Friday, August 31, 2007

Every Valley Shall Be Exalted ...

I have a dream that one day this nation
will rise up and live out the true meaning
of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal."

A lot of times I feel like I'm out of touch with the world. (my ex-husband) says time and space warp around me. Which isn't an insult ... it's just true. I've read something today that gives me that same out of touch sensation. Have you heard about the "Jena Six"?

In the front yard at a high school in Jena, Louisiana, with a total population of 4,000, there sits a tree. This is "the white tree", where only white students sit during breaks.

In September of 2006, a black student asked 'permission' from the school administration, if he could sit under the tree. They said he could sit anywhere.

The very next day, three nooses, in the schools colors, hung from "the white tree".

Let that sink in. This isn't a storyline from the sixties. This happened in 2006. What struck me most about this story was the fact that there are still places in America where a student feels they need to ask permission to sit under a "white tree." Is it just me or is that surreal?

I was born in 1969 ... but I grew up hearing stories about how there used to be separate drinking fountains and separate diners ... how our fathers and grandfathers had made the world a better place. Apparently not. Thirty years may have passed ... but we all know what those nooses stood for.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: It meant hatred, to the other race. It meant that “We’re going to kill you, you're going to die.” You know, it sent a message: “This is not the place for you to sit. This is not your damn tree. Do not sit here. You know, you ought to remain in your place, know your place and stay in your place. You’re out of your boundaries.”

I guess what shook me most about this story (aside from the fact that our national news sources have practically avoided it like the plague) is that it proves that I have been wrong ... deeply wrong.

See, I work with this amazing woman. She's African-American and was born in Alabama. She's said on many occasions that it's "safer" to live in the deep South because the racism is more overt. "Down home you know where to go and, more importantly, where not to go. You know who doesn't want you around because they'll tell you. People up here are just as racist. They just hide it better."

Although I've never argued with her, in my heart of hearts I've always thought, "It's not like that anymore." And after reading this story, I ask myself ... could I have been more wrong?

A series of incidents followed throughout the fall. In October, a black student was beaten for entering a private all-white party. Later that month, a white student pulled a gun on a group of black students at a gas station, claiming self-defense. The black students wrestled the gun away and reported the incident to police. They were charged with assault and robbery of the gun.

Then, in late November, a white student was allegedly attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken to hospital, released shortly with a concussion, and attended a school function that evening. Six black students, ranging in age from fifteen to seventeen, were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, on charges related to the beating that leave them facing between twenty and one hundred years in jail.

Thirty years later. I guess one Martin Luther King wasn't enough. Do we need a second? A third? How about a dozen more Martin Luther Kings? How many more before there aren't any "white trees" anymore?

Then outta nowhere you tell me to break
Outta the country and into more country
Past Dyesburg into Ripley
Where the ghost of childhood haunts me
Walk the roads my forefathers walked
Climbed the trees my forefathers hung from
Ask those trees for all their wisdom
They tell me my ears are so young
Go back to from whence you came
My family tree my family name
For some strange reason it had to be
He guided me to Tennessee

Arrested Development - Tennessee