September 29, 2007

Civil Rights and the Jena 6

I really don't understand the protests from last week over the Jena 6. CNN kept saying that there was a civil rights march going on, but then they said it was in support of some hoodlums who beat some person within an inch of his life.

I am pretty sure that no part of our "rights" civil or otherwise entitle us to rousting a bunch of of friends and mauling hapless strangers.

So, I went and looked up on Wikipedia where we can always turn to complete, unbiased information on any topic:

The Jena Six refers to a group of six black teenagers who have been charged with the beating of a white teenager at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, on December 4, 2006. The beating followed a series of racially-charged incidents in the town. The six black students were initially charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit attempted second degree murder.

The Jena Six case has sparked protests by those who believe that the arrests and the subsequent charges were excessive and racially discriminatory, alleging a lack of arrests and serious charges against white youths in Jena in earlier incidents in the town. U.S. Attorney Donald Washington—an African American and a Bush appointee — who led an investigation into events in the town, has concluded that there is no evidence of unfair prosecution.

Yes, it is relevant to this article to point out that a certain judge is both black and a Bush appointee. Nope, not bias there!

Anyway, the Wikipedia article, in spite of its additional information, does make clear the racial confusion going on in the town.

But what I understand from the article is that the protesters weren't there really in support of the Jena 6. They were protesting the alleged disproportionate charges against the Jena 6. From my very limited perspective on the matter, people don't seem to be protesting the idea that charges are brought against these characters.

This is certainly not the most apparent or egregious example of rights violation I've ever heard of.

If the charges are disproportionate, you challenge them in court. There are mechanisms for this sort of thing.

The argument is that the court system is biased against the defendants based on their race.

Even if we accept that the people in that area and the people in those particular courts are biased against the defendants, it doesn't follow that our entire legal system is racist. There are mechanisms for appeal. There are mechanisms for getting the case reviewed.

I am not inclined to go to the primary sources and review this case. But I don't see why no one has gone and done that, but taken out all of the references to race, just to see if the charges make sense.

What I am irritated about is the civil rights protest and, more than that, the idiotic attitudes about race that seem so popular. It's as if as an individual, I am expected to choose between the white supremacist racists or the non-white supremacist racists on the other side.

Ideas about race in the US are idiotic and I do think it is because of this whole multiculturalism thing that is so popular. As if the color of a person's skin gives them some particular insight into... well, anything. It's like that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine is dating a man that she thinks is black and he thinks she's Spanish, and they're both really thrilled about being in an interracial relationship, but it turns out that they're both regular, old white people.

Ok. I'm done with that. I do want to ask this: why are Spanish people considered non-white? I thought that was a country... a western European country, too. I know they were occupied by the Moors (See? It's not like they've never done it themselves.) and all that, but still. "Spanish" isn't a good adjective for a particular ethnicity.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 29, 2007 09:23 AM | TrackBack

"Spanish" is a nationality, referring to people from the (predominantly white) European country. The broader cultural group of Spanish-speakers is typically called "Hispanic". This also isn't a racial category as such. However, many Hispanics are also Mestizos, which is a racial grouping. Some people don't understand the difference and therefore think of all Mestizos as Hispanic (even those from Portuguese, French or English cultures), and vice-versa. To consider "Spanish" to be a race is a bit of stretch, but someone sufficiently ignorant could manage it. I haven't seen the Seinfeld episode, but if the guy thought "Spanish" was a race, that was probably part of the joke.

Posted by: Richard at September 29, 2007 12:37 PM

Richard, the part about Spanish being a race in my post is tongue-in-cheek. I'm sorry that wasn't clear.

On Seinfeld, they really don't go into what that character thinks. The joke was just about high-minded socially liberal folks like Elaine regard an interracial as something of a badge of honor. This mentality is another manifestation of racism and that's why it's funny. At the end, Elaine and the guy decide to just go shopping at The Gap.

But if you want to seriously consider the question of Spanish people as being non-White, the book I just wrote a review of, Kinfolks, does discuss this question.

Historically, Spanish, Italian, Irish, and even Greeks have been considered non-white at some point along the way.

The historical confusion around the meaning and importance of these classifications illustrate the inherent problem with the racist line of thinking.

Posted by: Flibbert at September 29, 2007 12:52 PM

It's a badly mixed classification. "Black," "white," and "Asian" are classified under "race"; but "Hispanic" is classified under "culture" (along with "Occidental" and "Oriental"). So, it is possible for a Hispanic to be either black, white, or Asian.

Fault government incompetence for mixing up the two principles of classification and thereby confusing everybody.

Posted by: Bob T at September 30, 2007 01:39 AM

From what I understand, "race" is a poorly formed concept anyways. Genetically, there are more differences between the various peoples of Africa than there is between Caucasians and far-east Asians (learned that in a museum, not a scientific journal or anything), yet we lump the first category into one "race" and separate the latter into two. Race has some perceptual breakdown, such as Caucasians being light-skinned and light-haired, but not all Caucasians are even remotely close to looking the same (for example, the Irish versus the Greeks). Race also seems to include historical ("people from the Caucasus region of central Asia") as well as cultural implications.

My point is, there are much better ways to divide people up, depending on the context. Race is about as useful as "conservative" and "liberal" are -- at best, a collection various things make up the concept instead of a single, integrating principle.

Posted by: Justin at October 1, 2007 02:44 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?