Cashing in on Racism

Posted: Sep 28, 2007 2:49 PM
Cashing in on Racism

If you want to know who’s behind something, just follow the money. Those who benefit from a policy usually promote it. Sometimes they hire lobbyists, sometimes they paint themselves as disinterested crusaders for truth and justice. But the bottom line never lies.

Consider the controversy over the “Jena 6.” Thousands of protesters descended on a small Louisiana town last week to protest the charges brought against six black teenagers who were accused of beating up a white classmate.

But look who’s charging racism: Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The latter even compared the actions in Jena to historical cases of racism. “Our fathers faced Jim Crow, we face James Crow, Jr. Esquire. He’s a little more polished,” Sharpton told CNN.

So let’s look back at the nation’s sometimes sordid past.

It was 50 years ago this week that President Eisenhower had to deploy the Army to allow nine black students to attend high school in Little Rock, Ark. That state’s governor, Orval Faubus, had ordered the National Guard to keep the students out. Faubus clearly believed he’d maintain power (money’s sibling) through active discrimination.

Just six years later Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the man who stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” tried to prevent blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama. Again, he was seeking to maintain political power with his racist stand.

There was more explicit violence. Bombings in Birmingham, shootings in Mississippi. Intimidation everywhere. Our nation’s past is marred with real threats and real violence against blacks. Those carrying out these attacks certainly intended to benefit from them.

This isn’t what Jena looks like. “Now, instead of violence, Jena is home to a war of words,” Kyra Phillips reported on CNN.

There is a racial element in town, though. The tension started when three white students hung nooses from a tree that black students wanted to sit under. That’s a stupid thing to do. Society no longer tolerates such displays. Nor should it.

Yet as a cheerleader said of the noose incident, “There was a lot of tension for about a week. And then we had our first real football game, and everybody just kind of forgot about it.” That’s the point. Jena’s high school is integrated. Blacks and whites play football together. We’ve come a long way in a short time. As the school librarian told CNN, “I feel that the world is not seeing the real picture of Jena High School.”

Things aren’t perfect, in Jena or anywhere. They never will be. Humans always have divided into clans, religious groups and nationalities. That will never cease. In fact, it might get worse.

Colbert King, columnist for The Washington Post, made this point without intending to do so. “Next time -- and there will be a next time, unless that unfair prosecution is reversed and our unjust criminal justice system is changed -- there’s no telling what an angry community acting in solidarity can and will do,” he wrote on Sept. 22. His veiled threat refers to the black community, of course, and seems intended to hint that he sees a justification for violence in the future.

But the real threat is that the unending allegations of racism will encourage the white community to resegregate. If you’re going to be painted as racists, you might as well act like racists.

This may already be happening. The Civil Rights Project reports that black students made up 43.5 percent of students in majority white school southern schools 20 years ago. Today that number’s dropped to 27 percent.

That’s too bad, because students in an integrated school have the best chance to grow up believing everyone’s equal. Left to grow up this way, today’s co-educated students will be as unprejudiced as it’s humanly possible to be. But one of the lessons from Jena is that, if a single student does something stupid, any integrated school can be subject to the full wrath of the Jackson-Sharpton race-baiting machine. They make their living by stirring up racial conflict. One foolish child can give these men the power to paint an entire school as a hotbed of racism.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, that’ll never happen.” But isn’t that what people in Jena would have said a couple of years ago while watching the town’s integrated high school football team play? Now, they’re a national laughingstock, treated in the press as if the town’s full of KKK members out of the 1920s. “We found no evidence of any real Klan activity in Jena,” CNN’s Phillips noted. Thanks for looking.

Resegregation is a word so ugly it’s not in this computer’s dictionary. Microsoft Word wants to replace it with “desegregate,” and it would be lovely if we really could change things with the press of a button. It’s sad that in this day and age, when our nation is closer to equality than ever, there are people still working to divide us by race.

If you want to know why, just follow the money.