Sunday, September 30, 2007

An Open Letter to White Progressives About Jena

I yield the floor to Prometheus 6:

An open letter to white progressives about Jena

The Jena, LA controversy isn't over. I didn't expect it to be over this quickly, but a couple of things have happened since the recent demonstration that make me genuinely concerned about how it will eventually be resolved. What put my concerns over the top was the recent statements by the District Attorney and Mayor of Jena that indicate their sympathies are far too closely aligned with those of white supremacist organizations. But what first made me concerned was the reaction of progressive white folks...something I thought we might adjust over time by filling in the huge gaps the mainstream media has left in the story. The more I read on the Jena controversy the more I feel like the drowning guy who keeps getting water balloons lobbed at him.

I've had my emotional reaction to it already. Thinking about the entire situation I conclude I have a snowball's chance in hell of changing the minds of the Mayor or District Attorney. They are taking the hardest line possible, and as I said, there was those recent statements...

I've realized though that there are several issues conflated in most Black folks' reaction, and teasing them apart might help those progressives among you that find yourselves troubled by the Jena demonstration feel more at ease.

I'm going to start with the nooses. Yes, it strikes you as obvious, I'm sure you rolled your eyes. And you, well, you just don't think it's as bad as a kick in the head. Well, this is not an argument, it is a statement. To Black Americans, a hangman's noose send the same signal as a burning cross. There may be some differentiation with you but for most Black people there is not. And I heard that guy over there, he said they use nooses in plays, they play that “hangman” game, and I say yes the meaning of a hangman's noose is more contextual than that of a burning cross. But somehow when those nooses turn up, they are always in that context.

Again, this is not an argument, it is information for you. You should treat nooses like swastikas.

When you hear Black people say the kid got beat up because the nooses were hung, it means that is the wound that festered as opposed to the infection that was the months of subsequent brawling. That is one point.

Second, the domestic media coverage of this has been horrible beyond merely being absent. I am one of the folks who have been following the case from the first article in the Chicago Tribune. You have no idea how frustrating it was to read article after article saying “nooses were hung and a white kid got jumped,” when NPR, in the most detailed description of events I've seen, says the response to the nooses was a silent protest. The school called the police.

I watched every mainstream media outlet skip right over that. That's another point.

I can find no specifics about what happened between the beginning of the semester and Nov. 30; the NPR article just says “Fights began to break out at the high school. But that year, the football team was having an unusually good season and the black athletes were a major reason why. So while there were fights throughout the fall, nobody wanted to take any action that would hurt the team. “ All I know for certain is they bypassed a number of opportunities to resolve the issue during this time.

The next report was of a Black youth, Robert Bailey, being beat up at a mostly white party one Friday night. The District Attorney could have said that was the last straw. He did not. The next day Bailey got into an argument with one of the students at a store. The student went to get a gun from his car, and was disarmed. The District Attorney said that was the last straw...and had Bailey arrested for defending himself. Monday, two days later, Justin Barker “loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night,” incited a riot and got hurt. A high school brawl ensued.

Equal protection under the law would see Justin Barker compelled to identify the people that assaulted Robert Bailey, and have those people charged with the same crime. And it will not happen.

Don't worry. There's only one more point.

You, white progressives, must see that this is a real problem and not let it die. Because the discomfort of staring the reality of racism in the face so soon after Jeff Jacoby declared racism irrelevant has brought forth the inevitable diversion. The natural one is the disproportionate crime rate in the Black community. And I'm not having that discussion right now...later, perhaps. I just need you to see that this problem is not one Black people can address. It is one you must address if there is to be justice.

I need you to see that when you have a well defined issue and dump ninety-two other issues on top of it, you cannot even claim to be trying to help.

And if you're saying you need do nothing about racism until it is the last problem on Earth, I think ALL Black people need to hear that.

Thank you, P6, for your eloquence.

Will we continue to hear birds chirping from the White Progressive Blogopshere? Or, will they throw down their defensiveness and recognize the serious issue of UNEqual Justice that is NOT going away.


Phil Davis said...

Malcolm says


Chocl8t said...

Bill White, you've just exhibited the kind ignorance that pushed Jena into the spotlight. You must be so proud.

psa23dg said...

Thank you P-6. for your thoughtful commentary. I have adressed this issue with Firedoglake and Crooks and Ladders. There is a great resistance to acknowledging racism as a pervasive problem in America. I think progresive advocates must be willing to deal with the issue of white privilege before they will be able to deal with racial disparity in the justice system in America.

Anonymous said...

Jena, La, as is the reflection and projection of many areas inside this country. If real change is to come, then we as a people must come to the realization that people change the times and not vice-versa. I hope you and all your readers feel me on this statement. Things can be fair and just, if human beings desire them to be. The burning question is—-Do enough human beings want fairness and justice for all people?

Finally, the pictures that the Jena 6 expose lay bear an America the beautiful as a very ugly place that few, black or white, want to acknowledge exist. It is appropriate here to suggest that real solutions to these and other pressing social, political and legal problems can only come about through honest and open dialogue, even if this dialogue runs counter to one’s previously held beliefs concerning the freedoms, racial harmony and democratic virtues often espoused, but consistently seldom practiced where Black people are concerned, by American leaders.
Although our "so-called" leaders, and those who control the media and power institutions of this nation believe and act otherwise, I believe it is always better to tell the sad truth than it is to repeat or invent a merry lie so that the sensibilities or emotions of certain classes of people are not in some way damaged.

P.S. As the dawn of each new day begins, all our people must remember the words of the great Fredrick Douglas

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."

”America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”

Lakeith Amir-Sharif (Sharif)