Small Town, Big Issues: What the Jena Six Case Says about the American Racial Divide
by Russell Skiba - October 25, 2007
The charges brought against six black youth in a small town in Lousiana galvanized the nationís attention and prompted national consideration of issues of bias and disproportionality in education and the juvenile justice system. Yet controversy in the case runs deep, leaving even many of the basic facts of the matter in dispute. This article argues that the different perspectives that African American and white observers bring to the story are typical when we approach the issue of race and ethnicity. Differences in historical experience have led us to interpret events involving race differently depending on the color of our skin, extending even to the willingness to talk about the issue. In particular, the central symbol of the noose in the Jena Six case has an important history that cannot be ignored. The sensitivity of community and national leaders to that history may be a strong predictor of whether such events remain isolated incidents, or become the first in a proliferation of further hate crimes.
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