Members of a white nationalist group, including three young men and a young woman from West Monroe, La., with a Confederate flag bearing the message “White Power/Ku Klux Klan,” showed up to protest the MLK holiday in Jena, La. One of the young men, Michael Brown, was quoted as saying, “We’re here just supporting our white brothers. We’re proud to be white.” As is so often the case with public protests by white supremacists, the handful that showed up in Jena were outnumbered by counterprotesters and members of the media.
<P>After the recent highly racialized events in Jena, Louisiana, high school and college students around the United States have shown their support for the black students in Jena by wearing various “Free the Jena Six” t-shirts. Although this is seen as innocent by some, school officials at several schools around the country have viewed the shirts as “disruptive” and as potentially causing conflict on their campuses. Thus, in late August a group of Jena High School students were banned by Jena High School from wearing to school shirts that voice support for the six accused students. According to an MSNBC Report, Roy Breithaupt, the local school superintendent, banned the shirts, stating that the slogan on the shirts might cause school problems.
Other schools around the country are following a similar path in not allowing students to wear the Jena-support shirts to school. Recently, a student in Tennessee was not allowed to enter the school while wearing her “Free the Jena Six” shirt. According to a school administrator, the shirt could “cause a problem.” It is important to mention in both of these cases, there are no standard uniforms to be worn to these schools. The Tennessee student is currently in the process of appealing this decision.�
There’s been lots happening on the popular culture and racism front that I thought I’d round up here in one long post.
Dr. Phil, in two back-to-back shows, dealt with the issues in Jena. It was a difficult couple of shows to watch on any number of levels. In many ways, watching white-people-behaving badly and the deep disconnect between blacks and whites on this show was just painful. While he got some things right, Dr. Phil ultimately fails in my view by reframing the social issue of racism and the structure of white supremacy as a psychological issue that boils down to the question he posed in the show, “Where is the parenting here, on both sides?” The boards at DrPhil.com are quite lively with discussion about the shows, and if you have the patience, I encourage you to check them out here. Someone should write a book about the current batch of talk shows and the way they deal with race, similar to Josh Gamson’s wonderful Freaks Talk Back, from 1998.
And, in case you missed it, on Sunday night, CBS’ show “60 Minutes” featured an interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas about his new book, My Grandfather’s Son. The piece was less a hard-hitting piece of journalism as it was a redemptive puff piece for Thomas. Fortunately, the New York Times chose to run an op-ed from Anita Hill countering some of the decades-old charges Thomas made on CBS. By far the most satisfying critical dialogue about the CBS-Thomas interview was on Tavis Smiley’s show Monday, which featured a panel discussion with Cornel West, Farah Griffin, and Marc Morial. One of the things I appreciated about this panel was that they all recognized the humanity of Clarence Thomas, West kept repeating, “we don’t want to vilify the brother,” while at the same time taking CBS to task for failing to recognize the large, resounding, and sustained criticism of Thomas’ policies as the former head of the EEOC and as a Supreme Court Justice. West noted that Thomas on the bench has consistently ruled against not just Black people, but poor people and working people. Griffin reminded us all that the objection to Thomas was so strong that a figure no less than Toni Morrison put together an edited volume critical of his positions. Perhaps my favorite line from this well-informed exchange came from Morial; when Smiley asked him what he thought of the interview, he replied, “Well, I liked his grandfather a lot.”
ABC News is reporting (as are the other major news outlets) that Mychal Bell has been released from jail on $45,000 bail just a hours after a prosecutor confirmed he will no longer seek an adult trial for the 17-year-old, one of the “Jena 6″ and the last young man held. The release of Bell must be attributed in large measure to the massive protests in Jena in the past week.
Most of the major news outlets today are running stories about the fiftieth anniversary of the date when Minnijean Brown Trickey and eight other black teenagers, escorted by 1,200 soldiers through spitting and jeering white crowds, desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The integration of Central High School stands in stark contrast to the recent events at the high school in Jena, and to the racial pattern of school discipline throughout the nation. Howard Witt writing in an article in the Chicago Tribune (and republished at Common Dreams), notes that nationwide:
“African-American students are almost 60 times as likely as white students to be expelled for serious disciplinary infractions. “
Yet, it’s not that black students are no more likely to misbehave than other students. The social science data suggest that’s not what is happening. Quoting Russell Skiba, a professor of educational psychology at Indiana University whose research focuses on race and discipline issues in public schools, Witt’s article continues:
“There simply isn’t any support for the notion that, given the same set of circumstances, African-American kids act out to a greater degree than other kids. In fact, the data indicate that African-American students are punished more severely for the same offense, so clearly something else is going on. We can call it structural inequity or we can call it institutional racism.”
Of course, it’s not just about sitting in detention either. As Witt notes, tudies show that a history of school suspensions or expulsions is a strong predictor of future trouble with the law-and the first step on what civil rights leaders have described as a “school-to-prison pipeline” for black youths, who represent 16 percent of U.S. adolescents but 38 percent of those incarcerated in youth prisons.
Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times that despite his newspapers (and other media outlet’s) “tone of amazement” at the protests in Jena last week:
“But the reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away, and has never stopped being important. And race remains one of the defining factors in modern American politics.”
While Krugman is correct on this point, he errs by failing to recognize the ways in which the racial dynamics he’s attributing exclusively to the South are in fact, quintessentially American. To support this view, he quotes political scientist Thomas F. Schaller who, in his book “Whistling Past Dixie,” makes this assessment:
“Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters to depict American conservatism as a nonracial phenomenon, the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”
Yet, it’s systematic racism — like that in housing — that reveals part of how deeply embedded racism is in this society as a whole. The first suburbs in the nation were built outside New York City, and those suburbs, such as the original Levittown, were built exclusively for whites at the same time that people were rising up against racist segregation in the south. Making racism a regional-disorder is provides an easy out for white liberals who would rather ignore the racism in their own backyard.
I blogged recently over here about the overt sort of cyber racism of the backlash against the Jena 6 and their families. This is kind of overt cyber racism is typical of the white supremacists like Bill White who is targeting these families by posting their addresses online. In a more subtle form of cyber racism akin to white liberal racism, the progressive (predominantly white) blogs have been largely silent on the Jena 6 story, as Pam notes on her blog, Pam’s House Blend. As I argue in a forthcoming piece called “Race, Civil Rights & Hate Speech in the Digital Era,” in the MacArthur series on Digital Media & Learning, white supremacy has entered the digital era. And now, cyberspace is a contested terrain in the landscape of racial politics in the U.S. and globally.
On Thursday September 20, the march in Jena ended peacefully and most thought, successfully. African Americans attending the march applaud the success and celebrate the fact of proving some of the white residents in the town and around the world that this was in fact a very peaceful event. Leading up to this event, car dealers removed their cars from the lots; businesses taped and closed their businesses, all in the belief that trouble was inevitable. According to a local minister attending the marches:
“This showed them; we were here for a purpose. That purpose was to tell whites that we are tired; it shows blacks that we can and should stand up for what’s right. This march in Jena is to say that it is time to stop treating us unjustly in the system.”
Most of the commentary coming from those who attended the march in Jena describes the beauty and tragedy of the march in the same breath. Another African American minister describes this event this way:
“It was the most beautiful thing to see all those people together supporting equal justice. You had to be here to feel the atmosphere and unity. There are no words to describe the feeling. The pictures and the news reports could never do it justice. At the same time, it is very sad that this event was very necessary. People want to say that we [blacks] need to get over things; that racism and hatred is in the past. This ain’t about the past. This is about the past, present, and the future. Obviously, this is still and always has been an issue.”
A Jena resident and participant talks candidly about the recent events leading to the march by saying that the call to equal justice was long overdue:
“I have been here all my life and what is happening here with racism has been happening all my life. This was nothing new, but I am glad that this is getting attention. Not just for the Jena 6, but for everybody. This place is filled with racism; it is filled with David Dukes; they just don’t wear the white sheets in public. The point is, racism is still here, I guess we are supposed to be quiet about it.”
So, what is the outcome? African Americans still feel that the march and the visits from broadcast media outlets are necessary and beneficial, but this is not the only thing that is happening; racial threats are also becoming a commonality. The first African American minister quote above comments again:
“My church has been getting some serious threats from supremacist groups. We have been getting them all day, every day. I have been personally getting them. These people are saying that they will kill all of us that are deeply involved with the Jena 6. The morning after, they called my organization office and asked for me personally to tell me that they were there with us in the march and they would kill me and kill us all. I am not concerned about this. They can’t hurt me.”
These threats are once again a sign that the old legal segregation and its extreme and violence oriented behavior is still part of the lives of many African Americans in the South. Social science research shows this clearly, yet the mass media mostly ignore the findings of researchers. The coverup of this reality is again one of the great tragedies of the United States. No country can be a democracy where many of its citizens must fear for their lives just for exercising their civil rights and civil liberties.
There’s a bit of news on the blogs today from Jean, Louisiana. I imagine there will be a lot more tomorrow. For now, here’s quick tour of what’s out there.
Boo Goo Doo Boom has a great image posted on his site, writes this to go with the image:
Get up and stand up for your rights. Thousands have descended upon Jena, Louisiana today to deliver a message to the entire world – Justice for ALL.
Me and my homie were trying to plan the trip to Jena but we waited last minute to really plan things out. But when we mapquested the directions and found out Jena was about 9 hours from Atlanta, we pretty much fell back on making the drive last night. Still, I’m rocking my black tee in support of the cause and I hope you’re rocking black today too.
And a few white liberal bloggers got into the action as well, including John Edwards, the ACLU, and HRC. And, lots of interesting stuff on YouTube.com if you search using “Jena.” I’ll post one the best in the video archive tomorrow.
More analysis tomorrow.