Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena is the Past, Present, and Future

I don’t know about the Jena 6.
Well, I know about it. I know it’s another stain of injustice on our nation and world.
But what does it all mean?

As I glanced at The New York Times on the college dining table, I saw this picture.



‘It’s like the Civil Rights Movement,’ I thought. The excitement filled me. Is that a problem though? Am I and are we rejoicing because we are looking for our romanticized version of the Civil Rights Movement? And is part of this joy and relief derived from a straightforward issue with direct offenses committed by whites?

I can’t help but be a little frustrated when Don Imus and a small 85% white town produce the largest social change we’ve had around racial issues since OJ and Rodney. Did we do anything after the horrendous education Supreme Court ruling? Can we at least bring Megan Williams into the fold and address coverage bias in the mainstream media since they finally turned their eye to Louisiana…after a year? America did not suddenly get worse. What is it about a noose, a fight, and an unjust charge that grabs our attention in a way that housing segregation, unjust prisons, voting disenfranchisement, anti-affirmative action initiatives, and even genocide in Darfur has not? Don’t get me wrong. I am excited and energized about the organizing and action around The Jena 6, but we need to see it through a larger lens. In fact, we need to see this as part of the narrative of American injustice and social movement strategy.

Some might say I’m being picky or asking for too much. However, I have realized recently that we might be the only ones asking for something beyond a cliché about justice. Our progressive voices matter and they have to speak into spaces that do not want us there. I do not care if CNN only wants me to march or if Damon Winter and the NYT only want my upraised fist in a sea of blackness. I will march for local change in Louisiana and organize the dismantling of the media’s unjust structures because they are part of the problem. Our collective action is the only real solution.

Yes, Jena got me riled up.
Yes, I am glad President Bush is sad because of it.
Yes, I am hopeful that more people will finally recognize that racism DOES exist in the 21st century.

Yet, I was upset the day before I heard about Jena because of racism.
Yet, Bush has only advanced “reverse racism” cases in the Civil Right department during his tenure and the situation in Jena has not changed that.
Yet, I am still disturbed by the people who think we can avoid talking about race in favor of a colorblind society aka silencing people of color from testifying their lived experiences, many of which include racism.

“This is the first time something like this has happened for our generation. You always heard about it from history books and relatives. This is a chance to experience it for ourselves.” - Eric Depradine, a 24 year old senior at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (NYT)

This is not the first time nor will it be the last. We’ve had our chances before, but it is encouraging that we are choosing to act now. That does not mean, however, we can buy into the claim that there has been nothing “Civil Rights worthy” in the last three decades. We need to ask ourselves why we haven’t been marching. This is not an effort to cast blame or slow down the movement. Instead, we can use this question to improve our future actions and to decide how we sustain and expand upon this momentum.

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