One of the most important dimensions of this week’s discussion of the Jena Six is the opportunity this case presents to have a direct, open, honest discussion of race, justice and the ongoing quest for civil rights in the United States. Many students have commented to me that they appreciate having this opportunity to speak about their experiences, perceptions, opinions and values on discrimination, due process and equal protection of the laws.
Not everyone agrees with those who believe that the Jena Six were treated unjustly. A blog comment from Pete Bauman, whom I do not know, expresses this point of view:
“The jena6 is a no-brainer. They tried to beat that kid to death. The nooses hurt no one. Trying to kick an unconscious boy to death did serious harm to someone.”
Other comments, however, reveal other levels of reflection on this situation. A student, Holly Heintz Budd, shares this perspective:
“Last month, when my 17 year old daughter originally saw a reference to the Jena 6 on facebook we were skeptical: Many things that you read on the internet are not true and we certainly had not seen or heard any references to the incident on the news. Thank you for putting this issue in my face. As a white, woman, mother, professional, and graduate student at Trinity, it sure would be easier to not pay any attention to this story. I have a lot on my plate… Sometimes it is easy to loose track of why I do anything in the first place; for my children, for a better world, for self enrichment… I often feel like I am just treading water, like I am swimming against the tide and not getting anywhere. It is easier to just look the other way and to believe that there is nothing that I can do, that it is not my problem. My guess is that a lot of white people feel the same way; however, if I just sit back and do nothing, then I am communicating my approval. And so I want to make it loud and clear, I do not approve. I cannot see how anyone could claim that this is not a racial issue. I do not think that the African American youths in Jena Louisiana have received fair treatment. These statements may have more of an impact coming from a white person. I hope more non-minority people in positions of power will use their voices to make a difference. “Nothing we do as individuals matters, but it’s vitally important to do it anyway.” Gandhi
Another voice is that of Brenda Graham, a Trinity student and a wonderful colleague at THE ARC where she works with the Washington Middle School for Girls. Brenda writes,
“I am praying extensively as well as I have been assisting in raising the level of awareness in other to this serious issue. I feel that every time an incident occurs with white/Caucasians and black or African people of what ever descent there is always an issue of race. I feel that it goes beyond race. To me race is just a factor in a truly unjustifiable way some of our ancestors have acted for generations. I think we need to address the reason racial discrepancies develop. We as human beings find it so hard to break old behaviors even if it kills others, and change our own lives for ever. Those of us with the powers to be need to step up as soon as this kind of ugly behavior rare its ugly head and sever it. I know it sounds violent but if we nip it in the bud, it will never manifest as a wild flower, or should I say wild children.”
Finally, I heard again from Tashayla Montfort, whose comments I posted first on Monday, September 17, including her poem on the Jena Six. Tashayla’s insight into what this week’s discussion really means seems like a suitable conclusion to this remarkable exchange of opinions and insights on the Jena Six. Here’s Tashayla’s final observation today:
“By you asking for comments on the Jena six issue, I have learned about things in which I would have otherwise been blind. I have enjoyed reading the students as well as the comments from teachers. Today in particular was quite strange. A student in one of my classes randomly starts talking to me about Jena 6 stating that many students were angry with her for not supporting the protest. I proceeded to ask her why she was not supporting the protest only to find out that she believed that the boys should have known better. They teach them in the south to stay away from Caucasian people and say anything to you out of the way respect them, do not put your hands on them and walk away. I began to become enraged, but I did not show it…I simply told her, “By not speaking out and taking a stand, you are subjecting yourself to an indirect slavery. I understand this is how you were brought up and I can not change that, however you can support the protest’s goal of abiding by equal rights.” I had no idea that this is how people lived in 2007. This case has definitely opened my eyes in more ways than one.”
I hope that this discussion throughout this week has been a source of learning and reflection for others in our Trinity community. We all have different ideas and points of view, and as an intellectual community, a gathering of learners and scholars, our first and most important work is to open our minds, to hear each other, to examine facts and opinions critically, to embrace the discovery of new knowledge in order to craft better solutions to some of the most intractable social problems of our civilization. Injustice, hatred, prejudice, fear — these are the sources of most of the suffering, wars and human catastrophes in this world. We may agree or disagree about specific facts or actions in the Jena Six case or other cases, but we share a deep sense of solidarity about the need to work collectively for justice and peace. In this sharing of our common values, which are not just secular but spiritual, we find fresh hope and a renewed sense of our higher purpose in working, learning and living together at Trinity.