Jena Protest Exposes Colorblind Racism

By Terry Keleher Sep 24, 2007

Hopefully, the ten thousand-plus protesters in Jena, LA last week helped many more people open their eyes to the continuing realities of structural racism. At the beginning of this school year, when the LaSalle Parish School superintendent authorized the cutting down of the “white” tree from which white students had hung three nooses, he may have thought that he could eradicate racism by eliminating one of its most visible vestiges. And, local School Board Member Billy Fowler must have similarly hoped for some healing when he told The Shreveport Times, "There’s nothing positive about that old tree. It’s all negative… We don’t want the blacks coming back up there looking at the tree knowing what happened, or the whites. We just want to start fresh." But, unfortunately, making racism more invisible doesn’t make it go away. And hiding history doesn’t create a “fresh start.” Furthermore, when the Jena school officials concluded that the nooses were simply a “prank” rather than a hate crime, the pretense of colorblindness was exposed for its moral bankruptcy. To be sure, no one really wants in-your-face reminders of racism at every turn. But wouldn’t it be far more hopeful to see a transformed school system and local court system, than an uprooted tree? For another take on the folly of colorblindness in Jena, check out Beverly McPhail’s excellent opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle, entitled, “ Belief in colorblindness blinds us to painful racism, Jena incident reminds us to take another look.” “Thursday’s march in Jena, La., to support the "Jena Six" and challenge the perceived discrepancies in punishment handed down to white and black students once again provides an opportunity to address racism in our nation. Unfortunately, as usual, the discussion quickly stalled as most white residents were quick to defend their town and themselves by saying they are not racist. White people’s refusal to acknowledge their own racism is a major stumbling block to addressing issues of race in this country…”