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By Veronica F. Adams
I'm White, European American, Caucasian—whatever you want to call my
socially-constructed "racial identity." Because I am committed to help
end the absurd oppression and scapegoating of my fellow Americans who
don't look like me, I was obliged to answer the call put out by several
the major U.S. civil rights organizations to come to Jena, Louisiana if
all possible and stand in solidarity with people of color against the
racial injustices perpetrated by the White community and institutions
there. It took me two planes to get from the DC area to New Orleans,
then a five-hour bus ride to in the middle of the night to Jena, and
although it cost me money that I don't have a lot of right now, I came,
because I could.
That's one of my three main responsibilities as a white "anti-racist"
ally (anti-racist means one who takes a stand against racist activities
and systems; we are not personal bigotry cops as some new to the term
think it means).
But, what I am wondering is—Where were my fellow white allies? The
Caucasian turn-out was nothing short of pitiful. Out of the varying
attendance reports of 30,000 to 100,000 people who also overcame a range
of challenges to attend, there was at best only 1 White out of every 100
people there—maybe as little as 1 in 150. I estimated that from
repeated scanning, and then polling some of the other Whites and people
I was ashamed. Not only was I greatly disappointed that more of my
self-identified white anti-racist allies weren't there, but I was also
embarrassed and pained that the people of color there were left, once
again, to face down overt Jim Crow racism on their own.
And how can we think we will ever build effective multi-racial coalitions
on any of the urgent issues facing us today, when people of color can see
that, once again, we are not there to watch their backs when we are
Now, could the shameful white turnout be in part due to the fact that 17
year old Mychal Bell, [the first of the six black youth tried so far and
facing a possible 22 years in prison] had a prior rap sheet? I listened
to an editorial on public radio yesterday that pointed out that it was
easy for Whites to rally around Rosa Parks who was hand-selected and
trained for her role in history in large part due to the fact that she
uncontroversial—Married, a seamstress, no skeletons in her closet, no
prior arrests, etc. The commentator contrasted Ms. Parks to a man like
Rodney King who was so high on crack when several Los Angeles police
nearly beat him to death—that would-be allies find it more difficult
care and confront such acts, when these are perpetrated on the likes of
So, is this why we Whites are not more outraged about the nooses hung
the Jena high school sanctioned "Whites Only" tree, and the slew of
anti-Black incidents ensuing there, and the Jena's across this land of
""Justice for All"?—Because Mychal, after all, has been no angel?
Well, to those for whom this is the case—Please consider this: The
widespread perception among various peoples of color in this country is
that we Whites are perpetually, albeit often unconsciously, patronizing.
Is there perhaps some condescension at work here among those who may
chosen to judge Mychal and his friends over speaking out against the
hate-filled and unjust actions of Whites in Jena?
As a white person concerned about ending systemic/institutionalized
and xenophobia in my country, it is not my job to second guess the calls
of the NAACP, the Color of Change, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the
People's Institute for Survival & Beyond, and other nationally respected
civil rights and anti-racism organizations.
As white anti-racist allies we say we're ready to take direction from
people of color led organizations. The directives were put forth:
show up. And we didn't.
And, as was made clear to me by a few white citizens of Jena sitting
outside a barbershop (one of the young women bragging that she was a law
student) was that the lack of white presence at the rally "confirmed"
them that this protest was just the ridiculous acting out of uppity
and the few "N-lovers" like me who were there. I care little about
called such names, but what these people didn't see and hear from us was
that the majority of Americans of all racial identities find their
ignorant, soulless bigotry as unacceptable, and that they need to repent
their ways and join what is good about the human race. (Consider that
most of them are likely allowed by their preachers to consider
even now, to be "good Christians.")
And now the hate waves have been busy at work. The home addresses of
these six Jena youth have been widely distributed among hate groups,
with the encouragement for these teens and their families to be "taken
The work of Whites is not to sit around and talk endlessly about our
about our privilege and raising our cultural awareness, though one of
tasks is to 1) Continue to do our own re-education and self-examination
the course of the rest of our lives. Where we are letting people of
down at this very moment is that we are not 2) Educating and correcting
other Whites who are sorely in need of being confronted by us—other
Whites, and 3) Following the lead of people of color regarding actions
can assist with.
These six young men and their families [and likely more] in Jena are in
immanent danger—And what are we White allies doing about it? We
certainly can't think that Jena's racist law enforcement system is going
to go out of its way to protect them.
Please, get on the websites of some of the organizations involved and
out what you can do now to support these families in Jena. Request
anti-hate group resource materials and start training yourselves on
effective interventions and get to work confronting these prolific
in your own communities. If your time is limited, postpone some of your
racial diversity discussions for the time being—and be of service to
families in Jena and other people of color across the country who need
help now in getting these hate-filled Whites off their backs.
Written by Veronica F. Adams, M.Div., Charlottesville, Virginia.
Veronica is a diversity and racial equity trainer, and is currently
completing a book: Liberating the Souls of White Folks: A Primer.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Tuesday, August 23, 2011.
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