Friday, September 28, 2007


Reed Walters would have us believe that the strangely uneven application of (in)justice in Jena is coincidental, a result of the fact that his hands are tied by the limitations of Louisiana law:
In the final analysis, though, I am bound to enforce the laws of Louisiana as they exist today, not as they might in someone’s vision of a perfect world.
But, from the Southern Poverty Law Center comes a reminder that Walters is not just strictly following the word and rule of law as he claims:
Walters ignores the tremendous latitude prosecutors have to raise, lower, or dismiss charges as they see fit, under the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion. The injustice in Jena is not that any criminal charges were brought in the assault on Justin Barker. Rather, the injustice is that black perpetrators in Jena receive a completely different brand of prosecutorial discretion than white perpetrators.
The SPLC's article goes on to address and refute many of the points that Walters brought up in his op-ed, arguing that Walters's exercise of prosecutorial discretion is colored by, well, color.

dnA makes a similar argument noting that Walters
repeatedly used his prosecutorial discretion only to seek jail time for the Jena Six, not after the nooses, but after the series of violent incidents that occurred in the town between students at the school for months after.
Though it has been duly noted since the op-ed appeared that Walters made a number of omissions in his quest to paint a portrait of "the reluctant white lawman trying to keep the piece in a town full of savage Negroes," dnA does an excellent job of illuminating and analyzing those omissions.

The point of this post is not sound like a stilted book review (I must be sleepier than I realize). Kevin got me to thinking ( I sound so country when I say that, but there it is :-) when he made this comment:
The official narrative has become "six black kids beat up a white kid. One of the black kids is in jail, and black people are angry." That's it. That's what people are basing their opinions on.
Why is it so hard for people to see beyond that narrative? Of course, there are many answers, most of which narrow down to the deceptively simple cause of racism.

But I am struck by how Reed Walters is feeding that narrative and wondering about the other ways in which it is sustained.

H/T Francis L. Holland

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mychal Bell Released!

"Teen in Jena 6 case released on bail after D.A. drops effort to try him as an adult."

Oh, my God. Finally!

Police Brutality Strikes Fifth Anniversary of Sylvia Rivera Law Project

**Update from Jack:**
Reggie and Ileana have just been released from police custody! The DA declined prosecution, which means that no charges are being pressed. They are free and clear, and are now getting the support they need from their community - in person.
**Those arrested are friends of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who blogs at Broken Beautiful Press.**
NEW YORK - On the night of Wednesday, September 26, officers from the9th Precinct of the New York Police Department attacked without provocation members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and of itscommunity. Two of our community members were violently arrested, and others were pepper sprayed in the face without warning or cause.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project ( is an organization that works on behalf of low-income people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex, providing free legal services and advocacy among many other initiatives. On Wednesday night, the SylviaRivera Law Project was celebrating its fifth anniversary with acelebration and fundraising event at a bar in the East Village.

A group of our community members, consisting largely of queer and transgender people of color, witnessed two officers attempting todetain a young Black man outside of the bar. Several of our community members asked the officers why they were making the arrest and using excessive force. Despite the fact that our community was on the sidewalk, gathered peacefully and not obstructing foot traffic, the NYPD chose to forcefully grab two people and arrested them. Without warning, an officer then sprayed pepper spray across the group in a wide arc, temporarily blinding many and causing vomiting and intense pain."

This is the sort of all-too-common police violence and overreactiontowards people of color that happens all the time," said Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. "It's ironic that we were celebrating the work of an organization that specifically opposesstate violence against marginalized communities, and we experienced a police attack at our celebration."

"We are outraged, and demand that our community members be released and the police be held accountable for unnecessary use of excessiveforce and falsely arresting people," Spade continued.

Damaris Reyes is executive director of GOLES, an organization workingto preserve the Lower East Side. She commented, "I'm extremely concerned and disappointed by the 9th Precinct's response to the situation and how it escalated into violence. This kind of aggressivebehavior doesn't do them any good in community-police relations."

Supporters will be gathering at 100 Centre Street tomorrow, where the two community members will be arraigned. The community calls for charges to be dropped and to demand the immediate release of those arrested.

1) Call the District Attorney's OfficeThe District Attorney's office # is 212.335.9000, you ask for the early *case* assessment bureau, and ask that all charges be dropped against arrest #s 683706 (Reggie Gossett) and 683701 (Ileana Mendez-Peñate).

You can also call:
- Christine Quinn, President of the City Council: 212.564.7757
- Rosie Mendez, City Council person for the district where Reggie and Ileana were taken: 212.677.1077
-Alvin Vann, City Council person for the district where Reggie & Ileana live: 718.919.0740

You can also go on the web to and send those city council people emails with the same message.
And Alexis's words...
“Without You Who Understand"

Two loved ones of mine have had their names added to the long list of victims of the New York Police Department’s everyday every night brutality. And every time this happens it is an assault against my people, whoever they are. People of color, queer people, young people, transgendered people, activists, sex workers, immigrants. Every time this happens is my people locked away.

But these two. These are my people. This is who I have cried with after break-ups, eaten ice cream with when I should have been studying, this is who sat with me in limbo every semester, unregistered and undocumented because no one believed we’d be able to keep paying for school, least of all us. This is who brought me lemonade and sandwiches when couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t say why, and most importantly these are the people who stayed up all night with me too many times to count, like Pinky and the Brain in pumas with wild hair, plotting and believing in another world. Projecting and practicing freedom. These are the ones who said, yes, we can build that. And we should paint it purple, not blue. And if someone had been tracing our hands as we punctuated every detail about what playgrounds to make out of the rubble of prisons, what mosaics to glue to the empty US mint…if you had been tracing our hands you would have seen that we were spelling blood and water and water and blood. This is what I mean when I say, these are my people.

They are the ones I have trusted to hold my youth and to hand it back to me with a firm nudge if I ever consider selling out. These are the ones I have trusted to sell their vintage sneakers and stolen accessories to hire a lawyer when the state finally notices. We have agreed that this is a morally and strategically better than actually letting each other become lawyers. So these are the ones I trust to break me out of prison, to never forget where I am. To prove the lie of the state when it says no one loves you, you little black girl. You are nothing. No one cares where you are right now. And they have trusted me too, to pawn, to plead, to risk, to witness, to remember. I have agreed to the same.

But I didn’t think it would be today.

As I write this, my people are locked down for keeping their part of the agreement. After months of planning a fundraiser for the Sylvia Rivera Liberation Project my people were ready to celebrate. After gathering queer and trans people of color and allies from all over the tri-state area my people, these two, deserved the peace of bass and the release of rhythm. Late Wednesday night, like every night, my people were dancing. But late Wednesday night, like every night, the state was on the prowl. And right in front of the bright loud colors, right in front of the opening sounds (you see my people dress like confetti parades, my people move like new memories) the NYPD was doing the state, forcing the power of one black man into a space to small for dignity. And my people, though practicing the celebration, though air traffic hailing the future, this night, my people do not forget the moment. This is why my people wear sneakers and flat shoes. They remember what we agreed. So early Thursday morning they stopped the dancing to witness this arrest, one of millions of arrests, (these too my people). And they said with their eyes what we promised we would say. They said
We see you. We remember what you deserve. And when the lie come out that you are not human, that who you are does not matter, we will stand up that moment with the truth. We see you.

And the policemen could not tell who they addressed with their eyes, from the reasonable distance of the sidewalk. The policemen did not know if by “you” their brown eyes meant the person in the handcuffs or the one clanking them shut. So while their brightly clad feet and their hair awake with dancing did not get in anyone’s way, the policemen found their gazes too wide and too loud. So the policemen grabbed them. And closed their own eyes.

These two. My people. And shoved them in the car without warning.

And what I got then was a 2am text message indecipherable and cut short. And 12 hours later an email. They have not been charged. They have not been arraigned.

Because there is no such crime as love in excess. There is no such crime as too bright for 1984. There is no crime called smarter and braver than what day it is. There is no such crime as wanting more.

But they have not been released yet either. Because to place your soul firmly against the blunt edge of lawfulness is to share terror on measured and socialist terms. And police officers cannot afford to remember the neighborhoods they come from and who is now missing, lest their hearts beat and break against the tight armor of the state. And dreamers cannot afford fancy lawyers. So what I got then was a 2 am text message, and 12 hours later an email.

And what I have now is a promise to keep.
Please, please, call someone, send an e-mail, show up as a supporter.

Cuz Only the Good Lord Himself Can Keep Black People from Ackin' a Fool*

LaSalle Parish DA Reed Walters on the protest in Jena on Spetember 20:
I firmly believe and am confident of the fact that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened. You can quote me on that.
I get the feeling he doesn't mean that the "unfairly portrayed" Jena residents would've been causing the disaster.

Seeing black people act differently from the way he imagines it? He must've been as surprised as Bill O'Reilly!
*Which is not to dismiss the fact that people of other ethnicities protested.

Mychal Bell to Be Tried as a Juvenile

From the Monroe News-Star:
LaSalle District Attorney Reed Walters has agreed that Mychal Bell, one of a group of black teenagers labeled the "Jena Six," be tried as a juvenile, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday evening.

At a press conference with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, Blanco said Walters has decided to drop his appeal of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decision that threw out Bell's conviction as an adult and said he should be tried in juvenile court.
Walters held a press conference today.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Well, Look What's Crawling Out...

"There is a major white supremacist backlash building," said Mark Potok, a hate-group expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group in Montgomery, Ala. "I also think it's more widespread than may be obvious to most people. It's not only neo-nazis and Klansmen—you expect this kind of reaction from them."
The mayor of Jena, who says his town is being portrayed unfairly, allowed himself to be interviewed by the leader of a white supremacist organization. What the hell? I mean, my God! Talk about irony.

I'm late posting about this--see Kevin's post (by the way, is anyone appreciating the truth of Elliott's law like I am?):
As an online discussion concerning race grows longer, the probability of a person referencing Martin Luther King, Jr. as a means to justify their racist and/or ignorant attitudes approaches one.
If I read one more "What would Dr. King think..." from someone questioning support of the Jena Six (and who doesn't know anything more about Dr. King than what s/he hears in soundbites) I might insert my fist through this damned monitor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Totally Navel-Gazing... say look at my babies, y'all! I need a brain break. My brother's four oldest children (he has six) have been hanging out with their uber-cool aunt since Saturday. Some highlights:

My oldest niece--I don't talk about her much. She's all grown up (20) and working 'n stuff. This is late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. We had to go out of town to get something to eat, of course. As proof of her grown-up-ness, she kept offering to pay for her own food, gas, etc. That was so strange to me!

All eight of my parents' grandchildren. A rare occurence, so I had to get that! This is Sunday after church. My youngest nephew and my son look so raggedy because they have to change out of church gear immediately!
The granddaughters. The great-granddaughter is nestled under that blue t-shirt.

The grandsons--I don't know why the oldest one refuses to smile .

Sunday, September 23, 2007

To the White Progressive Blogosphere...

**Read BlackAmazon.**

When I was younger, I used to spend lots of time on my outward appearance.

Artfully applying makeup so the perfect face would show.

Choosing just the right outfit to make the best of my "good" features, to downplay my not-so-good 0nes.

Practicing my syrupy, southern voice so that my words would sound "right"--no matter what I was saying.

And my inimitable grandmother would look at me and say, "Your slip is hanging."

Meaning, my foundation, the base upon which I built all that artifice, wasn't in order.

Shall I explain what I'm getting at?

Do you know these people? Aside from the fact that they were unbelievably brave and principled?

Do you ever wonder why Rosa Parks instead of Claudette Colvin (who'd refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, AL, bus nine months before Mrs. Parks?) was the face of the Montgomery bus boycott?

Do you ever wonder why this picture of Elizabeth Eckford remaining composed in the face of Hazel Massery's vitriol was such an important image to promote?

Do you ever wonder why sit-in participants had to be so well-dressed, so calm, so "respectable?"

Well, of course you know. The people who would be the face of the Civil Rights Movement had to be virtually blameless. They couldn't give white bigots fodder to dismiss them or the movement. They had to tread a line between being the human face of the movement while upholding super-human reputations and faithfully remaining non-violent.

It was a lot to expect, this demand for perfection, this unspoken implication that African Americans had to be more than human, had to prove themselves worthy of fair treatment, of justice.

But I believe it was necessary then, to stave off attacks from enemies of the movement. Because a flaw, a sign of poor judgment, an episode of human error could be used to question the validity of not only the people involved, but the movement itself.

Well, skip ahead half-a-century, and AAPP makes an observation that struck a chord within me, that "white liberals and white bigots seem to agree."

See, when faced with the question of how the hell can you be so silent in the face of injustice, of unequal treatment, of blatant racism, rather than admit you dropped the ball* or more importantly, that you just didn't get it, you reached back and borrowed those old techniques for impugning the movement.

You can't support the Jena Six (or issues this highlights) because there is no hero?

For people who didn't know much about the Jena Six, suddenly you were awfully concerned about offenses for which Mychal Bell had been convicted.

And you focused on the MAJOR point of "was the slogan really effective/correct/what I would've chosen?"

And you referenced the old, "I just can't understand what they're saying!" I was honestly boggled by the "But... but... I couldn't get clear information" and "Little comprehensible info was published about it."

Oh,and "Well they've been telling us we can't stand for them!" No, you can't. But you can stand with us.

Even if you don't, guess what? We're still going to see and fight the injustice in the treatment of this child:

Whether you think he's a hero or worthy of the effort or not.

And for the other five of our children that you've thrown under the bus--you know, the ones you've convicted even though at least two of them say they did not participate in the fight? The ones who you just know are guilty and that's the other reason you "can't get behind this?"

We're going to press for justice for them, too. They deserve it. They are worth it.

As to all your excuses, your demands for a hero, your offensive "I don't understand?"

I'm saying, "Y'all's slip is hanging."

Get your purportedly progressive foundation in order.
*For example, when it came to posting about the Dunbar Village case and the physical and sexual assault upon Megan Williams, I dropped the ball, trying to wait until I could compose some analysis. I was wrong. I can admit that.

Read this, too!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What I've Read...

...on a Saturday morning. Tina's funeral is today, so I've been up a while.

Good things I've run across already today...

Kevin rounds up and analyzes coverage of the Jena Six coverage.

Like-minded Louisianans at Cenlamar: Questioning the Context of the Story. Cenlamar has other posts about the Jena Six from a very close perspective. (Speaking of Louisianans of like minds--it gets kind of isolating up here in the north. I'll ask about that later.)

BfP with further evidence that the South is not some un-American anomaly when it comes to race.


A Divine Ms. M at Kai's place: Have a Glimmer of Understanding, Or Go Home — About the Jena Six

And Rachel breaks it down in Jena 6: It’s About the Criminal (In)Justice System

Friday, September 21, 2007


Court rules 'Jena 6' defendant to stay behind bars:
Mychal Bell, the sole defendant who remains behind bars from the group of teens known as the "Jena 6," will not be released Friday, a court decided.

Bell, 17, has been in jail since his arrest more than nine months ago.

It was not immediately clear what happened in court Friday, where Bell's attorneys had planned to push for his release.
I'll bet I have an idea of what happened.

You can't tell me someone somewhere (on that court, perhaps?) isn't thinking, quite smugly, "We showed them."*
*And yes I'm cynical and pissed off and not apologetic about it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Support of the Jena Six

Yes, I told 'em why they're wearing black today.

Jena Six Live Broadcast Links (h/t AAPP): - Live radio broadcast from Jena, LA Sept. 20 ...

The Michael Baisden Show: Live from Jena, LA September 20th ...
Details about Michael's visit to Jena on September 20, 2007: 5:00am Buses meet in Alexandria, LA at Parish ... LIVE BROADCAST: Local Affiliate KMXH-FM 93.9 ...

Reuben Armstrong Show - the show that everyone is talking about
Live Broadcast from Jena, Louisiana On September 20th 2007 @ 7:30 a.m. (CST) we will broadcast live from Jena Louisiana

I'm putting the comments on moderation for the rest of the day. I've gotten my first pseudo-hate comments on some of my Jena posts today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Violence against Black Women (cont)

bell hooks wrote of perceptions of black women in America
the predominant image is that of the fallen woman, the whore, the slut, the prostitute.*
And that image is no longer a person but a thing.

A "devalued Jezebel," according to Patricia Hill Collins. The thing that justifies exploitation of black women, especially sexual exploitation. We, as things, are weak, permissive, immoral, somehow asking for "it"... or deserving of "it."

Which is why Crystal Gail Mangum was rarely a woman, a mother, a student.

She was a STRIPPER.

An object for titillation, for judgment, for hatred

A commodity that had been paid for,

A transaction in which she was presumed to not only have sold her body.

but her credibility.

And it's why the woman survivor in Dunbar Village could be dismissed as a hooker.

If she's a "hooker" then we don't have to

pay attention

be outraged.

And it's why Megan Williams's old warrants are suddenly urgent.

So urgent that she must be arrested and have
Because then the way she is portrayed changes from object (it's always object isn't it, even when the attention is sympathetic) of compassion to object of suspicion, of distrust.

And the questions shift away from grossly violent, repeat offenders to how might this criminal have brought this on herself?

(I mean, weren't people sort of asking it already reflecting on her previous relationship with one of her attackers?).

Why the push to cast doubt, to discredit, to malign? Because, according to hooks, Jezebel--that image, that thing, that less-than-(white)-woman--is an animal.

And "an animal cannot be raped."

Deborah Gray White recounts an argument set forth by a white man in the 19th century that focused on pseudo-scientific facts about the size and depth of white and black genitalia, the fragile flower-ness of white women, and the inherent, always-sexually-ready nature of blacks. His conclusion was that the rape of white women by black men is devastating.

But black women could not be raped.

And his argument was accepted, believed, heralded. It was, after all, just a codification of what had long been accepted, believed, heralded. Ingrained in a country in which violence against women of color by individuals is a reflection of the violence perpetuated against us by the state everyday. In health centers, social services offices, schools, jails.

And against such malignant thought and treatment, according to Gray White, black women defended themselves. Then. Now. Always.

But sometimes, Jezebel seems stronger than all our defenses. You see, the power of Jezebel, is that even when we are not physically attacked, (and Lord, when is that?), we are battered with the image as it it taught, reinforced, strengthened.

So that when we do rise up against our commodification, exploitation, objectification, then Jezebel is wielded to discredit us, to silence us, to label us, to imprison us.

But the image cannot be stronger than reality, can it?

A reality of our struggling, fighting, defending, surviving. Even when we are tired.

Because always being in opposition is tiring.

But we have to keep on. And to the question of how we keep on, one very wise woman says,
Now is the time to rise up in a way that creates new worlds. we need to be spreading the word on how to organize, how to base build in the community, how circumvent the police when you're getting your ass kicked, etc. We need a whole new fucking world---this one is fucking poison to us. nothing but poison.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Violence Against Black Women

I've been waiting to post about the Dunbar Village case in which a woman and her son were sexually assaulted and beaten and the more recent case in West Virginia, where a young black woman was assaulted and tortured for days. Rather than just express fear, outrage, helplessness, and hurt--all emotions that just swamp me when I think about these cases--I wanted to write some kind of analysis. That can come later. This just came in my e-mail:
Victim in torture case arraigned on old charges
Gary HarkiStaff writer

Megan Williams, the Charleston woman who has been the center of international media attention after her torturous ordeal in a Logan County home earlier this month, was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Kanawha County on outstanding warrants.

Williams is being arraigned in Kanawha County Magistrate Court on at least seven charges, mostly for allegedly obtaining under false pretenses and writing bad checks, according to court records. She also has an outstanding warrant from Summers County for failing to appear at a court hearing.

Before the arraignment, Williams was placed in a holding cell. She screamed and cried for her mother.
Sometimes, I just don't know.

H/T Deidra

There Is More than America

Today, one of my students, a young woman from Cameroon, interviewed me for a project on Nelson Mandela that she is doing for another class.

We had the most interesting conversation. After she interviewed me, she told me how she almost changed her topic from Mandela because when her teacher did an oral survey of the class, many of the students had chosen Michael Jordan and other athletes and celebrities. She could not understand, because the project is supposed to explore the person's impact on individuals and the world at large. "I know they are stars," she said, "But I was thinking, 'what?"."

Her teacher persuaded her to stay with Mandela. She also told me that she is still adjusting to living here and the perceptions that people have about her. One guy that she dated briefly apparently asked her if she knew people that rode lions. She asked me was it okay to call that a stupid question. I assured her that it was. He also asked her about her king. She told him they didn't have a king (too much Coming to America, I'm sure), but a president. Different African countries have different governments she told him, which floored him.

I told her that our kids are very USA-oriented. They just don't know the rest of the world. That's why we bitch about the idea of learning other languages or about other cultures. She laughed at that--"You all speak English," she said. "But French is my first language and I speak English and in high school, I studied German."

Then she told me how her roommate had been hesitantly asking her questions after looking through some of her pictures, "Y'all have beaches?" (Because all she's seen is pictures of African deserts); "You have a TV in your room? And a CD player?" These questions shocked my student. She said, over and over, she has to tell people, "Yes, we have what you have."

That response apparently bugged her ex-date buddy. He asked her one day, "If you have everything, why'd you come here then?" "To learn more," she said.

I told her all our kids hear about Africa is famine, war, and AIDS.

"But that is not all of Africa," she told me (I thought that was a simple but profound statement). She said that she thought that maybe Americans just didn't know about Africa. So she asked the guy what he knew about Europe.

Nothing. He claimed he only knew the States. And so she asked him, did he know all the state capitols. No to that, as well.

"So it is not only Africa," she said.

"I'm afraid not."

At which point she suggested a plan of action. She believes that all American students should write their "minister of education" and demand to be taught more about the world.

"America is big," she said. "And many people want to come here. But there is more than America."


A few days ago, I blogged briefly about the story of Precious Story, a young white woman allegedly killed by her black boyfriend and his brother. My post focused on local black residents' prediction of how whites would react and what her murder would mean for race relations.

Last night, we got a partial answer. My niece called me around 11:15 and began the conversation with, "Another white girl is missing." "Do you have to say it like that?" I asked her. "Yeah," she said, "Because they over here kicking folk's doors down and stuff."

From what I've been able to piece together, a 16-year-old girl had been expected home by her parents after work yesterday. When she didn't show up, they went looking for her. Her father and male relatives went to the home of her black ex-boyfriend and kicked the door in.

Now, I've heard that they were armed, but I cannot verify that.

Shortly after I got off the phone with my very irate niece, my best friend, Vivian, called.

"So, that's how it's going to be? Every time a white girl is late, they coming to the black part of town kicking in doors?" She was angry, too.

"Hell, no," I said. "That better not be how it's going to be."

We talked for a minute it and she ended the call with, "When her ass shows up at school tomorrow, I'll call you."

So, she called me a few minutes ago. Turns out, the girl wasn't at school, but neither had she been abducted, nor had she run off with the ubiquitous evil black boy.

She'd fallen in her backyard, into a shallow old well, and couldn't get out.

Her father had been at the school in this morning turning in her books and taking her out of the predominantly black high school. His only explanation--he and his wife are old-fashioned.


"Wait," I asked. "How is he at the school? Why he ain't in jail?"

""The police said there's nothing they can do."

I knew she must be joking. She swore she was not. The local police hadn't done anything (though they did show up last night). So now, the boy's mother is going to the parish police.

To which both of us said, hmmph.

I'm guessing this won't be in any of the local papers, so I wanted to document it here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Writing about the Jena Six

In the last couple of months, I was heartened to see all the people who blogged about the Jena Six, the journalists who began to cover it, the films and documentaries made. But I noticed some things in the coverage with which I took issue (yes, aside from the fact that national news outlets were a loooong time coming).

First, was this South-as-other-syndrome (closely related to the racism-is-a-thing-of-the-past-in-the-rest-of-the-nation syndrome). I read over and over, articles and posts that implied racism was a southern phenomenon that had died out in the rest of the U.S. some four of five decades ago. Lots of links between racism and the deep South, lots of "Wow, it must be like the 1950s down there!", lots of impassioned denunciations from southern expatriates and "I may have never lived there, but I just know how it is" other-region-ers.

And I thought, "Whoa." Now, part of my academic work is based on the idea that, in matters of race and color, the South does have an exceptionally poor record and a dogged determination, exhibited throughout U.S. history, to maintain the status quo--a racial hierarchy with African Americans, and especially poor African Americans, at the bottom.

But the South is not some anomaly, some other place from which the rest of the U.S. can separate itself. To think of racism and legal injustice as southern problems is analagous to the 19th century idea that slavery was a southern institution. It is also to dismiss and reduce the racism that permeates the whole of this country, its institutions, its cultures, its very foundations.

Rather than thinking of the South as an abnormality, we might better think of it as a bellwether. For example, the labor historian in me would point out while the South may have been particularly anti-union and anti-worker, the rest of the country seems to have followed suit. And, while thousands of African Americans migrated north- and westward in the first half of the 20th century, something is now pushing us out and pulling us back to the South (in other words, do racism and lack of opportunity play a role in the North's loss of status as a "promised land?").

I am also particularly troubled by this desire to cast racism, references to lynching, and different treatment within the legal system as some held over anachronism. No, it's not just like the 1950s. It's just like the 21st century because it is the 21st century, and the shit happens all the time. I remember the outrage I heard from one DJ in Texas when she found out that a school in Georgia just held an integrated prom this year. It was ridiculous, she thought, and someone should have done something and this couldn't happen anywhere else! I thought, hell, it was just like that at my old high school until a few years ago. And to pretend that children in other areas don't live in a segregated world just because they don't go to segregated proms is just fake to me.

And speaking of segregation-by-tradition, this idea that the town of Jena "split" over the last year (or divided or separated or any of those other titles I read) over the circumstances surrounding the Jena Six is simplistic, as well. So many towns down here do not split along racial lines over some significant event. Instead, it is a split that is long cultivated, that is instilled in us early and reinforced and maintained throughout our lives. In other words, Jena residents did not "divide" over these cases; these cases deepened and sharpened an already existing rift.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mychal Bell's Conviction Overturned

Kevin and my best friend Kim (who sent me an e-mail yesterday afternoon that I just now got back online to check) just made my day:
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 14 (AP) — A state appeals court reversed on Friday the only remaining conviction against one of six black teenagers accused in the beating of a white schoolmate in a racially tense Louisiana town.

The teenager, Mychal Bell, 17, should not have been tried as an adult, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal said in overturning his conviction for aggravated battery. He had faced up to 15 years in prison.
But, as Kevin notes,
It ain’t over yet. The DA, Reed Walters, has made it clear that he plans on appealing to the Louisiana Supreme Court; and there are still 5 other boys in peril, 4 of which will be tried as adults.
I'm not sure if the rally in Jena will still occur September 20. But, Lord this is a blessing. I know lots of hard work and effort went into it, combined with lots of prayer, faith, and belief.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I always post so much here, and then forget to update. My niece just called. And just as I was getting ready to fuss about her being up after midnight on a school night, she interrupted me.

Her aunt died.

Her name was Tina.

She would've been 27 next month.

Some things, I just don't get.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mind Swirl--the Personal Things

So much on my mind these days. It all goes in circles, seems to link, then falls apart into fragments again.

I have one class that I don't feel I'm reaching. Granted it's primarily first year students at 8 o'clock in the morning, but still! I hate that feeling of looking out and seeing empty or bored or confused eyes. I've talked to my department chair and repeatedly to the class. It's just strange, because I teach the same class at 1 PM and the students are much more engaged, lively, up for debate, and willing to ask questions.

My 17-year-old niece is pregnant and, out of fear of everyone's opinions, hid it for five-and-a-half months. Her daughter is due December 1. She just began receiving medical care mid-August. My feelings are a mix of worry and anticipation.

My 18-year-old niece is diabetic and not taking her insulin properly. She's having high glucose levels--I don't know all the correct terminology, but hers has been up in the hundreds. They're checking it everyday at school now. She doesn't get it. There are so many other things she's worried about--am I going to take her shopping for dresses to wear for homecoming since she's on the court? Who's going to do her hair? Will I help her fill out her ACT form (of course, helping turned in to my filling the tedious thing out by myself)? How can she ask my parents for the money for the deposit on her senior supplies? On and on and on.

My questions are much different. How long before there is irreparable damage to her organs? What is the "sugar coma" that I always hear people speak of? How do I get through to an 18-year-old?

And then there is so much sickness and death right now in this small area. My nieces' aunt is in a coma in a hospital in New Orleans. Her kidneys failed in her early 20s. She received a transplant a few weeks ago (hence the New Orleans hospital). Her body is apparently rejecting it. We don't know if she will live or die. She's 26-years-old.

Then, there is Petey. Whom I taught in fifth grade. Who was murdered some days ago. And the stories are swirling around--that her boyfriend and his brother killed her because she told someone they broke into a house; that white people in the area will be seeking vengeance (Petey was white, her boyfriend, the primary suspect, is black); that white parents are treating her as a model, warning their daughters why they should not be involved with black men. I can't tell you how many people have asked me, in hushed voices, "Does it seem like the white people are acting funny now?" I have been warned not to go out at night by myself. I don't believe all of the retribution rumors. But part of me remembers that I have not been in the area for six years and that I can't not underestimate anything.

A friend's mother died of cancer. At her wake, my friend said her chest felt as if it was caving in and it was so hard just to lift her head.

Just so much right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Big Head

Did I tell y'all? The other day, I got my bound copy of my dissertation from proquest. I sat and held it and smiled. And smiled and held it. And held it and smiled. So forth and so on, with short breaks to let members of my family look at it and declare that it was wonderful while I preened.

And you know, for a moment, as I skimmed it, I thought, maybe it wasn't the worst dissertation in the history of PhD-dom.

That feeling lasted all of a minute.

And then I sighed and put the thing away from me.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Historical Argument

So yesterday, in my US history class we discussed the "terrible transformation," using the example of Virginia. We began with the arrival of Africans in 1619, talked about the status (and supply) of white indentured servants and Native Americans, discussed Europeans' familiarity with slavery (and a bit about capitalism), Africans' familiarity with intensive agriculture, Anthony Johnson (Antonio, a Negro), Bacon's rebellion, and the changes in Virginia's laws regarding slavery, culminating with the 1705 proclamation that black and Native American slaves were real estate.*

Though I've read some interesting critiques of Anthony S. Parent's Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740, I tend to agree that slavery wasn't something Virginian planters just stumbled upon or were forced into by circumstances. Now, while it may not have been as planned or methodical as Parent suggests, let us never underestimate Americans' desire for earning the almighty dollar via exploitation (one depressing fact that helped render me silent on Labor Day, sigh).

Anyway, after a nice discussion (in my afternoon class--my morning class has me ready to pluck out the hairs of my head individually**), one student asked me was all this occuring around the same time as the Willie Lynch letter. I looked at her crazily and for a moment only said, "Wha-"

And then there was a chorus of, "You know, the Willie Lynch letter that explained how to keep blacks down."

"Oh!" says me, "That letter has been discredited," and I waved my hand dismissively and moved to talk about something else...

Only to be met with outrage and condescension. "It's not fake!" "It is authentic." "It's in a collection with other letters." "I can't believe you think it's not real!"

And because I had not the means to disprove the damn letter in class, I simply gave them the steely eye, reiterated that historians knew the letter was not valid, and moved on.

But my God, were they disgusted with me!

So, do I go in Tuesday morning armed with the words of historian William Jelani Cobb and attorney Steve Sheppard (who's at the U of Arkansas now--I have a soft spot for that school!) or do I let it drop? Seriously, I want the opinions of some classroom experts. Would this be allowing myself to be drawn into a silly argument or is it something I need to do?
*Yes, I outlined that detail by detail, so someone who's more versed in colonial history than I can say, "elle, I can't believe you left out this significant fact!"

**Though I did have three students in there who engaged with me yesterday on the topic of the origins of slavery in the "New World" one of whom argued that he didn't see a transformation in the status of Africans, that he believed, whether or not it was coded into law, Africans in the pre-U.S. were always treated/regarded a certain way and had little hope for anything better.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Part of Mychal Bell's conviction dropped; charges reduced

By Howard Witt at the Chicago Tribune:
HOUSTON — Ruling in a racially charged case that has drawn scrutiny from national civil rights leaders, a judge in the small central Louisiana town of Jena on Tuesday partially vacated the conviction of a black teenager accused in the beating of a white student while the district attorney reduced attempted murder charges against two other black co-defendants.

Judge J.P. Mauffray threw out a conspiracy conviction against Mychal Bell, granting a defense motion that Bell's June trial was improperly held in adult court and should instead have been conducted as a juvenile proceeding.

But Mauffray let stand Bell's conviction on aggravated second-degree battery, for which the 17-year-old faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 20. On that date, thousands of demonstrators from across the nation are planning to descend on the town of 3,000 to protest the prosecution of Bell and five other black youths who have come to be called the "Jena 6."
[O]n Tuesday, Walters similarly reduced the charges against defendants Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw, whose trials are set for January.
Bell's new defense attorneys said they plan further appeals before the Sept. 20 sentencing hearing in a bid to get his remaining conviction vacated.
H/T AfroSpear blog.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Black Students and Self-Expression (My Belated Blogging for Justice Post)

First, Yobachi has a roundup of bloggers who participated in the Day of Blogging for Justice.

There is so much that bothers me about the Jena Six case, but for this post, I'm going to focus on one aspect: How threatened school officials in Jena seem to be when black children stand up for themselves and against what they perceive as injustice or maltreatment. Remember, when black students protested against the nooses hanging from the "white tree" (and the hanging of the nooses being dismissed as a prank), DA Reed Walters sought to end their protest by threatening, "I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."

Now, the fact that the school felt the need to call in the district attorney says a lot--how else can his presence be explained except as a threat? I've never encountered a DA being called in because of what is perceived as a behavior problem. The message is clear: you act in ways we don't like, we involve the (in)justice system. Black children are not given the benefit of the doubt ("Oh, it's just a prank") automatically extended to white children.

Jena school officials' responses are, of course, indicative of much wider problems that manifest themselves in schools. There is an almost obsession in this country with making black children "appropriately" deferential, polite, soft-spoken, willing to take the shit that will be dished upon them in the roles that too many of them will occupy--in low wage labor, in the prison industrial complex, in unremitting poverty. Schools have become perfect places to shape non-political, status quo observant, non-individuals. As Kameelah notes,
I have been convinced that many large public schools function like factory systems. You pop in one student and with the appropriate manipulations, the necessary conveyor belt rides and some pedagogical alchemy and you get the school product: a depoliticized consumer who is more prepared to select the next game system to buy then to think critically about the social context that shapes his financially struggling neighborhood.
As an example, Kameelah writes about a new Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) report that found that
teachers tend to view the behavior of black girls as not “ladylike” and therefore focus disciplinary action on encouraging behaviors like passivity, deference, and bodily control at the expense of curiosity, outspokenness, and assertiveness.
And, as Ann Arnett Ferguson suggests in Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity, schools' discipline systems, in which black boys spend a disproportionate and inordinate amount of time, are often a way that racial order is perpetuated. Ferguson argues that public shcool officials frown upon and punish black boys' self-expression and try to humiliate them into "acceptable" behavior. When that doesn't work, the boys are marginalized and labeled as troublemakers.

For black children, schools become little more than a medium for social control and for instilling and rewarding behaviors deemed fitting based on race, gender, and socio-economic class.

So, imagine my non-surprise, when I watched the Monroe KNOE news the other night and saw a segment discussing the banning, by Jena school officials, of the "Free the Jena Six" t-shirts. The reported noted that the superintendent claimed to have had no problem with the message of the shirts, but felt they were disruptive.

Who, I wonder, did they make uncomfortable?

And why have the students who wore them been put in a defensive position, having to assert that they just wanted to make a statement, not cause trouble?

The Free the Jena Six shirts are banned, according to the superintendent, because they threatened the order of the campus. His claim is a bit narrow; apparently, the self-expression and protest politics of black children threaten to upset the much broader (racial) order of society.

Carnival Time

A long time since I updated y'all, I know, but here goes:

Black Amazon has the Carnival of Radical Action, a wonderful back to school edition.

And then there's the History Carnival.

The 3oth edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence, at abyss2hope.
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...