Eating Crow
September 12, 2007

Today we're not so prejudiced that we have water fountains labeled White and Colored. We allow "them" to sit at the lunch counter with "us." And still, it seems, "they" have the gall to complain.

Until you read about Jena, Louisiana, and the "white tree."

Now it's being called stealth racism because instead of being codified in Jim Crow laws, it's being played out "unofficially" ... it's not written down ... therefore it doesn't happen.

The problem with this theory often used by those trying to cover up their racist views is that it is written down. And, sadly, one of the best examples is from my own home state, although I'm told it's prevalent throughout the States.

The written record is in our legal system, but unlike the Jim Crow laws, these are "codified" in the way that we choose to pursue justice, who we sentence, and what sentence they receive. The bulk of crimes "deserving" the death penalty are sentences handed to black men. (Look at the race of those executed in Texas since the re-instatement of the death penalty.) Black violence to white = harsher punishment.

Another example? Look more closely at the Jena, Louisiana, issues. A black student "jokingly" asked if he could sit under the tree with the white students. You see, all of the white kids sat under the big tree, whilst the black kids sat on the bleachers. They weren't labeled White Tree and Black Bleachers. There was no law that said that. It was simply a case of everyone sticking to their own.

Except the tree was known around town as the white tree, when, in fact, the tree, like most trees, was brown. Now why could it be called the white tree? The principal told the kid he could sit wherever he liked ... but the next morning, 3 nooses were found hanging from the tree.

A schoolyard prank. It didn't mean anything.

Unless you've seen this. Unless you've lived it. Heard relatives telling the "story." And then, you can't help but be chilled by the threat. Can you take that risk? Can you really take that risk that it was just a joke?

The school recommended expulsion for the "pranksters" but the school board over-ruled them and decided a simple in-school suspension was plenty of punishment. No need to escalate things.

Except, of course, that that's exactly what happened. Things escalated as they have a tendency to do. Fights breaking out along racial lines, seeming to culminate with the burning of the main academic building of the school and the blaming of "Them" by "Us," with the definitions changing depending on which group a person was in.

But what has appeared to be a kind of proverbial "last straw" is the arrest of the so-called Jena Six.

One account includes one of the Jena Six attempting to go to a party and being turned away. And then, getting into a fight over the issue. The white man who instigated the violence was eventually charged with simple battery. The next day a white student argued with the black boys and ran to his pick-up truck for his pistol-grip shotgun. Reportedly Robert Bailey took the gun from the white boy and refused to give it back. (Personal aside ... given the situation, I can't say I'd want a pissed off white boy to have his damn shotgun back either!) Bailey was charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white boy? Not charged. Had he not brandished the firearm to start with ... but that seems to be beside the point.

The real culmination of this series of events came a few days later at school. Apparently one of the white boys, bragged how the black Bailey had been beaten up by a white man. Later that day, Justin Barker (the white boy) was jumped by the so-called Jena Six (including Robert Bailey). They did beat the crap out of Justin. He was knocked unconscious either by hitting the concrete or by being punched in the head ... but despite a short hospital observation (2 hours), he was released and went to the school's Ring Ceremony that evening.

The six boys were arrested originally for aggravated assault, which was later changed to attempted second degree and conspiracy to murder, not the simple assault/battery that it was. Later, one of the boys had his charge "reduced" to aggravated second degree battery. Sounds better right? That's a charge that requires the use of a "deadly weapon." Okay, so what'd the boy use? A pipe? A big length of thick branch?

His sneakers were dubbed deadly weapons.

The jury was all white.

The court-appointed attorney did not call a single witness to the stand.

It sounds like the days of Jim Crow, and I know every single blogger who has written about this has used the same phrase ... but yanno? It freaking fits ... and that terrifies me.

I'm not saying that the boys don't deserve some repercussions. But when I say that, I mean every single one of them. I mean the boys who put up the nooses. I mean the kids who started fights in the halls. I mean the children who called each other names. I mean the school board who eased the punishment of the noose-boys. I mean the people who burned down the school.

I mean the people who look at each other warily from across the street. Is that white dude going to start something?
Is that black girl going to start screaming at me?

I mean the white dude who decided to teach them uppity black boys a lesson at the party. I mean the boy who had to brandish his shotgun.

I mean all of us. These are the repercussions for our attitudes, for our distrust in those who seem different from us, for our certainty that "we" are good and "they" are wrong, whatever our definitions of we, they, good and wrong.

And there's a march scheduled now for the unfair way the justice system is choosing to pursue the problems in Jena.

It's a start. Trying to keep these issues at the forefront of people's minds. It reminds us not to be complacent. It reminds us to question our motives, not endlessly navel-gazing, but honestly attempting to look at what we do ... and what results those actions have.

Stealth racism. Jim Crow laws. Lynchings. Colored water fountains. Separate but equal.

Racial profiling. Fear of the different.

Fear.

I am chilled.


Posted by Red Monkey at September 12, 2007 1:18 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

Eloquent and dead on Endy.

September 13, 2007 9:44 AM

 

cooper said:

This was a lovely post, the truth is that people in this country like to pretend everything is all great and we are the big melting pot free of prejudice. To think we went to Iraq to save them when we hide our own faults and pretend to be different, better, free of all that.

To cover stuff like this you one need an audience and face it no one wants to see this because it's not fun, so it gets less viewers.

There has been a modicum of success with the campaign starting with "Democracy Now" and blog-wise instigated by Black Perspective and other notables in the afrosphere. After a campaign to instigate others to write / contact their media there has been increased coverage. CNN did a large piece on it and several of the larger news outlets have covered it since.
It does work to take the time to not only write about it but let the media know that the people want to hear the real news.

September 13, 2007 12:00 PM
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