Abner Louima, Rodney King, Amadou Diallo. Now the Jena 6, black people speaking truth to the power of undisguised racism, the good old proveable, Movement-y kind.
They came together as one as they like to do once a decade or so, then got back on their long haul buses and went home. No doubt, the kente cloth and waist-lengths ‘locks were glorious to behold as they rode home in triumph. To dangerous neighborhoods, underperforming schools, and obese kinfolk praised for prefering prayer to prescription meds. Or, perhaps, to continue being an “only;” only black in the neighborhood, only black in management, only black in the Philosophy Department. The only black who’s sick of one-shot wonder marches, rallies and protests? Sick of preformatted analyses which gloss over black quiescence or perfidy (OJ, anyone?) and unerringly conflate the forest with the trees?
Let’s get this out of the way: what happened to the Jena 6 was heinous, non-blacks should be reexamining their hearts, and heads should be rolling Nifong-style. I’m as happy as the next Negro to stick it to the man (I’m on record as saying I’d have thrown a rock, just one and into a bush–more of a tossing if you will–after the Rodney King verdict had I been an Angeleno), but this wasn’t exactly Selma and these brothers weren’t exactly the Scottsboro Boys. Folks should go to jail for stomping a random (and lone) person into the ER, white or not, nooses or not. Not for attempted murder, of course not, but aggravated battery sounds about right, especially when you factor in that the stompee was not, as far as we know, one of the noose hangers. And when we have it on good authority that Jena High also boasts “black bleachers” where honkies fear not tread. Racism, and its effects on the ground, is rarely simple.
If you didn’t know about the bleachers, you probably don’t know this either: the names of the true inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, the brave students who sat under the “white tree”. Note that they first asked, and received, permission to do so. Something tells me that there would have been no march last week, no year of unrelenting “Afro-sphere” agitation , had the school refused them permission and no black took it on himself to kill whitey in revenge. Anti-black racists aren’t the “only” ones who have a use for black oppression, the same oppression to which the black community continues to apply anachronistic, gotcha!, 60s-style tactics.
Sorry, but if Jena doesn’t lead to a re-embrace of non-violence when confronting racism and inequality, it’s not what Rev. Sharpton deemed the “beginning of the 21st-century civil rights movement;” it’s vigilantism. If it doesn’t lead to a sustained re-focus on non-symbolic tactics aimed not at white guilt but at black uplift, it’ll have to be written off as mere masturbation: feels good but doesn’t produce life. We dont need another movement, not if it’s focused on the doings of outsiders. Instead, we need to hunker down for a community-wide soul searching of the Chinese re-education camp variety designed to help us figure out what our role in America’s racial morass is and what our response to the continuing existence of systemic racism should be. I remember when the untalented Jackson sister LaToya made news for having multiple plastic surgeries to “improve her career.” Arsenio Hall mused, “I’m thinking: why not singing lessons? I’m with Arsenio.
Slate put it best: wrong poster children, sorry analysis of the problem.
I made no effort to get to Jena. Instead, I spent that time reading worthy analyses of the proveable, addressable, effects of racism in the criminal justice system. These bespectacled economists and sociologists are downright radical. They already knew that racism filled our prisons; now they’re proving how it affects America at large. They’re doing more good on Capitol Hill making these “tough on crime” politicians change gears than all the buses in Jena.
The 1960s Civil Rights Movement had to be about what whites were doing to us. Any modern movement needs to be focused inward, on what blacks are doing to themselves or what we’re failing to pragmatically respond to.
If you want to stick it to the man, let’s police our own neighborhoods. Let’s snitch. A lot. Let’s make our schools so good they’re suing us to get in. Let’s take care of ourselves and outlive the bastards. Let’s stop using corporal punishment as our primary means of child discipline, limit their TV time and read to them every night. Any one of these will do more for us than a thousand Jenas.
Too bad they don’t involve TV crews and tussling with white folks. Then it would be done with a quickness.