Some Thoughts On Jena
By Nefertiti El Muhajir
Nefertiti is the oldest daughter of poet Marvin X. She has a BA in English from Fresno State University and MA in Africana Studies from New York State University, Albany.
My Dad's email Dirty South prompted me to jot down some thoughts while the experience was still fresh on my brain.Sometimes I feel numb. Often numb because my brain is being flooded with a million thoughts all at once. This is literally how I felt today while in Jena, Louisiana. It was overwhelming to see the gathering of so many black people, to do something good. The few times that I have experienced large crowds like that has been in the presence of party revelers for Carnival celebrations in Miami, Trinidad and New York. But it was a beautiful thing to see so many blacks gathered, not in nudity, to stand up for not merely the rights of the Jenna 6, but for our individual rights. To know that the rights of these six individuals can be trampled on, alerts one to the reality that one’s own rights could be violated at any given moment. To be too busy to care for another is to not care for your own future.
I was preoccupied with the Muslim brothers and sisters who were responsible for organizing the caravan that I had joined at Texas Southern University. I wondered what set them apart from Christian brothers and sisters that I knew. What made them so eager to be disciplined and organized to get people together for an event like this and why didn’t I see people from the churches that I knew. Why when I called the large congregations in the area, no one knew anything about any groups that were going?
I was amazed to see groups of at least 500 motorcycle riders from Atlanta make their presence known. As they were weaving in and out of traffic and I started admiring the group wondering what it would be like to have one of those cool bikes myself, the people I was on the bus were cussing and complaining about the cyclists saying things like, “Who do they think they are” and on and on. Once we got to Alexandria, Louisiana, the traffic virtually came to a stand still. Students on one bus got tired of sitting in traffic and decided to get off of the bus and walk the rest of the way. Foolish young students, I thought to myself, they have so much to learn. My thoughts were confirmed when we passed them up moments later only to continue driving another 25 miles into Jena. Experience will be their only teacher unless they gain wisdom soon.
While trying to internalize the historical significance of this event, many distractions bided for my attention. My major preoccupation, however, was with my son. Initially he was so eager to attend the event, but once there he wondered if this was why he had missed school. I became preoccupied with thoughts of what I am doing wrong as a parent to make my son so discontent. He complained of the heat (oh it was hot), and of not having food. I tried to feed him before we left but he didn’t want what I had. I packed peanut butter and honey sandwiches, oranges, nectarines, plums, apples, granola mix, juice and water. But it wasn’t what he wanted. As I looked around seeing other kids eating apples, grapes, and other snacks that their mothers had prepared, my son kept whining for the BBQ that one enterprising black vendor had set up. But around me I saw people sitting down not absorbed in the events of the day, but devouring their twinkies, hohos, candy and other junk food.
I wanted to hear the speakers, but all we could hear were their faint voices, and the loud applause and chants from the crowd. We did catch a glimpse of Dexter King and Tyler Perry as they were escorted pass us. As I was pointing them out to my son, some college students laughed and said they didn’t know who that other man was, they only knew Tyler Perry. At one point my son and I tried to maneuver our way to the front, but as we got separated I thought that it was best that we just sit on the side and listen as best we could with a group of mothers and children who had also come on our bus.
It didn’t matter that we missed the speeches of the “usual suspects,” we were able to hear the speeches of everyday men and women who were fed up. Like church testimonies, there were individuals who, at different points throughout the day, randomly started discussing their own frustration with the system. For those of us who knew better, it was evident that this day wasn’t merely about these 6 young boys. It was about me and you. Many people are sick and tired of going through this same type of insane, systematic oppression and injustice.
It was evident on the way home that we were still hung up on our own petty preoccupations. For some strange reason, two of the four buses in our caravan had been redirected by the sheriff to park in a different location than where they had dropped their passengers off. While two of our buses were ready to depart Jenna at 1 p.m., we did not finally leave the town until 3 p.m. as we had to locate the other buses so that the 100 passengers or so who were stranded were reconnected with their bus. While we waited, everyone complained. They were ready to leave, why, they wondered, did we have to wait for the other group. I reflected on the signs that we had seen during the rally, one which read, “I AM MY BROTHERS KEEPER.” I guess the answer for some is, “No.” Though I, like the others, was eager to return to Houston, I don’t know how could they imagined leaving anyone stranded in that small city, without the assurance that they had reliable transportation to make it home. That small incident left me wondering what did we go there for in the first place? It is just a reminder that there will be another Jenna. But the transformation starts within, and not by going to some physical place. Our everyday experiences and responses will determine if we can avert another Jenna from occurring on our watch.
What we have to remember is that what occurred in Jenna today, has to continue everyday of our lives. Today was a demonstration in vigilance. It was a demonstration to let them know that we will respond. But we must keep pressure on this system and be proactive in creating a system for our children and ourselves that will allow us to THINK and DO for ourselves. We must express values that provide hope and encouragement to others. We must conceive and articulate goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations, carrying them above the conflicts that tear humanity apart, and unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts to transform this decaying world.
Dr. M (Marvin X)
A haunting place, but home of my ancestors, a place of blood and terror, hate and love. My child lives there, my grandson. They were in Jenna today to be a part of history. My daughter wanted her son to see history in the making, so they traveled from Houston to Jenna by bus. There were so many people my daughter and grandson were not able to hear the speakers, but just being there was an experience, especially for my ten year old grandson. My daughter has been part of history since she was born. She was conceived while I was in exile with her mother during the Vietnam War era, so she is a political baby. She learned to walk at the Black Educational Theatre I founded in San Francisco while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley,1972. As a toddler, she heard the sounds of Sun Ra’s Arkestra backing my play Take Care of Business, so she is a child of the Black Arts Movement. She grew up, married and settled in Houston. She loves it there because she lives in a world of black people, sometimes never seeing white people for days. It is like this in the South, this land where my fathers and mothers died, this land so haunted and vexed with pain, guilt and shame, compounded with denial and manners, etiquette, decorum, innuendo and circumlocution. When I copied my manuscript in South Carolina, the sister at the copy center saw the title How To Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy and said, “You ain’t from here.” I asked why do you say that? “Because we don’t say that down here (White Supremacy),” she replied.. I didn’t ask why. I knew it was because the South has manners—one can’t be in your face as I am, a North American African from California. The South has another way of doing things, not so crude and rude, but polite and civil, even in their savagery, it is a civil savagery, after all every one knows how to act, the oppressed and the oppressor, so they do a dance, a masquerade, a ballet of pure denial until things explode or those outside agitators appear to rock the boat. And so they came today to Jenna, rocking the boat of injustice, hoping to change the traditional way of doing things, attempting to bring the white supremacy customs to an end after years, decades, centuries of corruption and miscarriage of justice.
Will the people of Jenna get it? Will America get it? We think not, not without a second civil war. In spite of the blood and terror, slavery and failed reconstruction, segregation, integration and subtle and not so subtle racism of today, there is the persistent and lingering desire on the part of whites to continue white supremacy. It is in the air, in the trees, in the swamps and bayous, in the lakes and rivers, even the ocean beaches, a feeling that all is not right and will not get right without a final battle, the battle to end white supremacy once and for all times. And this is true in spite of all the progress, all the interracial harmony, for in spite of all the good, the bad, the evil persists like a sore on the psyche, a disease of the heart that no amount of political realignment can rectify, no amount of religiosity, no amount of economic justice can heal. Peace without justice is no peace at all, rather it is merely prolonging the inevitable day when a generation shall rise up and say no more sham peace, shame justice, shame economic parity, but we want the real deal and death is better than persecution.
Dr. M’s latest book HOW TO RECOVER FROM THE ADDICTION TO WHITE SUPREMACY, A PAN AFRICAN 12 STEP MODEL, foreword by Dr. Nathan Hare, Afterword by Ptah Allah El, is available from Black Bird Press, POB 1317 Paradise CA 95967, $19.95. Dr. M will read and discuss his latest book at Oakland’s Eastside Arts Center, 2277 International Blvd., Friday, October 12, 7pm. Contact Dr. M at 510.355.6339.