Friday, September 21, 2007

The Ducks of Jena, Louisiana

Seeing so many of my fellow Washingtonians wearing black today, I can’t help but feel a little neglectful at not having shown, somehow, my feelings about the Jena 6.

I like to think of myself as open-minded, never leaping to conclusions without knowing all the facts. So in a case like this, I usually would reserve judgment, especially on a whole town, that everyone else is calling racist.

But sometimes, I have to admit, one can simply know things without the benefit of all the facts.

I’m sure the African American kids did some provoking, as teenagers, especially boys, do, and it is obvious that the white teens did some of there own, in no uncertain racist terms. I suppose one could say that everyone in the situation was at fault, that no one had more blame than anyone else. Except, that’s exactly what the local authorities are NOT saying. Why were the African American kids the only ones arrested? I know I don’t have all the facts, but if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck...

I used to coach youth lacrosse in Northern Virginia. One day, we had Gary Gait (the Michael Jordan of the Lacrosse world) come out to give a clinic to our league. There were probably fifty or sixty kids huddled around him, all of them white, except for one black kid. He was probably 12 or 13, standing towards the back, joking around with his (white) friends. They were making noise, which was inappropriate, and maybe the black kid was making more noise than the others, but he wasn’t the only one. One of the fathers, another volunteer coach, came over and pulled this lone black kid, and only this kid, out of the group, and proceeded to yell at him with that seething, closed-teeth, bulging-eyed style of restrained-yet-not yelling that belied something deeper and more menacing than a simple reprimand for inappropriate adolescent behavior. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but they weren’t racist or off color in any way. But it didn’t matter. Even though I didn’t know a thing about this man, I still knew a duck quacking when I heard one.

A small town in Louisiana, far from the cosmopolitan excesses of places like DC? You’d have to be naive if you didn’t think there were some ducks down there, even some ducks in power.

I was going to write a post about how my neighborhood, from Dupont Circle to U Street to Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Mt. Pleasant, was like a snap shot of the American promise: one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country, and one of the most densely populated. African, Middle Eastern, Latino, and Asian immigrants live and work side by side with established African American and white families and new comers of all colors (like me), young and old, gay and straight, well educated and not, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and unaffiliated, and it all works. There are problems, just like anywhere else, but nothing like Jena, Louisiana. Now I don’t know how to write that post, because it seems we are still a long way from that American promise.

I’m just glad I live where I live.

1 comment:

inowpronounceyou said...

I think you said it brilliantly. I don't think it should be "Free the Jena 6" should be punish them all equally.