Sunday, October 07, 2007

Jena-- "Take your nooses down"

Singer/Songwriter John Mellencamp says...

I am not a journalist, I am a songwriter and in the spirit and tradition of the minstrel, I am telling a story in this song.

The story is not, strictly speaking, about the town of Jena or this specific incident but of racism in America.

The song was not written as an indictment of the people of Jena but, rather, as a condemnation of rasicm, a problem which I've reflected in many songs, a problem that still plagues our country today.

The current trial in Jena is just another reflection of prejudice in our nation. If the song strikes an emotional chord with people and if they examin it and interpret as they will, something will have been accomplished. The aim here is not to antagonize but, rather, to catalyze thought.

H/T Jonathan Adler at VC

This post is not about Jena, La.

This post is about the corrosive and ongoing impact of racism in America.

This week one of my employees told me a story that really pissed me off big time. She was driving home in the afternoon rush hour and was in a hurry, like all of us. She didn't notice until she looked into the rear-view mirror, but she apparently had not "let someone in" on a multi-lane street or expressway. She, black, saw the white man driving behind her showing her his middle finger in an obscene gesture. She ignored it, and he repeated it twice more. While stopped in traffic, he then got her attention and made a "throat cutting" gesture with his hand, followed by hanging his head down in the manner of one who had been hanged. Clearly a hate-filled, malevolent non-verbal communication implying a death threat.

It happened once again and she got angry enough to stop her car, get out, and confront him. His response was simply to keep his window up, look coolly at her through the glass, and flip his hand in a "go away and move your car" gesture...

It was clear that they were blocking traffic so she got back into her car and proceeded, calling the police on her cell phone to report what had happened. The police response by phone was to ask if anyone else had seen what happened. When she said no, they said an officer could be sent to the scene to write a report, but there was nothing they could do. Their advice to her was to remain polite and let people have their way in traffic in the interest of safety.

By the time she got home she was mad as hell and I don't blame her. Just telling me the story was enough to inflame her again with just the memory of what happened.

"What am I supposed to do? If I had been a man...or white...or had my husband with me...or just about anything...this would not have happened. But since he was in traffic he got away with it. And there is nothing I can do about it. It's like getting assaulted...just like those kids in Jena...and I think that's why he did it, too..."

She's correct.
The Jena story is much bigger than the bare facts of a tawdry little tale.
It is a reminder that as a society we have a looooong way to go before we can claim to have killed the demon we call racism.

An all white jury hides the executioner's face
See how we are, me and you?
Everyone here needs to know their place
Let's keep this blackbird hidden in the flue

Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Take your nooses down

So what becomes of boys that cannot think straight
Particularly those with paper bag skin
Yes sir, no sir we'll wipe that smile right off your face
We've got our rules here and you must fit in

Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Take your nooses down

Some day some way sanity will prevail
But who knows when that day might come
A shot in the dark, well it just might find its way
To the hearts of those that hold the keys to kingdom come

Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Take those nooses down

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