I have been thinking a lot about this story for the past couple of weeks. First it made me angry, then it made me sad, but mostly I am left confused and conflicted. I am (hopefully) soon to become the mother of two very adorable little boys who happen to have beautiful brown skin. I know this world is a tough place and I know that my boys will experience racism during their lives. I pray that things will change before they are old enough to realize it, but I know things aren't likely to change very quickly. I know that most people will see my boys and think that they are adorable now, but what will their reactions be in 10 years when my boys are teenagers? Will people's first reactions when seeing my boys be that they are handsome young men? Or will they be seen as troublemakers or thugs?
One of the things that I have noticed while following this story during the past couple of weeks is something that troubles me tremendously. I have heard/seen interviews with several different people from Jena who adamantly state that the media is portraying Jena to be something that it is not. That racism isn't pervasive in their town. That they are not racist people. That black people are treated no differently than the white people. Every single one of those people has been white. Every one. But, when I've seen black people from Jena interviewed they all said that racism in their town is real, that it happens. Just like it happens all over our country. Only now the spotlight is on Jena, LA.
The truth is, discrimination can be obvious, but it can also be subtle. Its dirty looks. Its when you cross the street to avoid walking next to someone who looks different from you, or who you think looks dangerous or scary (for any number of reasons). Its when you judge someone's ability to do a good job based on the color of their skin. Its when women or people of color get paid less for the same work. Its when we jump to conclusions or make blanket judgements based on someone's skin color, sex, sexual orientation, weight/body type, or religious affiliation. Discrimination is everywhere.
Do those in the majority notice the discrimination? Do they realize that its happening? There is something wrong with our country and there needs to be a real and honest discussion about it. The majority may not notice what is happening, but those who are at the receiving end of it can tell you that discrimination is real.
Jena, LA is 85% white and about 12% black. The 85% might not notice that there is a problem, but when the 12% says something is wrong, perhaps it needs to be checked out. And perhaps it should have been discussed and diffused before the beating happened in the first place. Perhaps this discussion should have started when white students hung nooses in the tree in the high school courtyard.
I am, however, not saying that Jena is any worse than any other town/city in our country. And I'm not saying that the 6 young black students are innocent of all crimes. Afterall, they did beat a white student. The question for me is whether or not things could have been diffused long before things got so bad. If people had opened their eyes to see what was happening, could this whole situation have been avoided? Right now the spotlight is on Jena, and that is unfortunate for Jena. I am sure that it is difficult for the people of Jena to hear negative things about their town on the national media. But perhaps this will start a dialog in Jena and around our country. Maybe good will come out of this afterall.
I pray that my generation is the generation that says "Enough!" I pray that we are the generation that stands up and says that bigotry and racism will not be tolerated in our society. I pray that we can all spend more time noticing our similarities than pointing out our differences. I pray that we can make a difference in the world so that it is a better place for our children, for my children.