and the New Movement
By Margaret Kimberley
In Jena, Louisiana, tens of thousands
of black Americans showed the country how and why a
movement should be conducted. They made a clear demand
for justice in a case that hearkened back to the worst
days of Jim Crow. The response to the original injustice
should be a blueprint for activists who want to impeach
a president, end an occupation, safeguard voting rights,
or rebuild New Orleans.
The story of the Jena Six began when
young people bravely made their own demand for an end to
the assumptions of white supremacy. It is popular to
disparage young black people, whose foibles are usually
the result of behaving like the adults in their lives.
Despite the criticisms made of them, history shows us
that the youth are usually a step ahead of their elders
when change is required.
If sitting under a tree is the last
symbol of white supremacy in a state that fought tooth
and nail to maintain it, then challenging that
supremacist ideology is dangerous indeed. Were it not
for concerned parents and other supporters who fought
for them, the Jena Six would have disappeared namelessly
into the American prison system like so many millions of
other young black men.
After a successful first step, there
is now talk of "backlash" in Jena. A movement that
doesn't produce a backlash isn't much of a movement at
all. It isn't surprising that a neo-Nazi website openly
threatened the lives of the Jena Six or that rednecks
attempt to provoke violence by tying nooses onto their
The new movements that must begin in
the 21st century will also provoke backlash.
It may take the form of media lies, or the outright
disappearance of what should be headline stories. The
backlash will also take the form of opposition and
denunciation from fellow citizens who will be more than
happy to keep other people in their place.
Movement activists will often be
alone. Many will suffer from loss of job, home, friends,
family, just as the original fighters for civil rights
suffered. Even when oppression and violence are obvious
and blatant, activists must depend on themselves for
support and affirmation and they must never under
estimate the ugliness and hatred that their actions can
The gravitational pull of the
powerful away from activist concerns should also not be
underestimated. While the rest of black America was
united in demanding freedom for the Jena Six, Barack
Obama was a Johnny come lately whose lack of interest
was all too obvious.
Several weeks before the protests in
Jena, Obama made it clear that he didn't really care to
discuss a subject that had become a touchstone for the
rest of black America. He could only muster a
lame remark that the Jena Six "appear to have been
railroaded into a very difficult situation." Obama has a
gift for understatement.
When protests became front page news
and Jesse Jackson had him on the offensive, Obama didn't
do much better than President Bush, who delivered
vapid nonsense. "The events in Louisiana are - have
saddened me. I understand the emotions. The Justice
Department and the FBI are monitoring the situation down
there, and all of us in America want there to be
fairness when it comes to justice."
Foolishness from Bush is to be
expected, but it is
truly insulting coming from Obama: "Outrage over an
injustice like the Jena 6 isn't a matter of black and
white." What planet is Mr. Audacious describing? The
faces of protestors at Jena were 99% black. White
progressive pundits and bloggers said little if anything
about Jena. It was black bloggers and radio hosts who
made Jena a household word in their community and
inspired thousands to act. It seems that Obama is out of
touch with black and white America, both of whom had
clearly chosen sides in the case.
After the media managed to cover
black people for a few days, and the heat was off, Obama
returned to the true business of his campaign,
finding more checks to bundle. Making wealthy people
happy is the road to the White House for the ambitious,
but the road to hell for everyone else. The Obamas of
the world will never have our interests at heart, and
cannot determine when and how we will act.
A sustained effort will be needed to
undo the wrongs committed in Jena. Freedom is the demand
and freedom will be the only way to measure success in
this case. The Jena demonstrators are showing the rest
of us what democracy looks like, and why and how it
should be saved.
* * *
Kimberley's Freedom Rider
column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New
York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at
Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgandaReport.Com . Ms.
Kimberley' maintains an edifying and frequently updated
blog at freedomrider.blogspot.com.
More of her work is also available at her Black Agenda
Black Agenda Report
* * *
Minstrelsy and White
Hattie McDaniel, one of her famous
quips was: I'd rather play a maid than be one." She had
been either a washerwoman or was the daughter of one
before receiving her Oscar.
One should consider
as well Eugene Robinson, columnist of the Washington
Post (WP), and his
Drive Time for the 'Jena 6'. He seems to
write with a little white man on his shoulder, that is,
with his own particular white fears, like Louie, like
Hattie. His column emphasizes briefly the mechanics of
how 60,000 blacks come to appear in the isolated white
community of Jena, Louisiana; that is, he focuses on the
"how" rather than the "why." Yet he places significant
suggestive facts on the table.
fair to say that without black radio, the case of the
Jena 6 probably never would have become a significant
It was not only a
national story; it was an international story. The BBC
online covered the story long before for the WP—Race
Hate in Louisiana.
Isn't that an oddity? One
may also ask, Where was the NAACP? They dragged in last
and initially began collecting money that was not going
directly for the defense of the black boys. Where was
Eugene and his column?
Michael Baisden and
Tom Joyner came late. They indeed gave it a boost. They
saw that there was a commercial appeal to the story.
"Why is this interesting? Because black America
is increasingly complicated and diverse, riven by fault
lines that didn't exist back when the great civil rights
heroes were marching in
How is that
important for the Jena 6? He attempts to clarify but
still only suggests the reality that exists.
"There are black families
that have had multigenerational middle-class success,
and black families trapped in multigenerational poverty
How is that
important, this "success"? At bottom the Jena 6
situation is about economics, the nooses only symbolical
of those economic frustrations, and that which doesn't
arouse the "successful" there is silence, he seems to
suggest, except from the masses who feel the nooses
tightening in numerous ways, for instance, longer hours
and decreasing wages; job discrimination without any
mechanism which to challenge it; joblessness;
underemployment; police repression; and other
repressive laws and attitudes.
black community' is, for most purposes, best thought of
Now we get to the
grist of Eugene's tale, his perspective from on high.
What does that mean in the real life of the different
communities? There will be no second
civil rights movement because the superficial
elements of Jim Crow are dead, ostensibly? The economic
issues are too extensive and would require much more
than a civil rights movement; one would have to begin
where M.L. King left off.
The so-called civil
rights leaders are reserving their energies, however,
for more important game: a get out the vote to install a
Democratic president, some of whose candidates spoke
briefly in similar tones as Eugene, that is, how
regrettable the Jena situation, but little else. So did
Bush, for that matter. But a different party in the
White House makes no assurances about working class
issues and "racial" or police repression.
But all these facts
receive no analysis from Eugene. He concludes all is
well except in Jena, Louisiana: "We don't see that many instances of overt,
unapologetic, separate-and-unequal racial discrimination
these days, thank goodness" (my emphasis).
Here he speaks with
that little white man on his shoulder. I wonder who is
the "We" in this instance when we have "plural"
communities. Is that conclusion really true? Is it true
There's a greater
healthiness in Armstrong's antics or in those of Hattie
McDaniel, for you know they are playing a role to
appease white expectations. With writers like Eugene,
only a few can see he's also playing his role for his
white bosses and audience, who read to find out what
a certain segment of the black community thinks.
Certainly, the few
"instances" are not true for the 60,000 that converged
on Jena from all over the country, nor the bloggers and
websites that have been carrying the story for
months. The repression of the Jena 6 (Black teenagers)
is a repression felt nationally. It's not an isolated
situation as Eugene suggests. They were marching for
themselves as well as the six black boys, who are not
too unlike the
Scottsboro Boys of the 1930s.
I'm sure I'm speaking to the choir.—Rudy
* * *
Black power is taking control of your destiny—Black
political power has grown significantly in the past four
decades, according to the Joint Center for Political and
Economic Studies. In 1970, there were only 469 black
elected officials. That number has grown to more than
10,000 in 2007. Sociologist Art Evans of Florida
Atlantic University in Boca Raton said the nation has
changed and black people have made progress in just
about every aspect of society. "There's been tremendous
growth in the black middle class," Evans said. "In the
1960s less than 3 percent of blacks were middle-class;
today, 37 percent of blacks are middle-class. . . .
[Yet] "We still don't have the control over our lives,"
[Kwame] Afoh said. Gregory Lewis.
“Some see lack of progress, others strides since 1960s.”
* * *
posted 26 September 2007 / updated
28 March 2008