Friday, September 21, 2007

After Jena 6

I noticed, in my unscientific visual survey of what black folks were wearing, that people in the downtown white collar jobs were more likely to wear black than the blue collar folks in the neighborhoods. Could it be that the first group of folks were more likely to listen to the radio talk shows, read black bloggers, and pass e-mail forwards? Anecdotally, I know a lot of blue collar folks that don't do at least two out of three of these things, and those were the primary ways we spread the word about yesterday's protest and "dress code." Or could it be, as a friend of mine suggested, that people in the hood are too worried about their own problems to be bothered with concern about the Jena 6. Black boys get railroaded in the court system, discriminated against, and shot regularly enough in the hood that some folks may wonder why Jena is anymore special than Camden or North Philly.

In fact, in a discussion I listened to last night, I heard a woman say something to that effect - we have a lot going on right here at home to deal with, so what about Jena, La.? Can we take care of Philly first? My thoughts are that concern doesn't have to be mutually exclusive - one can care about what's going on up the street and still show concern for what's going on down south. One can also pitch in to help out with local and national matters. Caring about the Jena 6 doesn't mean you no longer care about your little cousin.

I did some internet surfing to see what folks - blacks and others - had to say about the incident. So many people seemed misinformed, or under-informed about the mission. It seems a lot of people think that blacks just wanted the Jena 6 freed because they're black and they were provoked. Not so. The problem was that they were excessively charged, and that no whites faced any sentence remotely close to what the blacks are facing, despite the fact that a black student was intimidated with a firearm and later jumped by whites. The district attorney was lenient with the whites and heavy-handed with the blacks. That's the problem. These young men didn't get mad about some nooses and then decide to jump the first white kid they saw. Too many people have formed opinions without understanding the context of the situation. It was very disappointing to see. Wikipedia is free.

Another comment I heard a few times was that, "I'm tired of black people rallying around causes because it's the trendy thing to do. So I didn't wear black today." Or, "Wearing black isn't going to change anything, so I didn't see the point." To the first comment, I say that it's not just black people who rally around a cause-of-the-moment and then lose intensity - that may be an American, or maybe even a human societal flaw. Let's not malign black people any more than others, shall we? But I understand and agree that if you really want change, you can't limit your efforts to one Day of Atonement (the Million Man March was supposed to start a movement in several communities, not end after the buses came back home), or one month of solidarity (mainstream media wanted to believe race and class divisions were healed after 9/11 just because everyone was emotional after the country's loss). Thing is, showing solidarity on one day doesn't mean that you can't keep things going the next day. That doesn't mean continuing to wear black today. That means continuing to draw attention to the issues that matter, regardless of the clothes you wear. Your actions are up to you, and if you want change, you can be that one person to keep it on the minds of the people around you.

Regarding black not changing anything, I've said in my last post that clothes won't get the Jena 6 a fair trial. But that didn't make wearing black irrelevant. Some may disagree, but some battles are won and lost in the psyche. That's why shows of solidarity have such important in this, our symbolic culture. I was excited to see black folks wearing black - to me, it meant that people had heard about an important cause, and what's more, they supported the fact that something was being done about it. They wanted to bring awareness of the issues. They believed in the power of collective effort. All psychological, but all very relevant and affirming to those like myself who choose to believe that despite popular belief, people, especially black Americans, are not all apathetic, lazy, and complacent. I am too young to know how black folks felt when watching our two Olympians on the podium raise their black gloved fists during the national anthem. But I bet it got people hyped. I know I was hyped yesterday, and so were others all over the country.

I can't knock that. If anything, I want to support that. Which is why when I thought, "Wearing black is a waste of time," yesterday, I thought better of it and wore as much black as I could. Every little bit helps. And we should use what energy we can retain from yesterday's momentum to keep that optimistic effort for change going. Never mind past fits and starts, past unbroken promises, past failures. Our job is to learn from the past, not limit ourselves by bitter memories of it.

Again, I ask, what are we going to do today? Even better, what am I going to do today?

I wrote this blog to inspire you to give serious thought to this question. Let's try to ask it of ourselves, and find an answer, every day.