Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Several regular readers asked that I post about the Jena Six.

I have avoided doing so partly because other bloggers have done a remarkable job covering the case (Elle, PhD...Jack & Jill PoliticsAfrican American Political Pundit, just to name a few) but also because the case of the Jena Six takes me back to a place I don't like to return to.

I’m 34 years old and I still remember my second grade teacher looking me right in the eye while a classmate beat the shit out of me on the playground for being black. I remember my teacher's vivid blue eyes…so cold and yet amused…and knowing that my humiliation pleased her.

I remember the tolerance for bullying, violence, intimidation and racism almost more than I remember the kids who menaced me daily. My days were filled with hair pulling, stomach hitting, pinching, kicking, spitting, tripping, verbal abuse and general taunting.

Defend thyself and you’ll get in big trouble for "causing trouble"…so I learned how to take a beating by age six.

I stopped crying as a result of the name calling…stopped eating lunch because it just wasn’t worth it…and stopped sleeping because my mind wouldn’t rest for thoughts of drama past and drama sure to come.

By the time I reached high school I had learned to defend myself with words which earned me death threat during my sophomore year.

And I remember everyone asking me how that note got in my locker in a tone that begged me to “play ball’ and pretend it wasn’t serious. It was just kids acting out…just a youthful mistake…no big deal, right?

Of course I knew who did it and of course nothing was done.


And I’m 34 years old and I still remember and wish and wonder.

Was it just that sad moment in time?

Has everything changed now and for the better?

Then a black student sat under a tree in the schoolyard in Jena Louisiana where only white students historically sat…and the next day three nooses were hanging from the tree.

There was tension…the tolerance of intolerance…a fight or fights…then a white student with a concussion and bruises…and six black Jena High School students were arrested, charged with attempted murder and conspiracy.

They face up to 100 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

And I'm back in that place I don't like to return to...a place I know still exists for too many people and not just in the south.

These young people do not deserve nor will society benefit from Jim Crow justice.

The Jena Six deserve justice.

We all do.


Unknown said...

Ms. ABB..this post is so emotional, so raw it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

I will be reprinting this on Sirens..it has to get out to the white folks that don't know about it.

Thank you so much for posting your story, which had to be so damn hard to write, and the links to the Jena Six.

BarefootCajun said...

I am a member of the group from our church working to help the Jena Six. A large group will be driving up to Jena on Sept. 2oth for the first sentencing. We are organizing a community meeting here in Baton Rouge and have been pushing the media to start covering this more.

What has been happening in Jena makes me sick to my stomach. I was beginning to hope that Louisiana was turning a corner but I was so very wrong.

These kids need all the help they can get. They need financial help for their legal representation. The public defenders in Jena are not doing their jobs in this case. Good kids are about to go to jail just for being black. We're going to do everything we can to keep that from happening.

sumo said...

Came from Sirens and I admit I was not aware of the Jena Six. I don't know if I just missed it or perhaps it didn't make it into the news in California...but I am aware of it now. If I had been that school marm I'd have protected you ABB...your strength as a person has brought you this far in spite of man's inhumanity. It's a terrible shame this happens...ever! Thank you for sharing. I will also do what I can to get the word out there more.

Yankee T said...

As the white parent of black children, as a parent, as a woman, as a human being PERIOD this sickens me. I have been reading for a long time. This post did me in. I'd like to think I would not have stood by if I were that teacher. I'm embarrassed that anyone did, and I apologize on her behalf.

thatfarmgirl said...

As sorry as I am to say this, the Jena 6 case does not surprise me in the least. We moved to Louisiana as young children -- children of a 7th generation Louisianan and a foreign mother. The ridicule and racism we faced -- even though our skin is white -- was incomprehensible. Sadly, racism is alive and well in Louisiana (and elsewhere) but it seems especially deep rooted in that state. Thank you for your post.

faboo mama said...

I think you did a wonderful job with the words. I've been hestitant to blog about this, not only because I thought other bloggers did a very good job, but also because the intolerance I dealt with was religion-based. Then again, I grew up a fighter and in the 'burbs of Los Angeles. My experiences can't touch this. I'm going to link this on my blog.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I am not really surprised.

One of my uncles is a Methodist Minister. He is retired now but when he was still doing his thing he was ran out of a small town in Mississippi by his congregation.

It seems that the church he was assigned to had a "community school". And it seems his wife was teaching kids how to read.

Black kids how to read. Did I mention that they were black? Well anyway, she was doing this. The church members (not black) found up and had a fit. They complained and my uncle was reassigned.

When did this happen? 1960? No. 1970? No. 1980? Getting closer!

1995. Yes, 1995. Not 1885, 1995. Barely 10 years ago.

Mississippi and Louisiana might as well be the same state. Throw Alabama in for good measure. Just erase the state lines.

When I go to Mississippi to visit with family I know I am the outsider. I have to be careful and remember I am not supposed to like non-whites lest I get beat up myself. People who speak Spanish are "not white" even if they are blond chicks from Spain. It is really insane. I dislike going there.

more cowbell said...

Thank you for going back to share that pain with us. The Jena situation could happen anywhere -- if this is not met with absolute outrage and refusal to tolerate it, it will happen again. The comments I hear from white people about Jena are along the lines of, "But I can't believe that could happen in 2007!". Most think this is a shocking, isolated incident, not reflective of the country as a whole. Shocking yes, absolutely, but not isolated.

Most white people honestly have no idea that students of color deal with the effects of systemic racism in schools every damn day in 2007. I am white, and am sick about this, but am not shocked -- this is what happens when the SYSTEM of racism is allowed to persist unchecked, when the administrators say incident after incident is "isolated", and the fault of the student rather than the institution. This is what happens when white teachers & administrators are put in place without even some damn training on bias and institutional racism and privilege and cultural awareness.

I hope this is a wake up call; is this not blatant enough? How much more extreme does it have to get before people wake up?

I see things happening in my own district -- kids being pushed out of the system, it's a pattern, but folks don't want to see it, it's easier to get rid of the kid than deal with the underlying problem. Today an expulsion, tomorrow a kid in prison behind some ignorance.

A small group of us recently started a parents group behind some of these same problems -- so far our district is responsive. We're fortunate. Those young men in Jena are people's sons ... it's heartbreaking to think of what they're dealing with.

MAWG said...

I'm so sorry.

Lynn@ZelleBlog said...

Thank you for posting about this, it isnt easy to talk about painful aspects of our past, and it cant be very reassuring to know that these things are still going on.

I am not sure where you stand on hope, but as I said at Sirens- I think we do have reasons to think things have changed. But many reasons to think that racism is viewed by many as "solved". Many people are just more discreet about their behavior. Smile and talk about how they dont approve but then make remarks or jokes or try to move to white neighborhoods.

What we say and what we do are often worlds apart.

Antonio said...

What a terrible story from your childhood. How can teachers expect ANY student to succeed if they won't give them equal treatment? Easily as troubling as this travesty with the Jena Six.

Anonymous said...

I think its interesting that while so many people cherish dear fantasies about black women and girls as being so tough and amazonian and impervious to harm-- even taking the 'strong black woman' as a beloved role model-- so many of us have stories like yours, where we are anything but.


seamus said...

What really jumps out is how the MSM has ignored what's going on in Jena. This should have been front page six months ago. The liberal media strikes again.

Anonymous said...

I can't understand why the three nooses weren't treated as a death threat. If a student even says the words "bomb" or "gun" in school nowadays, he or she will be interrogated to the hilt.

Reluctance on the part of school administrators to discipline students is a huge problem, stemming in part because of the fear (and constant threat) of lawsuits.

Sometimes I wonder if black students aren't disciplined more harshly simply because administrators are at a loss to keep control in the school, and they perceive white parents as more likely to take legal action. (A manifestation of systemic racism.)

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