The Black Lives Matter Prom Dress: Revolutionary or Risqué?

A colleague sent me the  viral photo of high school senior Milan Morris’ prom dress. The gown—engulfed with photos of those slain by the police in the last five years– is an instant masterpiece. Morris, a stunningly beautiful girl, is the perfect canvass for this art activism. Morris’ dress is a creation of Miami/ Atlanta designer Terrance Torrence and resonates because it beautifies the struggle of black life in reflecting the sacrificial lambs of our contemporary civil rights movement.

I can only hope that Morris’ prom dress will prove a gateway to others honoring those who are no longer with us physically. I also hope to see more clothing honoring our ancestors and elders from Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner to Assata Shakur. Knowing our story which fills the gaps of his story is essential in establishing esteem in the next generation.

Now, before I render my next set of claims, please allow me to say that I do so with great reservation. As an older black female I feel compelled to provide a cause for contemplation for young ladies of the black collective, not to discourage or shame. Thus, I can only hope that readers will consider not only my claims, but that these claims come from a conscious, and collective love.

Morris is a strikingly beautiful child with all the ingredients of a contemporary bombshell. Her hair is long, her body is fit and shapely and her style is ahead of the curve. However it seems that a lace crop top with an exposed back and skin tight mermaid gown is a bit womanly for a seventeen year old child. Namely, while the message is phenomenal the gown’s style seems more fitting for a young woman rather than a young lady.

The faces of slain black youth adorn Morris’ gown. These faces also occupy the fabric closely hugging Morris’ behind, seemingly validating the gazes that will soon be cast along her derriere. While revolutionary, the dress performs a pattern all to familiar to black children. It casts a sweet and athletic black female body as sexy, prematurely accelerating her journey toward adulthood.

The irony in this display is that the subjects of her dress, Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown were also portrayed as adults in the media coverage following their murders. Seizing childhood from black children is a consistent pastime of western world as it validates the youthful black body facing adult consequences.

Prom dresses in general tend to be quite sexualized. This sexual imaging is particularly resonant with regard to black female bodies, as the black female body is seldom acknowledged as a victim of sexual assault. Thus, we must guard our children and ensure that they do not become sexual objects before understanding that in America they will never be a sexual victim.

I feel compelled to state that I am not against young women enjoying their beauty. I love seeing young girls honing their style. I am against young girls wearing revealing or skin tight clothes that compartmentalize them before they even know who they are.  Teaching our girls that black female provocation comes without protection, is essential  in ensuring that they not only walk the earth with strength, pride and the necessary caution.

I grew up with a young lady who donned a dress far beyond her years at prom. Her dress used very little fabric and she paired this custom unit with faux locks to embody all the attributes the western world deems attractive. That was ten years ago and today she allows her degree to deteriorate as she tirelessly chases visibility to render her a star. Regardless of what you look like or what you wear, you are the star of your life story.

Furthermore, the story Morris’ dress tells is one of activism but is also one of premature adulthood. So, as we praise this young lady for her bravery it is imperative to ask whether it is okay to  send a good message but sexualize a child in the process?

The answer is of course no. To be revolutionary is to be provocative and inevitably risqué, however these attributes need not compromise our children because to do so compromises our future.

Some will say that it does not matter and argue that I am the one objectifying Morris, suggesting that they did not think twice about her attire until reading this post. My counter would be, that the general silence surrounding Morris’ fit is due to the fact that the hyper sexual black female body is a normalized and anticipated component of western culture. Thus, it is not that viewers do not see what the conscious gaze sees, but that the average gaze has internalized the hyper sexual black female image, and thus does not see it as a problem. These counter arguments also oversimplify the issue at hand. Morris’ viral status substantiates the complexities of blackness and acts as a cautionary tale for bringing to light one conflict while epitomizing another.

Furthermore, my argument does not contest Miss Morris’ undeniable beauty and courage, but to suggest that she, like the black collective, is too beautiful and too courageous to combat collective conflict counterproductively.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Although I appreciate the statement she is making, I do sincerely think that our girls are growing up too fast, hence, teen pregnancies skyrocketing, adolescent single mothers, relegating our children to ‘booty calls’ and so forth.

    Now, in my day, my mother was so afraid of us getting pregnant that not one of us was allowed to go to the prom or the Ring Dance or even if we had a ‘Harvest Moon Dance’. I was only allowed to attend a fundraiser dance for Future Business Leaders of America because I was ‘manning’ the refreshment booth selling cookies and cola and other treats for our upcoming field trip. Needless to say, some think that our mother went overboard in her protecting of our ‘chastity’ for want of a better word, but she had three girls to raise with my father, who was never home, and not one of us had a child out-of-wedlock and the first men we slept with were our husbands.

    Sadly, nowadays, by prom night, many of our girls have already lost their virginity. I am not trying to be the morals police here, but I think that when we don’t hand those(morals) down, they tend to get lost along the way and this is part of why we have so many teen pregnancies and STD problems.

    Great post, btw!

    1. I agree Shelby! You mom treated her children like treasures and this deserves so much praise!!! I see so many pictures of kids looking my age and having, amongst other things, truly damaged self esteem and self worth. They come to value themselves and their beauty based on fake hair, fake eyelashes, fake nails and flat tummy tees. It is seriously an injustice to our youth.

      1. You are SO right C.C.! When I first moved to Baltimore MD in the mid 90s and was working at a banking center, all the girls were simply amazed that I was not sporting false nails, fake hair weaves and such like and I told them, I’m from farm country, what would I look like bent over fields of corn, string beans, squash, etc., with false hair shielding the vegetables from my eyes and how in the world can I shuck corn with long fake nails?

        Plus I was told that since I had a decent hair length, I could afford to be contemptuous of folks who were sporting weaves. C.C., even if I had an inch of hair on my head, I’d make do because there are some great styles for short hair. Those ladies simply bought into the myth that they could not be beautiful without using artificial ‘European’ means and sadly, nothing has changed.

  2. That’s certainly creative…. I hope someone designs a dress with the faces of the missing girls from DC

    1. Excellent idea!!! Then you for your comment!

    2. Also, the faces of missing girls would have been much more appropriate given she is a young lady herself. Very good point, I had not thought of this.

  3. Steve says:

    “I also hope to see more clothing honoring our ancestors and elders from Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner to Assata Shakur. Knowing our story which fills the gaps of his story is essential in establishing esteem in the next generation.”

    Yes. Black her-story is truly powerful and transformative and more young black women AND black men need to learn more of it. I’ve been a huge fan and reader of black women’s literature for the last ten years since I was 27 and it truly did fill in the gaps of my knowledge and understanding of the whole black experience. It would make a considerable difference in a community if people learned to listen with an open mind and open heart to what black women have to share. I must also admit with some shame that when looking at the young lady in the picture I forgot she was still a child. So your criticism is spot on.

  4. This was very nice. I think the dress throws people off at first. I think some people think it’s distasteful in some way. But I think intention is what counts. She was just trying to honor them. So from that perspective I can respect where she’s coming from.

    1. I appreciate your comment. However, my criticism is not about the young lady and more about the social responsibility of those older than her.

      1. No I get it. I know what you were trying to say. Great post!

      2. Okay cool! I was so nervous writing these piece, out of fear that my message would be misconstrued. 😉

  5. I agree with you C.C we have to see our daughters and sons as assets to be protected. We already know the aim of the Western world is to over-sexualize our children. Far to easy for Racist man and Racist Woman, being many of our youth do not know the important history to fill in the gaps of the collective black struggle. White people weaponize everything, they have made our family structures dysfunctional, our black male- black female relationships are dysfunctional because of racism. Our culture is backwards and dysfunctional because of the people on the planet that practice racism white supremacy. They have weaponized our own children against us using mass propaganda, te-Lie-Vision, drugs, music (noise) bad food (sugar), porn, white female teachers, mis-education etc. As black people we really have to come to the understanding that war has been waged against us and we are currently prisoners of war, we have yet to be treated like “Americans” or citizens. I would also like to see our people being more creative honoring our Ancestors but in a decent and serious manner, not in a disrespectful or comical way, the way white society wants. I think the message the young girl is trying to convey gets a bit lost because we do live in a hyper-sexual society that’s the reality. We have to take control of the things we can take control of, our children being first on the list, our children’s education being 2nd. We are going to have to cease sending our children to be educated by white women, who are our adversaries and enemies. And we need to redirect our children away from the Historically White Institutions back to the HBCU’s. Otherwise we will become victims of our children, like we witness today with all the gun violence and disrespect.

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