The crowd in Leimert Park was impressive. Los Angeles’ ode to the Jena Six brought out the youth and older folks who stood shoulder to shoulder—a rare sight. Young adults planned the demonstration that proceeded without a hitch. A long line of speakers blasted the injustice suffered by the Jena Six, some also condemned George W. Bush and his cohorts for the illegal invasion of Iraq and assorted domestic policies that adversely affect Blacks.
The small park was jammed, but no one seemed to mind, even though the event lasted over three hours. High positive energy defined both the crowd and speakers. Last minute word that 17-year-old Mycal Bell’s conviction was overturned on appeal received a mixed response since he remained in jail without bail. (Bell was released on bail late last week.)
The main event, of course, was in Jena, Louisiana, where thousands descended, protesting the Jena Six’s treatment. They raised peaceful hell, possibly underplaying the likelihood that Jena’s Black residents would catch real hell after the throng left. (Since then, White supremacists have sworn they would retaliate for the Jena Six demonstrations with violence against local Blacks.)
The key task now, as always, is to parlay the outrage of a seminal event into sustained action against on-going inequities. Failure to connect a single (albeit galvanizing) event to an ongoing injustice reflects Blacks’ lack of awareness and resolve to deal with critically important issues. Absent sound, unified strategies and action, Blacks progress, already in jeopardy, will further erode.
Apparently, neither L.A.’s Jena Six expedition nor Leimert Park demonstrators planned follow-up strategies or actions. Hopefully, such plans will be developed, with outreach not only to participants and demonstrators, but others interested in transferring the Jena Six “high” to other equally critical issues. This will require commitment and organizing, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. Worst case scenario: Patented indifference of Black leaders and communities prevails with the usual moaning that masks an unwillingness to challenge the establishment.
Better education and information are essential to avoid mistakes of the past. But Blacks know America has not really changed on matters of race, even if they don’t act like it. Another telling point: The nation’s schools are as segregated as they were 40 years ago, while Jena’s high school, and many others throughout the South, are more “integrated” than those in Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district.
Knowledge is key in recognizing that alleged integration nationwide is largely an illusion promulgated by the press and policymakers to maintain the status quo. The current “diversity” campaign should be debunked as another strategy to further dilute what little influence Blacks and others of color have managed to acquire. Distinguishing between integration, desegregation and diversity is vital, and arguably, better informed communities are indispensable for developing and maintaining viable Black agendas.
Sustaining motivation and commitment after Jena means not only talking, but behaving differently. But moving from intention to sustained action is very difficult for most of us. Clearly, only drastic change will move Blacks (or any group) from complacency to collective empowerment.
The legacy of slavery is far more tenacious and devastating than most Blacks acknowledge. Arguably, its most insidious effect is self-hate, a by-product of slaves being stripped of every vestige of culture, language and customs, that continues to have a deleterious effect on Blacks, socio-economic class, notwithstanding.
Having internalized White’s values (without developing their own) most Blacks won’t challenge the system; to do so is to challenge themselves. Those who consider this an exaggeration should track the behavior of young Black children. Talk with parents, teachers, psychologists, probation and parole officers, etc., and the unmistakable conclusion is that far too many of these children think little of themselves and act accordingly. And the malady extends well beyond childhood: The “go along to get along” syndrome among Black adults is another indication of a “less than White” affliction. This has on-going implications for Blacks, accepting, albeit reluctantly, the status quo. Another manifestation is not following up galvanizing events such as Jena Six with sustained action. More important, is a muted tolerance of deplorable systemic conditions.
There are no quick fixes, and creating Black agendas is essential for needed change. The immediate task is to bottle the outrage over Jena Six and use it judiciously to attack on-going atrocities that contaminate all of Black life.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.