These concepts are socially constructed and have been given much weight. What are your thoughts?
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Christina Marie
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Unread post by Christina Marie » September 26th, 2007, 12:13 pm

Louisiana Violence Prompts Debate On Southern Racism
By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Jena, Louisiana

The recent protests against the accusations levelled against six black adolescents in Louisana, the "Jena Six," highlight just how explosive the issue of race still is in the American South. But the complex case is unlikely to inspire a new civil rights movement.

The tree is gone -- all of it. The massive oak once stood imposingly in the middle of the Jena High School courtyard. Now all that can be seen there are patches of grass. Even the tree stump was torn out of the ground, one weekend in July, says Billy Fowler from the supervisory school authority -- and he seems very pleased. "We wanted to draw a clear line."

If only it were that easy to tear everything out at the root, all the memories. For decades, white students are said to have sat in the shade under this tree, called the "white tree." The black students sat on bleachers all around, in the blazing Louisiana sun.

And then one black student, Kenneth Purvis, had had enough.

Purvis is a big man with a large chest -- not someone who is easily intimidated. "I asked the director whether I could sit under the tree too," he recalls. The director told him he was free to do as he liked. So Purvis sat down under the tree with his friends on a warm day in August of last year.

No one said anything at first. But the next day, nooses hung from the branches -- a symbol of the gruesome lynch law that reigned in the South during the era of slavery.

And so a raging vortex of frustration and rage, revenge and retaliation developed -- until a white teenager lay unconscious on the ground and six black adolescents ended up in prison on charges of attempted murder. The tree and the small town of Jena have now achieved questionable fame the world over -- at the very latest since last Thursday, when thousands marched for the rights of the imprisoned students.

But what exactly is Jena a symbol of? The racism of the US South? The beginning of a new civil rights movement? Or is it just a backdrop for raw adolescent violence?

A Nice Place

Jena, Louisiana is located a short drive from Interstate 20, which connects one small town to the next for mile after mile. Each town is organized according to the same building block principle, with a Wal-Mart, a gas station, fast food chains, churches, a high school, a football stadium and houses.

Jena welcomes its visitors with a flag featuring a heart and a sign that reads: "Jena. A Nice Place To Call Home." Of the 2,971 people who do so, many work on the oil and gas fields -- hard work that pays badly, only about $14,000 a year on average. Nevertheless, that is enough to divide the town. On one side of the dividing line are the relatively affluent streets with their large houses around Bellevue Drive, for example. The church is an impressive brick building with large columns by its entrance.

On the other side of the dividing line lies Ward 10, where almost all of Jena's roughly 400 black citizens live. This part of town is virtually hidden in the woods and consists of simple houses and corrugated iron huts, between which the occasional wreck of a car can be glimpsed. Here, the church is a rickety wooden construction where swarms of mosquitoes hover above the ragged carpet on the entrance steps.

'This Town Is Awash in Racism'

Bellevue Drive is only about three minutes away from Ward 10, but it's a long trip from one place to the other. There is not a single black lawyer or doctor in Jena. The only black employee in any of the six banks works in the accounting department, far away from the customers.

Eddie Thompson, a white minister with a large belly, is one of the few people who travel between the two neighborhoods. "This town is awash in racism," he says. "Your options in Jena depend on which part you grow up in." In other words: They depend on the color of your skin.

Jena High School is one place where white and black people are obliged to come together. They play in the same football team, the town's main attraction. "But in the cafeteria, the whites sit in one corner and the blacks in another," says Dustin, who is white, as he revisits his old school. Dustin graduated from high school last year. Now he works at Wal-Mart.

A poster featuring the words "Mix It Up" hangs on the cafeteria wall. On Nov. 16, everyone is to sit down next to everyone else for a day. "I'm curious to see what will happen," Dustin says laconically. And he has reason to be curious: It's been a difficult year for this high school.

When the nooses showed up on the tree, the school director wanted to expel the three students responsible from the school. But their parents protested and the students got away with a few weeks of suspension. The first fights between white and black students occurred. Then the white District Attorney Reed Walters told black students in the school auditorium that he could wipe out their lives with a single signature, according to many witnesses.

Then part of the school burnt down; it has still not been properly rebuilt today. Whites and blacks suspected each other of being responsible. Shortly afterwards, a black student was beaten up at a party. The white assailant got off with a warning.

The next day, there was a scuffle at the gas station, in the course of which a white student pulled a gun. The black people threatened by him wrestled it out of his hand. They were charged with robbery, while the white student got off scot-free.

And finally, in December, there was the attack in the school courtyard, where six young black students allegedly assaulted a white student, Justin Barker. Barker had to be taken to hospital, but by the evening he was already able to attend a school party -- unlike the six attackers. They ended up in prison -- on charges of attempted murder.

Double Standards

The defendants in Jena face up to 22 years in prison, even if the charges have meanwhile been reduced to grievous bodily harm. The case rapidly gained the attention of black organizations all over the United States, who are up in arms about what they call "double standards" in court. The statistics back that claim: Young black citizens make up only about 16 percent of the US population, but almost 40 percent of prison inmates in their age group.

Four young women sitting on the steps in front of the high school think the charges brought against their schoolmates are simply absurd. Their teachers have urged them not to speak to journalists, but they want to talk. "This Justin Barker went to a party the same evening. He's exaggerating," one of the 10th graders says. The black students had simply had enough of always being the ones punished every time there was trouble, the young women believe. "It was just a school fight," they say. There it is again: the outrage over double standards.

One of the Jena Six, Mychal Bell, has even already been convicted. A student who hung the nooses on the tree was allowed to testify against Bell in court. The sentence was to be handed down on Sept. 20. But the verdict was overturned because Bell was 16 when the crime was committed and should have been tried in front of a juvenile court.

Six Against One

Bell was Jena High's football star. He was a good student -- but also "someone who often got in trouble," says Anthony McCoy, a black graduate of the high school, who became a friend of Bell during his own football days. Bell acquired three previous convictions in just two years. That is why he is the only one of the six not to have been released on probation.

There were further negotiations about Bell's possible release last Friday. Hundreds of journalists and demonstrators crowded outside the tiny courthouse again. When the hearing was over, Bell's parents came outside; tears were streaming down his mother's face. Her son was not allowed to come home with her -- because of his previous convictions. Her supporters defiantly chanted: "No justice, no peace."

But what does justice mean in this case? Despite all the headlines, it remains a story of culprits and victims. McCoy saw Justin Barker, the white student, immediately after the attack. "Blood was coming out of his ears," McCoy says.

Some witnesses have testified that the assailants continued kicking Barker when he was already lying unconscious on the ground. "Six against one: They could have killed him," McCoy says.

Turning Jena Into A Symbol

Now the mood in Jena is such that those who draw attention to the victim are quickly labelled racists -- partly because past ugliness is resurfacing. An American neo-Nazi has posted the addresses and telephone numbers of the Jena Six on his Web site -- and is openly calling for a lynch mob. The defendants are now under police protection and the FBI is investigating. It is also investigating the owners of two cars who hung red nooses from the beds of their trucks during the demonstration on Thursday. Following their arrest, they proudly proclaimed themselves members of the Ku Klux Klan.

That is just what Jessica -- who does not want her family name to be mentioned -- feared. She parks her black Ford pickup in the middle of Jena's main road with her husband Rick. They want to buy fried chicken for the football game they are going to watch.

"I'm scared this will escalate," Jessica says. "And that we will all be labelled as crazy racists. When we watched CNN yesterday, my daughter asked me: 'Mom, do we hate black people now?'"

Jessica knew two of the white students who hung nooses from the tree -- and she feels their sentences are too lenient, just as the sentences the Jena Six may receive are too harsh. "But it's gotten out of hand," Rick says. "We're not all racists."

But black civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are firmly resolved to turn Jena into a symbol -- of a new US civil rights movement, 50 years after the original one. It comes at a time when many of the achievements from that era seem at risk, due to new decisions by a more conservative Supreme Court and the disenchantment of many white US citizens with notions of racial integration.

Sharpton and Jackson hope to rouse the enthusiasm of a new generation that knows about the marches of the 1960s only from the history books. It seems to be working: Out of the thousands of demonstrators in Jena, most were young African Americans. Sharpton gave a passionate speech, calling on Washington to act against arbitrary court decisions in the US South. It was intended to sound like a speech that could have been held 50 years ago -- but still it sounded awkward.

Even The Democrats Are Diffident

Back then, it was still about nine black students in Little Rock who wanted to study with whites. Or about Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat for a white man. Now a new civil rights movement is supposed to be sparked off by young men who allegedly almost kicked an unconscious person to death.

Even the reaction of the Democratic Party's presidential candidates is restrained. Barack Obama already had to defend himself against attacks from Jesse Jackson, who accused him of not being "black" enough.

The accusation is nonsense, if for no other reason than because it ignores that Obama is a new kind of black politician. He does not shy away from criticizing what he sees as shortcomings in the black community, such as hostility towards education, the irresponsibility of young black fathers and sexist hip hop culture with its glorification of materialism and violence.

All that is also at work in this case: A photograph circulated on the social networking Web site MySpace which showed one of the Jena Six stuffing $100 bills into his mouth above a caption that said he didn't have any fifties. Hip hop artists like 50 Cent speak the same way -- and they are just the people someone like Obama does not want to be seen as representative of African Americans, just like people who fight six against one.

Right, it all began with the argument about the "white tree." Anthony McCoy can remember sitting underneath it during his schooldays. Todd Lewan has also collected statements for the Associated Press in which teachers and students recall the tree was not reserved for whites but served as a meeting point for people of both colors.

But that probably doesn't matter anymore.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1 ... 93,00.html

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king phoenix
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Unread post by king phoenix » September 29th, 2007, 8:45 pm

she almost had me fooled into thinking she wasnt racist. until the very end of her article!



Unread post by MiChuhSuh » September 30th, 2007, 2:35 pm

Christina Marie wrote:"I'm scared this will escalate," Jessica says. "And that we will all be labelled as crazy racists. When we watched CNN yesterday, my daughter asked me: 'Mom, do we hate black people now?'"
That's kind of crazy; not healthy for young minds

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