I've been to Jena. It's an hour north of Bunkie, where I road four-wheelers with anti-semites; and an hour west of Kingston, Mississippi, where I'll some day own land once tilled by slaves.* For the past few weeks, I wanted to write about the Jena Six, but didn't know what to say. How many ways can a person not express surprise?** (Besides, Kevin's mensch-work assuaged my compulsion to address the issue, as through him I found Sylvia, Vox, and Elle.)
This isn't to say I haven't been reading and researching. I have. Yesterday, at a popular online forum to which I won't link, I found David Duke complaining about media coverage of the case. He quotes this (from an article no longer online):
Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran for Louisiana governor.
Well that proves the White folks of Jena must be a really bad bunch. They voted for me about 75 percent.
This is one more biased article meant to instill White guilt and shame. In Jena, Blacks a quite small minority commit most of the crimes and many of them are quite beastly, but Whites are the ones painted as devils here!
When I talk about the South to people whose experience of racism is almost wholly institutional, they accuse me of trying to change the subject.** Not the case. Only 25 percent of the white population didn't vote for an outspoken white supremacist. This bears repeating with thunder:
Only 25 percent of the white population didn't vote for an outspoken white supremacist.
Let me put this another way: in the 2004 election, La Salle Parish (of which Jena is the seat) voted overwhelmingly for Bush, to the tune of a 80-20 margin. In the 2003 gubernatorial election, however, Democratic candidate Kathleen Blanco took La Salle by a 60-40 margin over her Republican opponent. Remarkable, no? Not really. This was her opponent:
Most of the time, you see his first name in quotation marks, lest anyone forget "Bobby" Jindal's first name is Piyush.
However, I will agree with Duke on one thing: the AP article on Mychal Bell's conviction stating that he was found guilty by "an all-white jury" suggests some sort of judicial misconduct. That's not entirely fair. An all-white jury couldn't be avoided: no blacks answered the summons for jury duty. Moreover, given that Jena is 85 percent white (as is La Salle Parish, if they chose to expand the jury pool), it's statistically unlikely a black person would be chosen. Of course, the history of systematic disenfranchisement (only registered voters are summoned) and the whole jury-of-your-peers thing merit consideration ...
* Ironically, this land was first settled by immigrants from New Jersey. (That's right: those Swayzes.) It took three centuries, but that land will eventually be back in good Jersey hands. The North shall rise again.
** A few years back, I was branded a racist on the department listserv for mentioning the KKK in a debate about institutional racism. "The KKK is beside the point!" yelled someone who's obviously lived his whole life in California.