Jena Just Isn't Enough: Protest or Participation?

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 2:24 PM EDT

In the wake of news, both good and bad, about minority crime, Congress finally coming to grips with the crack/powder cocaine sentencing travesty, and actionable analyses of the prison-industrial complex gaining traction, the question remains one of finding a way forward to inner city uplift. (Of course, for some, the question remains "how can we get those ig'nent black people to accept that all their problems are entirely of their own making. That they, and they alone, live in a socio-historical vaccuum, untouched by the doings of the dominant group.")

White apologists to the contrary, and except in Louim-ian circumstances, we do not need a "21st Century Civil Rights Movement." Not if that means an emphasis on marching, protesting and denunciations of racism. Been there. Done that. Move along, now. Whites' consciousness isn't going to be raised any higher until the black one undergoes some major renovations and maybe not even then; people see what they want to see. In fact, we'd do best to assume whites will never be any more enlightened than they are now because, to paraphrase Chris Rock, it wasn't the white media chasing him home from the subway.

Is it whites' fault that Ray-Ray was chasing Chris? Ok, let's go with that, but to stop there is to fetishize white people. It's to assume that whites are all-malevolent, all-powerful and there's nothing blacks can do to protect, let alone better, themselves. On the other hand, to procede to figuring out a way to reach Ray-Ray is to love black people and the black future. It's to believe in them. And, here's the hard part: believing in someone or something has to mean a willingness to critique it closely for flaws, for failing to live up to its potential, then working to correct those flaws.

So when I hear of organizations like this one, I know I've encountered a true "nigger lover." They didn't just harp on blacks' disproportionate unemployment levels and how the prison-industrial complex keeps black men forever on the margins; they opened the "Homeboy Bakery" and created jobs with futures for America's despised. And talk about a work ethic when you know your boss, and your clientele, wants to see you shine. Leaders like this talk about "watching people become the truth of who they are." The other kind talk about white people.

Here's another way forward vice back, yet again, to whites:

The plan to put 10,000 men on the streets for an initial period of 90 days starting late this year is the latest effort by Philadelphia's black community to curb violence that drove homicides to a nine-year high of 406 in 2006.
Groups of volunteers will be stationed on drug corners and other trouble spots in a bid to stop the shootings and other crimes that have given Philadelphia the highest homicide rate among the nation's 10 largest cities. They will not be armed, will not have powers of arrest, and will be identified only by armbands or hats during their three-hour shifts.
They will be trained in conflict resolution, and are intended to be peacekeepers and mentors rather than law enforcers. Each patrol, however, will include a police officer.

Sure would be a lot easier to walk a picket line once a year or so and yell stuff at TV cameras.

Needless to say, the folks who secretly believe that all the lies are true, that black dysfunction and underachievement is the truth of who we are, are putting far more effort into derailing the plan than volunteering for it: "Critics say the plan will fail to meet its recruitment goals, partly because it is too closely identified with the police, who will be responsible for selecting the areas to patrol and who are distrusted in many neighborhoods." It doesn't take a CIA analyst to see who here is invested in black progress and who in preserving a status quo that enables their fascination with Anglos and absolves blacks of any responsibility for their own uplift.

My frustrations with the problematics of the Jena protests has me stuck on this topic, I know, but never fear: I'll move on. I'd planned to today; my umbrage isn't even close to fully taken and it's a target-rich environment out there. But then I happened upon the following article early this morning. One participant at a recent conference of marginalized black/migrant European women summarized their goal thusly: "We don't want to protest, we want to participate." Sounds good to me. It also sounds like a critique.

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