The New Jim Crow and the New Groupthink

Some of the most insightful commentary on the significance of the Jena story appears in a blog I came across this morning. A few months ago, a local Jena pastor described his home town as a racist backwater. Recent events have forced the Rev. Eddie Thompson to eat those words. Now he is defending his home town against Yankee “Carpetbaggers” (from Texas and New Orleans) who are distorting the story. The Rev. Eddie has fallen victim to the sort of groupthink that emerges when small towns circle the wagons. Fortunately, a contributor to “Blogher” knows the Rev. Eddie personally. Her response to his about-face show a tremendous depth of insight. I encourage you to scroll through the entire string of posts–you will learn something. At least, I did.

Stories like Tulia, Texas and Jena, Lousiana are revelatory; the elements of ambiguity evoke an enormous range of response. People see what they want to see, what they choose to see. Some, like me, see a clear line of cause and effect running from the nooses hanging in a tree at Jena High School to the fight outside the gymnasium doors. Others see the fight at the school as an isolated occurrence hermetically sealed from past events. The implication is that the black assailants at the school picked a white kid at random and beat him within an inch of his life. Why? Because they are anti-social monsters who have no regard for human life. This is the way the story was originally presented in the Jena Times.

People who think this way inevitably play down the significance of the nooses. Racism was not involved–not at all. The first theory I heard was that the noose-boys had just watched Lonesome Dove on cable and were enamored of the image of three nooses hanging in a tree. Now we are told that the nooses were hung because the Jena Giants were about to face a neighboring football team called the Mustangs. It is admitted that the nooses appeared in a tree on the traditionally white side of the school square a day after a black student had asked if he could sit under that tree. But that was just a coincidence. Several Jena residents have even suggested that the black boy who made the request was being unnecessarily provocative. Denial this deep is alarmning.

It is likely that the Jena 6 will face an all-white jury. With local opinion cleanly divided along racial lines, Mykal Bell and his co-defendants will not be tried by a jury of their peers.

But this isn’t just about Jena, any more than the Tulia fight was just about Tulia. This is about the way America treats low-status defendants. Jena and Tulia explain why our prisons have been filling up with young black males from the bottom rungs of the social ladder. Jena is about the New Jim Crow.

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2 thoughts on “The New Jim Crow and the New Groupthink

  1. Carpetbaggers don’t have to be Yankees: They qualify if they come into town, poke the hornets nest, then leave the townspeople behind to deal with the aftermath. I’ve never denied that the hornets nest exists here. In fact, anyone who’s read my articles understands I am one of the ministers in Jena who attempted to reach across racial lines to bring unity to our community. The attack (not fight) at Jena High, the harsh charges, and the media coverage of the event have changed the focus here. It is not that Jena is a bad place to live. It’s not as bad as many other towns in central Louisiana: That’s for sure. But the nest in Jena is not perfected in God’s image yet. Jena is a town in the south with all the inherent problems that come with that: including bigotry and poverty. The story here could have been that we took steps to tear down the racial divide. Instead, the charges against the Jena Six dwarf any efforts we’ve conjured here to change. Now, there is polarization of the mindsets, and with Jena an eighty-five percent white town, polarization is the last thing the minority groups here needed. When the media carpetbaggers lose interest, they’ll leave the pastors and town leaders a nest of swarming hornets (black and white) angry and confused: God grant us the grace and mercy to rebuild the nest in His image. In the spirit of seeking for the good in all things, my prayer is that this controversy will help us make Jena a shining city on a hill where the Golden Rule reigns.

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