Did your high school have a senior slave auction?

Did Your High School Have A Senior Slave Auction?
I was talking about this concept on my Twitterz the other day, and people freaked out: a lot of high schools in America still hold an annual “Senior Slave Auction” in which seniors are auctioned off as slaves for a day (or a night, or whatever.) Seriously, Google it! This happens, in the USA!

The basic concept is this: other students in the school put up cash money to hang out with a senior, and the senior has to do whatever the students want (within reason). The proceeds generally go to a “charitable” cause (one private Christian high school did a senior slave auction this year to raise money for the senior class trip to Paris.)

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Besides the obvious racial overtones, there’s perhaps an even greater suggestion of potential sexual…stuff. In reality, it generally seems to amount to “making” boys dress like girls and do silly dance routines (you’ll find a lot of this if you delve into it online) and “making” people wash cars and carry out other menial duties. It’s all fully consensual and done in a spirit of fun — but I think there’s a reason a lot of schools just call it “Senior Auction Day” or “Senior Appreciation Day” now.

I was hesitant to post tweets and Facebook photos related to this phenomenon because it was sometimes difficult or impossible to tell if the students involved were at least 18. I know that stuff is public once it hits the public Facebooks and Twitterz and the such, but I’m super-uncomfortable with embarrassing underage kids or holding them up for public scolding/mockery (and I don’t even know if I’m scolding or mocking!)

Now here’s my question, and I genuinely want to spark respectful discussion in the comments: does the idea of American kids participating in a Senior Slave Auction make you feel weird or uncomfortable in any way? Or is discomfort at this idea just an example of politically correct bullcrap infringing on kids’ rights to have fun? It’s worth noting that while the majority of kids pictured in Senior Slave Auction-related paraphernalia online seem to be white, there are kids of various ethnic and racial backgrounds involved in these stunts. And these fundraisers seem to happen in schools from California to Florida and a whole lot of places in between (a lot of non-Southerners who I talked to seemed to think it must be a practice restricted to the South, but no.)

I’m really not trying to be some kind of uptight liberal scoldypants here! I’m just wondering what you think. It definitely gives me a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, but maybe I’m being too old-fashioned…or new-fashioned. You tell me: are high school Senior Slave Auctions offensive or just silly fun?

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  • Plutus

    You couldn’t even properly look at their teeth because of all the damn braces. Worst auction ever. Would not repeat.

  • TrillianSwan

    I too want to be very respectful about this, but it does seem like silly fun to me. The upshot is you’re inverting the power from the seniors, who “rule the school” and exert power over the other classes (my one bit of senior-privilege jerkitude was when a freshman sitting in front of me in the stands caught a souvenir football and I made him give it up to me because it was my last game at the school– I still feel bad about that!) and you’re making them be YOUR slave for once! (Edited to add: more like the Lord of Misrule at Yuletide.) It seems to be entirely wrapped up in the high school power dynamics and not at all related to the outside world (these kids aren’t thinking about that, they’re thinking they can make the quarterback with the new convertible wash their shitty car). Now, an auction and the “slave” terminology do cause a bit of a shudder to our (old) ears, but again, if you think of the power dynamic in high school and the way that poor kid gave up the football he caught, “slave” seems hyperbolic but apt, and unrelated to (tho carrying a slight whiff of) the slavery of Africans in the US. As for the auction, well, those seniors don’t give up ALL the power, they themselves get a big social power boost from how high a price they go for, and “likeability” points for whatever “humiliations” they undergo. It’s almost a “bread and circuses” kind of illusion in that sense, let the underclassmen feel they get the upper hand for the day, and still walk away with a social power boost and more offers for prom dates. So it’s not all roses, some kid on the school paper could make his or her bones on a op-ed about that…TL;DR, I wouldn’t worry about it, it sounds like silly fun playing off of and functioning within high school power dynamics and not a commentary on our sordid past (which is indeed sordid and I’m glad we all shudder just a bit at this slave/auction stuff, that’s a good sign).

  • Alex Ruthrauff

    We had a bachelor auction. I went for $7, which was actually pretty good and VERY surprising.

    • Rural Mom AR

      See, I was just discussing this with my boyfriend. The parents at my school would have been outraged by a bachelor auction, but thought nothing of a slave auction.

  • Independently Yours

    I get what Trillian is saying. We did it in high school. Same mindset. Totally thoughtless name for it, though, like the Red Skins. Needs to be thoughtfully, creatively and fittingly updated. At least. Deeper thing to ponder: Why do we have fun with something like this, being given the opportunity to have total control over someone, even when it’s consensual? What’s making us tick? Are we appealing to our base level? Does it conflict with our desire for a society where we are all accepted and treated equally? But that takes the fun out of it…why?

  • mtn_philosoph

    Back in my high school daze (late 60s to the beginning of the 70s) anything like this would have been canceled due to a profound lack of interest among the students of all grades. I mean, we didn’t have proms then because we thought they were too derpy, and Homecoming was an occasion for some inventive and droll street theater by members of my senior class. (Yes, my graduating class was kind of an ugly vile little snark mob if you will, but in a countercultural sort of way.) Any event like this would have been savagely mocked right out of the school, up the street and straight out of town before it ever got off the ground. I mean jeez Louise what a stupid idea.

  • TJ

    Hi, in my high school in Canada we had a Slave Day. This was in the 1980s & 1990s. They changed the name of the event later to “Buy a Friend Day.” But before it was called “Slave Day.” Same concept.

  • Al Dente

    I found this in a google search because I was wondering the same thing. When I was in middle school we had fundraiser slave auctions. This was 50 years ago before desegregation in an all-white small town Midwest school. I thought that perhaps today that such a fundraiser would be seen as trivializing the horrors of slavery. I remember most “slaves” sold for $5-$15 which would be $20-$60 in today’s dollars so they were pretty successful all things considered.

  • Michael Woodhead

    We had a slave auction in our high school [in Canada] back in 1966. Since the girls bid on the boys in 1965, in 1966 the boys bid on the girls. It was a lot of fun. Between classes, one could see girls in hockey uniforms, fishing gear, sweatpants, and carrying their “master’s” books. At recess and noon, the girls sang, pushed peanuts up and down halls with their noses, counted dots on floor tiles, and ran errands. It was all great fun enjoyed by everyone.

  • Rural Mom AR

    My high school did this – I’m not sure when it started, but it was a “tradition” in the mid/late 80s. I think they eventually realized that the entire concept was at a minimum insensitive and did away with it, though it did continue into the early 2000s. I could be wrong, the school was disbanded and the students absorbed by surrounding districts c. 2012, give or take.

    Funds raised went toward the Senior class trip, only the Senior class ever did this. Most “owners” just had their “slave” carry books around. Some got more creative. It was basically anything goes providing it did not break any of the school rules or cause injury. So dress code had to be adhered to, weapons could not be involved, and it was all supposed to be fun.

    I don’t remember them ever changing the name. Of course, this was in rural arkansas in an area that had an almost 100% white demographic.

    I cringe, now, but back then it was just another of many fundraising activities at the school. Sometimes a lack of perspective goes hand in hand with a lack of diversity.

    My favorite fundraiser was still the candy sold by the Junior class to raise money for prom. They basically sold candy from soon after the year started through January. Regular candy bars of all kinds, plus suckers.

  • Cheermom

    I teach at a high school in Ohio that still does this. We call it the senior service auction. The seniors love it and the money goes to their senior class for things like their senior boat trip and graduation expenses. Kids and teachers who buy them get to dress them up and have them do silly things for the first 3 periods of the assigned day and then it’s over. The seniors also have the opportunity to buy themselves out if they don’t want to participate or pay back what they auctioned for if they don’t like who bought them. It’s all in good fun and we have some guidelines in place to avoid anything inappropriate or over the line.

  • Kevin Boyle

    This is an old post but I thought I could add to it since my High School did have “Slave Day” but it seems to be a reversal of what others here have experienced. At my school, Santa Clara High School (a Catholic high school in Oxnard, CA), seniors would bid on and purchase freshman for a day. The activities were similar to what others have mentioned here (I was put in a dress plus motorcyle helmet and made to follow my senior around most of the day doing chores).