obvious between young women who have money and connections vs. those who may be just as accomplished but not have the family background and suitable pedigree. Recognize the accomplishments and not the family crest.
This made me cry.
Cynthia thank you for bringing this discussion of such a hideous thing that continues to plague our community into the light. Hopefully the comments expressed here will cause all of us to rethink how we see others regardless of skin color, nationality or any other differences we perceive.
The black population in Knoxville is just under 9%. And if you factor in those blacks who have the economic means and social status to participate in debutant balls, I’d imagine that number is closer to 3%. My point? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some whites have limited to no interaction with blacks in Knoxville. And this is OK.
As for the lady who assumed that the black gentleman was a musician, we don’t know her background and it’s just as racist to assume she was racist.
Also, if a private organization chooses to limited its membership to people with red hair, it should have that right. It’s called freedom of association.
This is the kind of mess that makes our stomachs churn. Why is the Knox News Sentinel publishing pics of débutants of an event that is built on bigotry? Exposure is the key. The more we are honest about what’s going on in our city, the better we’ll be able to clean up the mess caused by racism. It’s a disease, an illness. It needs a cure. We are the cire when we demand better of ourselces.
I read this with great interest as I was born in Knoxville and still visit regularly. It was especially interesting since The Tampa Bay Times had an article this past weekend about the very same issue in St Petersburg – two separate debutant balls. Fortunately we did not have any comments about requirements of race but it was obvious to see that similar problems exist everywhere.
Thanks for bringing this up. And thanks for everything you do for our community.
Cynthia, I too was appalled by the Sunday article. I am not a fan of debutante balls and the exclusivity that is inherent in them, but the whole thing seemed as if it were written in 1960. I too have a bi-racial granddaughter who is the light of my life, and my heart hurts for how things have not changed all these years, despite our hopes. It is only through honest assessments and conversations between friends of different races that we will ever confront the stereotypes we don’t know we still have. Bravo.
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. I am overwhelmed by the response. It gives me hope.
To the gentleman who said a private organization should be able to limit its members to only those having red hair if it so chooses, I say this. I agree it is their right. But I think it is a bad decision. Just as it is a bad decision for the Dogwood Ball to limit its inductees to whites only.
Just my opinion.
Is the quote about “whites only” something you heard personally or is it documented somewhere? I am absolutely horrified.
That IRS form has Anne Trent’s home address. Wonder how long it will be before WBIR, WVLT, WATE are ringing her doorbell? The Dogwood Ball took in $38k, spent $15k so sounds like this would be a good time for them to make about a $23k donation to the Black Cultural Center.
Cyn: I read it in Sunday’s News Sentinel. If you click on the sentence when I referenced the remark, a link should take you to the entire News Sentinel article.
Anyone looking for antiquated social attitudes would do well to infiltrate the debutante scene. It dates back to a time when young ladies were presented to society, a not-so-subtle way of saying they were looking for husbands, or at least eligible for courting. The assumption apparently is that these young ladies have led sheltered lives up to that point: no dating, no hanging out with guys–just sticking close to home doing embroidery or tatting lace.
How many college sophomores fit that description these days?
It’s easy to see how people who cling to such Victorian traditions are hardly likely to have other attitudes based in reality, let alone the 21st century. My hope is that the AKA ladies and the other debutantes know each other at some level and understand that they may be the last generation to make their debuts. Even better, maybe they can laugh about the debutante deal and be mutually aghast at the racism.
I just hope by the time their own daughters are sophomores, they won’t be mistaking anyone for musicians, waiters or valets based solely on the color of their skin.
Don’t stand for it… whenever you see racism in action, be kind but speak up and say the Golden Rule applies to everyone.
Who funds the Dogwood Ball? If there is a nonprofit involved, their 501(c)3 status is seriously in jeopardy and rightfully should be revoked.
I cannot believe this is happening in 2015. I would never have imagined a segregated debutant ball in this day and age. Those in charge of the event should be ashamed. And I just wanna give that poor man a hug and apologize for those short sighted people that he runs into who assume that he must be a musician or some type of worker at a society event. That is crazy to me. SMH 🙁
I have so many thoughts on the above blog and comments, but I’ll simply share the following. My grandmother is from Japan and I was raised in a multiracial home. Being a quarter Japanese, most people can’t tell that I am mixed. However, often when I mention it, people inevitably say something about seeing it in my eyes…that are blue. I look “white.” So am I welcome at the Dogwood Ball?
Wow. This is unbelievable! Unfortunately, I think there will always be ignorant people out there, but hopefully your post will do some good! I hope it gets a lot of reads and shares.
This is nauseating. Thank you for doing something about it. It’s up to all of us to speak up, and to stop supporting “institutions” that still think it’s 1950.
This literally makes me sick to my stomach.
Mrs. Trent and I attend the same church and have done so for the past 10yrs. She is a very kind woman. I am a Black African-American. She has always been kind to my wife and children, who are black also.
I experienced blatant racism for the first time in my life as a freshman at UT in 1987 walking home with a white friend one evening. My friend was mortified as we were minding our own business and I just brushed it off. I remember being asked by a nlack college friend who lived across the hall from me if I was hung to pledge a sorority. I told her I wasn’t interested. If this event were to ever open its doors to people of color, I would certainly hope none would attend. Life is hard enough without dealing with fake people who don’t want you there to begin with.
“And if you factor in those blacks who have the economic means and social status to participate in debutant balls, I’d imagine that number is closer to 3%. And this is ok.”
Assuming these numbers are actually statistically correct and not pulled out of thin air or from somewhere else (ahem), it kinda isn’t “ok”. That’s actually indicative of the systemic problem that everyone seems to miss or talk around. It’s like like saying “equal opportunity” when it’s not.
It’s sad that he was treated this way but I know a great many people, including me, who would have nothing but respect for this man and any other man or woman regardless of color or any other factor. Quite honestly I’m not sure this is entirely about race–it’s more about money and how mighty people think they are if they have a lot of it. Apparently having a lot of it gives one license to look down upon others. I’m a white woman and I’m fairly confident that I would have been treated the same, based on 50 years of being treated exactly like that. I come from a poor farm family. I’s one a dem po farm girls from the holler. I stopped working myself to death to climb to better jobs some time ago…judgements are made on sight regardless of how hard you work to rise above and you’re doomed before you ever try. I’m guessing you would never have thought some poor white farm girl and this African American businessman would have so much in common. Oh and the debutante balls for any race of people….wow, I can’t believe those even still exist. That belongs in Disney animated films.
This morning, I first saw the snippet of the article on two friends FB pages. I thought it was cut and paste satire. It did not seem like anything that could be real. My first impression was disbelief. I found myself asking what does it even mean to say there is a requirement to be white? What is white?
It is hard to know which is worse, the fact that the debutante ball has “white” as a requirement or the fact that it was supposedly said without anything recognized as wrong about it. Also the fact that a newspaper would report this as just another Dogwood Arts function rather than a breaking story about discrimination. Actually, my second thought was that this must be some sensationalism to sell newspapers.
I think what is most shocking to me is that other than your article being shared 33 times, Cynthia, I am not seeing this as news or even a big issue being talked about. Knoxville is a wonderful town with many amazing things going for it, but to continue to get better, we need to take a hard look at our parochial mores.
Thank-you for writing about this Cynthia, and I am sorry for the unwitting comments made to your friends. I think that there are many that think this shouldn’t be used as a negative towards Knoxville based on some comments that I have seen. To them, I would say, this is an embarrassment to Knoxville that needs to be discussed in order to foster change.
I am a native Knoxvillian and I love it dearly, but this slayed me. We need to find a more inclusive way to celebrate our young women. White is just a paint color, it should not symbolize privilege.
Disturbing & disheartening on so many levels.
How to tell if you’re a racist:
If you think of a black person as a “black person” and not a person, you’re a racist.
If you think you’re not a racist, you just don’t think races should “mix”, you’re a racist.
If you are proud of the fact that you’ve had a black person in your home, you’re a racist.
If you’ve ever locked your car doors after seeing a black man on the street, you’re a racist.
If you’ve ever thought a black man “probably deserved” being arrested, shot, dragged through the street until his face fell off, or hung from a tree, you’re a racist.
If you wonder why a black man would want to hang around a bunch of white folk for any reason, you’re a racist.
If you think a black person wouldn’t want to associate with you anyway, you’re a racist.
If you’re a white couple, and think it’s “cool” to be friends with a black couple, you’re racist.
If you think it’s okay that black people don’t speak to you, smile and hold the door for you, or sit next to you at church, you’re a racist.
If you think it would be awful for one of your kids to bring a black child over to play, you’re a racist.
If one of your kids brought a black child home to play and you wondered what he or she would eat, you’re a racist.
If you’ve ever used the “n” word, you’re a racist. If you’ve ever used the “n” word in front of children, you’re worse than racist, you teach racism.
If you’ve ever had a chance to engage in conversation with a random black person, and didn’t because you knew you were racist, you’re worse than racist. You’re teaching yourself that it’s okay to be racist, and you’ve just missed a chance to change the world.
Thank you Cynthia for speaking out…this is astonishing and outrageous! Also for you and Alan to stand by Phyllis and Jim; it is hard to fathom that Jim should get those questions.
Oprah said it best. These things that upset us are DYING OUT. It is ageist to say but most likely the ignorant were boomers or those from the Greatest Generation. Soon, the silence will be a natural progression toward what all hope for: an equal and peaceful world. It will happen. Thank GOD.
Soooo.my white husband is invited to join the “100 Black men” in our city? Don’t even play… or can my white Representative join the Democratic Black Caucus? There are SO many Blacks Only organizations ! So yes, there IS still racism; and it goes BOTH WAYS !
Interestingly, it has always seemed a positive when a white wants to join a black organization. In 1964 my white friend was initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha. Everyone was so happy to have her. Are there really any totally black organizations?
After reading the snippet on FB, I, too, thought at first it must have been a vintage piece. I looked 3 times to get it straight in my head – the year of the story is 2015. I immediately went to google this KKK ball and found your full story. I’m absolutely flabbergasted. I’ve been raised in east TN and have had to defend it all my life to outsiders when they joked about our backward ways. Some of the commenters here stated they felt “embarrassment” over this backwoods ball. I think the person who should be embarrassed is Anne Trent. Not only to spew this vile requirement to the media but then to be so blatantly ignorant that she didn’t even consider what she was saying might possibly be out of touch with current reality. I truly believe she is living in a fantasy world inside her head in which she’s the bell of the ball in the Grand Ol South headed for a BBQ at Twelve Oaks. Anne honey, Bless Your Heart.
We have friends who are from different racial backgrounds. He is Canadian. She has Caribbean island heritage, growing up in Liberia, England and Canada. When I was helping them look at a house to buy, she was concerned the neighborhood (Fountain City area, near where we live) might not be welcoming. I knew some of the neighbors and assured them the neighbors would be welcoming. They have been. (If UT athletics has accomplished anything socially, it has helped break some of those barriers.) But now that they have a child who has darker skin than he has and lighter skin than she has, they are rudely stared at when either of them are out with their daughter without the other parent present, especially at the grocery store. We have other mixed heritage friends with similar backgrounds. Each of them get the same stares at the grocery store and at the mall. Fortunately, the members of our church come from a United Nations of backgrounds and have been warmly welcoming to both couples. I recently attended my nephew’s wedding at a predominately black church, where he is a member and a leader. He is white. His bride is Korean. (My brother’s wife is from Nicaragua. So this seems entirely normal to us.) We have long-time friends who are members of my nephew’s church. They dearly live him. He has told me that no one at his church has ever made him feel different than anyone else. I don’t think we will ever totally eliminate these issues because most people don’t make the effort to know anyone who is different from them. I think the principle is that people you know don’t have race. But everyone you don’t know does. It’s making the effort to know other people that makes the difference. I was also startled by the News Sentinel’s stories. Thanks for your piece Cynthia.
Cynthia, thank you for writing this blog. As a parent, I am disturbed that people would not only allow but be honored that their children were invited to participate in an activity that is not open to other young ladies of character simply because of the color of their skin. I appreciate you bringing light to the issue; it is a great reminder to keep talking about this with our children, our friends, our colleagues, and to watch for unconscious bias within ourselves.
I am stunned that “white only” would be a criteria for this archaic event that in reality no longer holds any significance in todays society. Thank you Cynthia for bringing this out in the open. We all need to hit the refresh button on our perception of others. After all, how can we change our experience with others if we don’t change the way we perceive them.
Yes it’s sad and pitiful! But what’s even more pitiful is that whites over look/ignore statements/comments from their white friends with no concept of the hurt and pain they cause! They say nothing about the racial jokes in private and will even laugh with them about them. Racism is alive and will! There is nothing we can do tho change peoples hearts! But if more people would point out the racists remarks when they are made, maybe just maybe people would look at what and how the talk to other races and examine themselves a little closer. Most know when they are being hateful and should not get a pass on it! Bring it up when it happens! Ms. Moxley should have called them on it right then! I’m just saying turn it around!!
We have to be bold in our responses to racism, no matter how veiled it is. I’m so glad the author of the KNS article pointed the spotlight on the debutante ball. We all need to push forward to dig out inequality and discrimination where it hides.
I am so sorry that this happened at our event or at all. Funny, the first thing I thought when he walked into the party was what a handsome man he was! I assumed by his demeanor and dress that he was in politics – very distinguished! As a hostess, I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to anyone. I will say that having lived in NYC and Philly that the South is not the only place that makes assumptions about being Black, Italian, Hispanic or being a woman. It is how we are raised and what surrounds us. Hopefully society can rise above this.
The encouraging part is that people that think like this gal does eventually pass away to be forgotten and are replaced with someone of the Human race.
>>Anne Trent is the president of the East Tennessee Presentation Society who sponsors the ball. Trent is the one who gave the paper the interview and says she was just as shocked as anyone when she read the article.
“I wouldn’t want people to think I felt that way,” says Trent.
It may be her name next to the words, but Trent says they’re not hers.
“I did not say that because that is not in our bylaws. There is nothing in our bylaws to say that,” says Trent. “They are chosen for just being outstanding girls in their school, their church, athletics.”<<
Ellie: Yes, I saw on Channel 8 last night that Ms. Trent was denying that she made the statement. If that is true, I hope she has called the paper to ask for a retraction or clarification. If what she is saying now is true, that’s a pretty big mistake on the part of the paper.
I also heard Hallerin Hill begging her to phone in to his radio show this morning – even asking her friend to have her call – so he could clear up this contradiction. She did not call.
Perhaps someone needs to ask whether a young African American woman has ever been invited to be a Dogwood debutante.
Thanks to the person who used the term ” microaggression”. A Google search turned up descriptions of what I had been calling passive racism. Micro aggression is much more accurate.
I attended Jazz at the Crist House where Phyllis and Jim Nichols were with Cynthia and Alan on Sunday evening. I am stunned to learn how Jim was treated.
Cynthia, thanks for your blog. I too was saddened and shocked when I read the article on the two debutante balls. I have a beautiful 12-year old granddaughter who has a very diverse group of friends. She goes many places with them and their families and they go places with us. It is my fear that one day she will run into a situation like this where she can’t do what some of her friends are doing and learn the reality that not all people treat each other the same and that the color of your skin matters.
It is very important to talk to our children about race and let them know that there are still some people who do not see us as equals. We must teach our children to be PROUD of who they are and not let how others perceive them damper their spirits. Racism is taught so we need to be careful how we teach those lessons of the past.
When my granddaughter heard me tell a friend that I was asked if I was the “maid” she asked why. After I explained why she said ‘maids can be white too’ can’t they?
Out of the mouth of unprejudiced children come some valuable lessons for us all. I am careful how I talk about my past to her. She needs to know the past but I don’t want to prejudice her thinking.
Hey, Geraldine. Great hearing from you. I’m glad you are playing such an active role in your granddaughter’s life. You are a great role model.
The comment about the maid is exactly what happened to Jim at the party. Musicians can be white, too, as can valets and waiters. So why do people assume Jim is one of those but they don’t automatically assume that of a white guy?
They can’t leave the past behind!! Some people can’t believe that we have progressed. I really think it is the older generation.
Hopefully, our kids won’t have as many problems with those their age as they grow older because they are growing up together, going to school together, spending the night together, etc.
Unfortunately racism works both ways…some of us are just better at hiding it than others. Were as “some” whites seem to think it’s okay to say whatever comes to their mind “out loud” we as a brown-skinned people were taught “if you can’t say anything good, do t say anything at all”…I’m originally from Knoxville…however I left in 1989 and currently reside in Columbia SC. Racism is alive and well here…however I haven’t experienced it I the 15 years I’ve lived here. I consider that blessing, however after reading this article I see nothing has changed in Knoxville.
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WATE led with this story at 6 p.m. They said they had repeatedly tried to reach Ms. Trent for comment with no success. Cynthia Moxley said a few words – good job, Cynthia.. Jack McElroy said that the KNS editors had the reporter call Ms. Trent back to verify the quotes, at which time Ms. Trent said if the story was going to include race, she didn’t want it published. No mention that she disawoved making the comments at that time. The KNS is standing by the story.
I’m happy that this sad incident has set off a sorely needed conversation in this community. Hopefully something good will come from it.
Well written article! Recently bought a car for a military friend’s child. Instead of choosing a car based on make, model, gas mileage, ability to pick up ladies…this sixteen year old wanted a car that would make him “look white”! Sixteen year old, straight A student, college classes in high school, whose father fights for our freedom – and he’s afraid to “look black” on American highways?! To say the least, he opened my eyes to his reality and frankly…it is embarrassing and shameful. Thank you for starting a conversation!
My comment was to the person (Gloria) who wondered why whites cannot join Black organizations.
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Just returned from St. Lucia for a visit with our Lucian goddaughter and her family. I was so proud of our grandson (who went with us) when he posted a picture of his “new St. Lucian family” on his Facebook page. Times are changing, often way to slowly, but seeing the way my grandson related with our St. Lucian family was a genuine joy.
On another note, I was at a party about 10 years ago, when 2 young men made an unacceptable comment in front of me about a gay couple attending the party. Cynthia, I am afraid that I was not as composed as you were!
I am so sorry this happened to the Nichols…they are very special people and important contributors to our community.
There will always be racism on both sides. It will never go away. I recommend you don’t let it bother you because the majority of people are not racism and we believe God created all people equally! I am sorry you had to feel this way though and that it put a damper on a beautiful night.
April: Thanks for your comment. I think it’s a little bigger than putting a damper on my evening. And I hope you are wrong when you say it will never go away.
Alice: Great to hear from you! Thanks!
Jennifer: Awful to think that he had to consider that when choosing a car.
When we were children, my sister had a playmate visit. My sister had previously advised her friend that our grandmother, who had beautiful white hair, lived with us. When our black housekeeper, who had black hair, approached, the friend asked, “is that your grandmother?’. My sister responded, “No! I told you my grandma had white hair!”. I love that story because they didn’t only ignore skin and hair color but race. Daisy was like a family member in lots of ways.
Every year for the past 50+ years, the KNS has printed an article about the Dogwood Ball including the pictures and the pedigrees of the young ladies who attend that year’s ball. The same is true for every year that AKA has had their presentation ball. The obvious lack of “black/white diversity” at each ball has been staring people in the face for years, and they’re only now noticing it and reacting to it? Or is it only because someone had the audacity to (allegedly) state the obvious? And for the Dogwood debs to be “shocked” at such a statement is – to me – suspect. Did none of them look around and notice that there weren’t any black debutantes in attendance? I’m still shaking my head at it all.
As for Mr. Nichols’ ghastly experiences… I will say that he is a far better person than I am not to have responded in one of several ways that I would have been tempted to do so. In the case of the valet ticket, I would have taken the ticket, given it to the real valet, and then driven the car to some “No Parking” zone off the UT Strip and left it to be towed off to the city impound lot. Hmmm… maybe that’s why I was never invited to be a Dogwood Ball debutante.
This has been a wonderful opportunity to open the dialog for learning and understanding our differences, beliefs, and prejudices. Racism will always exist, lets make that fact completely clear. It’s as old as the belief in Good and Evil. All people are not believers in Christ, no matter what race they identify with. But, we all come from the same parents (Adam & Eve). We all were beautifully made in the image of our creator. It seems to be an issue of Educational IQ, not from the teachings of man, but from the lack of discernment of the Word of God. My Spirit tells me to Love my neighbor, no matter what race he/she may be, but my flesh counters with, why should I if he doesn’t look like or Love me. So we, as fleshly creatures, battle with the Holy Spirit, sent from God, to do the will of God, which is to Love thy neighbor as thy self. Our Spiritual immaturity has created this racism or need to be better (purer, cleaner, prettier, wealthier, more superior) than someone else. God’s word says that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the first (wealthy, superior, entitled) shall be last, and the last (poor, sickly, disenfranchised) shall be first. But, all African Americans are not poor, sickly, or disenfranchised and some treat other African Americans worse than entitled Whites. So, it is our Spiritual Immaturity that needs to be addressed before we can redeem ourselves as God fearing, loving, believers and change the hearts of racist people and/or those who desire a need to be superior to others.
I would like to respond to the gentleman regarding the “freedom of association.” As an African American woman, I left Knoxville in 1987 after experiencing many of the same attitudes that were prevalent during that time. I moved to Atlanta and discovered that beauty of diversity. My “freedom of association” allowed me to find lifelong friends who not just “looked like me.” I have friends of all religions and nationalities. If you choose to only associate with those “who look like you,”, you will miss out on a whole lot of love in life!
Thanks for posting this, Cynthia.
Knoxville is my hometown and it pains me to read items like this. But honestly, the Dogwood Ball has been going on for 53 years – and not one person of color has been presented in all that time and we are shocked when something like this is revealed? Who’s allowed that to go on for 53 years?
I was in a sorority in college and our director decided we (an all white sorority) would pair with AKA (an all black sorority) to do a girl group theme for All Sing. This was the mid eighties. You cannot imagine the crap that was hurled our way. It was unreal and embarrassing. These were “enlightened” students from well heeled families. And all we were doing was singing!
Don’t kid yourselves – the racism is rampant, it’s just covered up. I am shocked when I come home to visit and people say questionable things to me out loud because — I’m white? I don’t know? — but apparently they think I would agree with them.
I would say that those opposed to racism in town are all posting here and are the blue bubble in the sea of red that is Tennessee. We have a long way to go.
Cynthia, the occurrences of this past Sunday have come and gone. But because of your courage to share what you witnessed, it is my sincere hope that much good will come from it. Had we not been sitting next to each other, what happened on Sunday would have gone unnoticed. As you know, when you said you were going to write this blog, I was a bit nervous about how it would be received, but had only one request… that whatever you decided to write, be not about me personally, but about the greater issue. Thank you for honoring that request. There are many wonderful people in our community. Phyllis and I were born in East Tennessee, raised our daughters here, and have many wonderful friends of all backgrounds in our wonderful city. The people of Knoxville are awesome, and we would not want to live anywhere else. Only occasionally does something like this happen, and when it does, it reminds us all that we still have a ways to go. — I believe it’s a good thing to see differences in people, whether those differences be that someone is tall or short, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, or any other group. Differences in people are great! It’s not bad to see a difference, but to assume anything further because of that difference is where we sometimes make a mistake. As a result of this post and the conversation that has begun, maybe, just maybe, we will all become a little more sensitive to the wonderful diversity of our community.
Great points, Jim. Thanks for letting me write about the situation, unfortunate though it was. Alan and I are so happy to have you and Phyllis as our friends. This just has to stop.
Many years ago I noticed there were no minorities in the photos of the Dogwood Ball debutants published in the News Sentinel. I actually saved the photo pages for three years just to confirm my suspicion that the event was for whites only. I then tried to learn why, but efforts to contact anyone with the sponsors were unsuccessful. I then wrote at least two letters to the editor of the News Sentinel (which were published) attempting to raise public awareness of the bigotry associated with the Dogwood ball. Obviously, my efforts were to no avail.
I applaud Ms. Moxley’s efforts and hope she (and others) have better luck than I did.
I am glad I have found an avenue to vent my complete outrage at the comment that the ball was segregated and that this person did not have a problem with that. I am fortunate enough to travel around this beautiful country and the comments I get regarding Tennessee and surrounding states are best left unsaid.
Yes, it is certainly well past the time for all minorities to enjoy the subjugation of young women.
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I’m sorry for your experience, we are from the north, my fiance and I. He is Germany, I’m a mix female, black and Asian. We are currently living in the south, Georgia to be exact.
We were planning to come to Tennessee to visit, but after those simple blatant ignorance comments….I would not feel welcomed there. He is as Caucasian and he can be. So I know we would be stared at or even approached. We are business women and men, so we will keep going through, onto to next place to visit. Right now, Tennessee is 4 hours from us. Things will get better with time hopefully, as the old ways die out. Maybe in our lifetime or at least our children.
I just posted this on the KNS FB page about the article but things get lost on that FB page faster than they get buried in a newspaper article. After thinking about this for several days now, here were my thoughts to the newspaper.
I struggle with two things over this article.
One is that if the things alleged to be said by Ms. Trent are true, there needs to be action taken to remove a “whites only” stigma from this organization. Period. Skin color should never be a requirement in anything, no matter the color.
My second concern though is why would the News Sentinel bury this in the story on page 10? This gives an appearance of just being business as usual, nothing to see here, just another day of “whites only” requirements.
If the newspaper is that cavalier about this as even being an issue, I think that scares me more. I, fortunately, have no bias towards Ms. Trent nor this newspaper, so I ask this coming from someone that is from Knoxville, loves Knoxville, and returned after being gone for 30 years. Guess I thought this sort of thing would have been worked out in that 30 years that I was gone.
I grew up around Chattanooga and live in Vicksburg, MS now. Based on our experiences here in the past 13 years, it appears that Mississippi is much farther along with race relations than Knoxville TN. I am very surprised.