Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Jena 6, Why Everyone Should Care

Over at Pam's House Blend, she has accused other Progressive bloggers of not blogging about the Jena 6. She sums up their lists of excuses: "It's not my area of expertise" or "It's not my issue," and a host of other lame excuses some bloggers have given.

I'm the first to admit fault in this. I haven't read much about the issue, because a.) I don't traditionally write about "race" issues, and b.) it happened in The South, where I don't live. In other words, it "doesn't affect me."

Much like the male classmate of my girlfriend who thought he didn't have to learn about the HPV vaccine because "it's a women's issue that doesn't affect me."

He's wrong in that it doesn't affect him. I was so critical of this male student who mistakenly thinks that his life won't ever be affected by HPV or cervical cancer. Or that his mother, daughter, wife, friend, aunt, or cousin won't ever be harmed by it. That he may actually be the cause of it. That he can also die from it.

But I, who was so critical before, am wrong, too. The Jena 6, like all race relations tragedies, affects each and every one of us.

Pam is right. Everyone should care about this issue.

We should all be so-called activists and experts on race relations. For, it is only by knowledge that we will build a society that tolerates all who are different. And by knowledge that we build a society where people no longer have to even wonder if they were passed over a job opportunity, ignored at a restaurant, not served at a bar, given dirty looks, been the subject of hate speech, been the victim of a not-so-innocent prank, beaten up, and YES even killed solely because of the color of their skin.

White people don't recognize this because they are white.

As a lesbian, I can relate to this in many ways. Yet as a white person, I can not.

An interesting quote by Alex Weissman sums up the white experience: "To be white is not to be race-neutral; it is to be privileged. I cannot list the number of privileges that I and other white people get because of our skin color, but the one I am most concerned with right now is the privilege not to think about race or racism."

Further, he writes: "...I have been poorly educated. I have not learned about my country; instead I have learned about the white people who have held positions of power for most of its history. In doing so, I was taught not to think about race. After all, what did racism have to do with colonialism? Or Japanese internment? I reject the idea that racism does not affect me because I am white. Racism has shaped my life in more ways than I will ever know. And that is why I, and other white people, do need to step into the Africana Center and enter into conversations about race.
Go to the other culture houses. Remember that race is not just black and white. Read poetry by Gloria AnzaldĂșa or Audre Lorde. Find out who Vincent Chin was and learn about Leonard Peltier. Walk into the Latino Center and listen. You may be afraid that the people there will reject you, but what you really fear is finding out that you might reject them."

Our country is laced with racism. And to say that black people are no longer affected by slavery today is denialist.

I'm disgusted with the way this has been handled (by the high school, by the white students and their stupid "tree" tradition, by the D.A., and the media). But, I'm even more disgusted with myself for being so focused on things that only concern "me" that I've ignored other pressing issues.

Speaking of gay people,
Joe Solmonese, of the Human Rights Campaign, took the podium today and offered a speech for the Jena 6, as well.

An excerpt from his prepared speech:

"We are here because we know about bigotry. We know about hate. We know the pain in high school of standing apart. Of being taunted. Of standing up, only too often, to be shut down.
I am here -- we are here -- because you have stood with us. Because all of us know that one injustice against any of us is an injustice against all of us."

So true.

I stand by the Jena 6 and, on a broader scale, the elimination of white racism.

Do you?


Fannie said...

great blog, jane.

(thinking of how to write about it on my blog)

Brita said...

Jane, phenomenal blog, I only read this morning prior to writing my own in attempts to shed some light on the situation myself. Completely agree, EVERYONE is affected by race and should be aware that it is still quite prevalant.

Jane Know said...

thanks Fannie and Brita. :-)

I am going to make it a point to write more about these issues. And to use my voice however I can.