Wednesday, September 19, 2007
A Tree Grows in Jena
The White Tree in Jena, LA.
I am pissed off again. Have you heard of the Jena 6? I hadn’t until yesterday, when a friend sent me an email telling me about a legal battle raging in Louisiana. Ironically, it all began with a tree on a high school campus in a small town called Jena, nicknamed the "White Tree" because only white students sat under it during lunch and breaks. One day a black student asked the school principal during assembly if blacks were allowed to sit under the tree. The next day three hangman's nooses appeared, dangling from the tree. If you want to find out what happened next, click on some of the following links:
If you have heard of the Jena 6, then I hope you’re as angry as I am that this sort of insidious, institutionalized racism is still happening. No, I'm not surprised that racism is still around but I am surprised by what short memories our elected officials have. I was in Los Angeles in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict and I remember the feelings of unease and anger that brewed during that trial and then exploded in the L.A. Riots/Rodney King uprising - whatever you want to call that insurrection doesn't make a difference here. What matters is that Los Angeles proved that it would not tolerate institutionalized racism in that instance without a fight and Jena, Louisiana will do the same. Oh yeah, I am pissed and I am not alone. Newsweek quotes a man named Ray Hodges who claims to have planted the tree (which has since been cut down) 20 years ago: "I watched that tree grow...It was planted as a tree of knowledge. But guess what it became? It became a tree of ignorance."
There is a peaceful march planned for tomorrow morning in Louisiana. Let’s hope that peaceful measures work. I signed the online petition and am doing my bit to spread the word but I’m too old and crotchety to be satisfied with that. When the charges against those kids are dropped (and I know we will make that happen), we must make sure to write down the names of the politicians who showed support, the celebrities who showed their support, the businesses that showed support. Clip their names to your bulletin board, get a magnet and put them on your fridge, but do not forget them. We must vote at the ballot box and with our dollars because these 6 kids are just the tip of a giant iceberg. When this is all over and the marchers and media go home there will still be other kids at that high school who will still have to contend with hostile conditions. We need to make sure that we set those kids up for success. All children, regardless of color, deserve leaders who teach them about justice and equality with their actions. Inaction sends a message of cowardice and who needs cowardly leaders?
I hope you will join me in spreading the word, signing the petition, and calling for our leaders to step up and tell us where they stand on this! It's disgusting that in 2007 we are still dealing with the strange and bitter fruit wrought by America's economic roots in the slave trade, but it does us no good to look the other way. When racism rears its ugly head we must kick it in the face.
Billie Holiday sums up my emotions at this moment much better than I can express in words. Here's Ms. Holiday singing her great song, Strange Fruit courtesy of YouTube.