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The New York Sun


Toward a New Rights Revolution

October 11, 2007

By John H. McWhorter

You want to know why Knicks coach Isiah Thomas thinks it's excusable when a black man calls a white woman a b—?

A tacit assumption that because life is so hard for black men in America, we should get a pass on the rules.

How dare we expect a black man to observe civil niceties when it's still "like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under," as the old rap song went by Grandmaster Flash. A black man dealing daily with racism should be able to blow off some steam, right?

And the main reason why so many black people think racism is a defining element in their lives is: the police. There are some other aspects of racism people refer to, but without the police problem, few would be up in arms about them.

This is why the railroading of the "Jena Six" has attracted so much attention. Here is a protest against what moves black people to view themselves as victims: the criminal justice system. If the accusations in Jena were about health care or school funding, we can be sure no one would have been flying in from out of town.

There is a fraught relationship between the police and black men. The federal prison population is about half black. Say what you want as to why, but the fact remains. Black men view the relationship with fear and anger, as do black women—i.e., the men's mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends.

The right-wing response to the problems black men have with police forces is, "black families need to take control of their kids and look inward." That verdict, however, is an easy and idle opinion, devoid of imagination and has no hope of coming to fruition.

The left-wing response is that the reason for the problems between black men and police forces is racism, not overt but "systemic," and that until there is no "systemic racism" or inequality, the situation will stay as it is. In 2007, however, that verdict, too, is an easy and idle opinion, devoid of imagination and with no hope of coming to fruition.

True engagement on the issue seeks solutions rather than striking poses. One thing we could work on is making sure men just out of prison don't end up going back, after likely having helped teach some younger men how to wind up in there with them.

Boys growing up watching men skirting the law think of it as normal. Eventually, they will likely end up behind bars. That's why re-entry programs for ex-cons are so important as one of today's central Civil Rights issues.

And lately, not just for editorialists like me and people working in the re-entry agencies. The Congressional Black Caucus just had their annual leadership conference, and guess what the topic of the National Town Hall Meeting was this year? A "funeral for the N-word?"

No—it was "Disrupting the Prison Pipeline," and the discussion was not a mere diatribe against the cops. A major theme was the importance of prisoner re-entry programs. They would likely not have even come up at a CBC event just a few years ago.

The CBC and the people who were at this event should continue that discussion, to imprint the issue into the consciousnesses of people under the impression that "The White Tree" in Jena was the defining race issue of our moment.

Some will prefer to address what happens to people before prison, such as when sale and possession of crack cocaine is penalized with longer sentences than of powdered cocaine. Black men are vastly more likely to traffic in crack.

Well, last week the Supreme Court began deliberation on Kimbrough v. the United States, addressing whether a Virginia judge is bound by sentencing guidelines that would send the plaintiff up the river for decades for crack possession.

Kimbrough, if decided in favor of giving judges discretion in sentencing for crack trafficking, would be the beginning of the dissolution of a policy that has destroyed black communities, with no significant gain for anyone involved.

The Jena protests were nice, but ideally, there would now be an equally fervent flurry of editorials and talk show segments about how crucial the Kimbrough decision could be to black communities.

Many hope Jena will spark a new Civil Rights revolution. Note, however, how unlikely that already seems just a few weeks later. The racist bias of District Attorney Reed Walters and his ilk only scratches the surface of what truly ails black America.

Tell me Jena is more important than crack sentencing policy and re-entry programs, and I ask you to spell out precisely why.

I grant that Jena is more theatrical. But after the play is over, it's time to get down to the real work.

Original Source:



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