“Support the poor, or go to hell”

Over at Religious Dispatches, Daniel Schultz takes the religious Left to task for being too nice.  Here’s a teaser:

“I’ve been asked a lot over the course of this fall why we don’t have a politically effective religious left in America. The short answer is that there’s a significant trade-off between being nice (or engaging in “civil discourse,” as it’s called these days) and being potent. All the commitment to moral suasion, to building consensus, to reconciliation between political opponents, all the commitment in the world to “speaking out” about your values isn’t going to accomplish squat.”

Pastor Dan’s “support the poor, or go to hell” theme is one of several semi-serious suggestions for giving progressive religious messaging some much-needed bite.

It is very difficult to challenge the new Jim Crow without getting somewhat adversarial.  We are now free to speak all manner of evil against the old Jim Crow and the folks who made it work.  But back in the 1950s it was considered mean-spirited and more-than-a-little-bit tacky to challenge “the Southern way of life.”  Denouncing Jim Crow laws, it was commonly felt, would just antagonize southerners and strengthen their resolve.  Far better, mainstream liberal opinion declared, to issue mushy calls for general good will and brotherhood.

You get the same response today if you challenge the new Jim Crow too forcefully.  The New York Times felt so sorry for poor J. Reed Walters, the DA who tried to put the Jena 6 away for a quarter century without parole, that they gave him space in their op-ed section.  The Christian Science Monitor followed suit by allowing the editorial staff of the Jena Times to publish a self-serving (and demonstrably false) revisionist history.  No one was surprised when the arch conservative Weekly Standard published an attack piece accusing me of inventing the entire story out of thin air, an idea first floated by a conservative sports writer (and wannabe public intellectual) Jason Whitlock. 

This “it was all Bean’s fantasy” thesis was swallowed whole by Raquel Christie in her voluminous critique of Jena 6 media coverage in the American Journalism Review.  I explained to Christie that the media lacked a proper interpretive lens for coming to grips with a story like Jena: either they would cover the saga as an old Jim Crow story (in which case Jena would come off as a vestige of a mercifully fading past), or they would ignore the story altogether.  None of this registered with Christie or anyone else.  She didn’t quote me because she had no idea what I was talking about.

When we expose the machinations of the new Jim Crow we can expect the same kind of treatment civil rights leaders received prior to the 1960s.  We will be viewed as divisive, mean-spirited and worse.  That won’t change until our message is strong enough to shift the national consensus. 

I try to be as compassionate and polite as the facts allow.  Nothing I say here should be taken as a defense of boorish animus.  But there is no nice way to show how the old Jim Crow gradually morphed into the reality we are dealing with today. 

Critics of Jena media coverage frequently questioned the significance of Mychal Bell’s all-white jury.  Consider this from Jason Whitlock:

Much has been written about Bell’s trial, the six-person all-white jury that convicted him of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and the clueless public defender who called no witnesses and offered no defense. It is rarely mentioned that no black people responded to the jury summonses and that Bell’s public defender was black.

Whitlock picked this up from Paul Carty, the executive editor of the Alexandria Town Talk, a newspaper that depends on the good graces of LaSalle Parish readers.  The point is well taken, black jurors were highly reluctant to serve on Bell’s jury.  We recently witnessed the same phenomenon in Winona, MS in the sixth trial of Curtis Flowers

Paul Carty, and the legion of writers who follow his lead, appear to assume that black members of the jury venire neglected their duty because of laziness or indifference.  Not so.  Few black Jena residents were willing to publicly associate themselves with the Jena 6 defendants.  Anyone who has read the eye witness transcripts knows that the case against Mychal was remarkably weak.  Any competent defense attorney could have shredded Reed Walter’s “facts”.  Mychal now says he struck Justin Barker, and I was always open to this possibility.  But the state couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  Potential black jurors knew they would likely vote for acquittal if they were selected for jury duty and this could have dire social and professional consequences.  Mychal’s attorney may have been black, but he faced the same social facts that kept p0tential black jurors from stepping up.  Call it cowardice (and it is), but there is little mystery involved.

Am I sounding extreme?  If I do, you don’t understand how the new Jim Crow works in small southern towns like Jena, Tulia and Winona.

A strong case could be made that the mainstream media did a sloppy job of covering the Jena story.  As in Tulia, you can’t make sense of the story unless you understand the new Jim Crow . . . and almost no one does.  Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in an age of colorblindness, admits that she initially resisted the thesis she now embraces.  It’s like the duck-rabbit illusion; once you see the duck you can’t un-see it; but when you are surrounded by rabbit talk the duck is easily overlooked.  Nonetheless, those of us who see the duck must bear witness to the duck, even if it makes us sound harsh, adversarial, ideological or extreme.

2 thoughts on ““Support the poor, or go to hell”

  1. Our instinct for self-preservation tells us that when we see the duck we’d better duck. One of my OT profs at dear ole Southern used to say if you want to preach like Amos you have to expect to be treated like Amos, and Amos was run out of town. Micaiah-ben-Imlah comes to mind as well. Did he ever get out of that dungeon? The king did not return in peace.
    It takes some brave, even foolhardy souls to call the duck a duck.

  2. dump habitat for humanity because they are , definetly, promoting the everlasting saga of unequality and separation to insure suppresion of the dumb-downed blacks and whites, i might add. you will be herded together in trailer parks or habirat preserves throughout your existence and into the existence of your children, grandchildren for the next 100 years like you were project-bound for the last 100 years. the difference this time is that you will have NO ONE to maintain your property, you will pay property taxes and ALL cost for upkeep.
    good luck because home-ownership is very unstable and quite expensive.

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