As a white, upper middle class girl growing up in the West, words like “segregation” and “hate crime” were not a part of my vocabulary. My grandmother used to talk about living in DC, and how when she went to the movies, she sat down in front, while non-whites sat in the balcony, and talked about the “whites only” drinking fountains. I remember staring at her as she told me these stories as a child, thinking that surely she was completely crazy, because nothing that bizarre could ever exist. You could argue that I’ve lived a sheltered life, and you’d be correct. Still, I would say that nobody who grew up in my childhood neighborhood ever had to face something like this, the uproar that is surrounding the Jena 6.
The story seems simple enough: 6 black students in the sleepy town of Jena, Lousiana, assaulted one white student, supposedly as pay back for an earlier incident that involved white students hanging up 3 nooses from a tree. The nooses supposedly symbolized a “white only” area of the highschool campus, a shade tree where white students hung out. Some black students were found lounging under the tree one day, and the nooses were hung as a message not long thereafter.
The black students were arrested, and initially charged with attempted murder. The white students were never charged with anything. Hence the uproar. The charges have been down graded to battery and conspiracy to commit battery, which is obviously better than attempted murder. But if they are convicted, the students face upwards of 15 years in prison.
The story I read lays out these facts, along with this line that describes the noose hanging prank as “the incident that began a spiral of events that culminated in the December altercation”.
A spiral of events. A culmination. It makes one wonder what these students put each other through before it got so bad that somebody got hurt.
Did a white student spit at a black student? Were there pranks involving lockers, humiliations in the locker room, notes left anonymously on a car? Were there fights before this, smaller ones where the participants were left concious, but bruised, bloodied, angry and vowing revenge? At what point did it stop becoming about race, and start becoming about power?
Or has never really been about race? Has it always only been about power, all along? Is that what drives one human being to deliberately hurt another?
Regardless, I’m disturbed.
The other sad thing is that I don’t know how effective the huge protest will have on the ultimate outcome. The public support for the Jena 6 may have caused the prosecution to downgrade the charges, but the fact remains that they assaulted somebody, and they will face those consequences, protest or no protest. The fact that the white students got away with a hate crime makes no difference in the black students’ legal standing. And last time I checked, a huge angry mob does little to diffuse violent situations.
From where I stand, I wonder what my duty is in all of this. Do I add my voice to the angry mob, and demand equality with my slogan painted on a picket sign? Do I ignore it, turn the page of the paper, and go on to reading about something more entertaining, like Britney Spear’s latest catastrophe?
In reality, no matter what I think I should do, I will probably go on doing what I am doing; living my quiet life in my quiet neighborhood, teaching my children good values and morals, and hoping and praying that what I am teaching them ensures that my son will never be the one to incite such a riot, or treat somebody who is different than he is with such disrespect. Hopefully my lessons make him aware that everybody is a child of God. And that primary song, you know, the one about trying to be like Jesus? Yeah, I’m hoping that sinks in.
To the Jena 6, the teenagers who are possibly facing prison, it’s probably not very much. But hey, I’m just a mom. Teaching my children about love is all I’ve got.
How do you teach your children to be tolerant of others who are different than they are?
How would you respond in a situation where you or your children had been treated with disrespect, or where consequences had been unjust? How would you want your children to respond?