As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Jena Six And Race In America

I have been remiss in writing about the Jena Six, and with today's expected protest it seems like a good news peg to do so. The story is a keen reminder that we're not yet the society we believe ourselves to be; that the ugliness of racism still permeates too many elements of our lives.

The outlines of the story are this: last year a black student in Jena, Louisiana sat under a tree "traditionally reserved for whites" at a public high school (That alone should tell you everything you need to know). The next day, white students hung a noose over the tree, evoking the sad legacy of lynching. Three white students were suspended for a couple days. Later that year, six black students beat up a white schoolmate outside the gym. The white kid left the hospital immediately and hung out at a class ring ceremony that night. The black kids were charged with attempted murder.

Although the charges were eventually reduced, and even the one conviction on battery made thus far was tossed out, the story highlighted the issue of equal justice and the continuing treatment of blacks in the South. Today's march will shine a spotlight on this persistent problem.

Today, thousands of protesters from across the country are expected to march through Jena (pronounced JEE-nuh), dwarfing its population of about 3,000. Not even the organizers know how many people to expect, but some say it could become a major civil rights march.

"Again, we come to the South to raise new hope, not to condemn," Sharpton told reporters outside the courthouse. "This is not a march against Jena."

Yet with predictions ranging from 1,000 to 60,000 protesters, many locals are apprehensive. The march has been publicized on talk radio and Internet blogs.

Jena High School and LaSalle Parish Library will close for the day. Most local business owners planned to close their stores too. Activists, they noted, vowed they would not spend money in Jena.

There's more context here. You can add in the other sickening hate crime, where 6 white West Virginians kidnapped a young black woman and repeatedly raped and tortured her for weeks, while one of them said "that's what we do to niggers around here."

We have a long way to go before we reach the goal of a truly color-blind society. And awareness is the first big step.

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