Events there certainly merit scrutiny, but they’re not emblematic of country’s race relations
Let’s assume the worst about Jena, La., and the charges of attempted murder brought against five black youths for beating a white student unconscious last December: that the district attorney’s indictments were motivated by rank racism and that the racial tensions in this town of 3,000 are exclusively the product of white animus against blacks. Does it follow that this latest object of frenzy on the media’s racism beat is emblematic of America’s judicial system or the state of race relations today?
That is certainly what the ever-expanding army of racial victimologists and their media enablers would have you believe. Since the Jena story became international news, the media, the advocates and pandering politicians have erupted in an outpouring of seeming joy at the alleged proof that America remains a racist country.
Unquestionably, the attempted murder charges (which were later dropped for four of the defendants, while two other assailants were booked as juveniles) merit scrutiny. If the indictment in fact resulted from discrimination, then the prosecutor would deserve the strongest punishment. And the incident that seems to have led to the group assault on the white student — hanging nooses from a school tree where white teens congregated Ã¯Â¿Â½ was a despicable provocation.
But even if the worst possible interpretation of these events is merited, the massive international attention to this tiny town would seem vastly disproportionate to the cause, unless Jena stands for a more widespread problem. The idea behind the protests is that just as these six youths were overcharged, the hundreds of thousands of blacks in prison are also the victims of systemic abuse. But for institutional racism, the black prison population would be much smaller.
The reason the black incarceration rate is the highest in the country is that blacks have the highest crime rate — by a long shot. Nationally, blacks commit murder at about eight times the frequency of whites. In New York, any given violent crime is 13 times as likely to have been committed by a black person as by a white person, according to the reports of victims and witnesses. These ratios are similar across the country. In Los Angeles, blacks committed 41 percent of all robberies in 2001, according to victims’ descriptions, though they constitute only 11 percent of the city’s population.
No one in the Jena stampede dares whisper a word about black crime, because it undercuts the portrait of a victimized race. You can listen to every protest across the country glorifying the Jena Six, and you will never hear an acknowledgement of the massive social breakdown that is the black crime rate: no mention of the violence in inner-city schools that black students commit overwhelmingly; no mention of the rising homicides in midsize cities that young black males commit when they feel “disrespected.” It is not racism putting black men in jail; it’s their own behavior. Behind the crime wave is the cataclysmic disappearance of marriage — the black illegitimacy rate can approach 90 percent in inner cities — but it, too, is taboo.
What about the broader significance of Jena? Is Jena’s supposed racism a microcosm of America? To the contrary: There is not a single elite institution in the country that is not twisting itself into knots in favor of African-Americans, instituting double standards for the sake of “diversity.” After college, law schools, business schools, medical schools, engineering schools and others accept black students whose test scores would disqualify them if they were white or Asian. The preferences continue into the professions.
The Jena protesters deny these truths. In fact, the purpose of such mass celebrations — and that is indeed what they are Ã¯Â¿Â½ is to make sure that attention stays far away from the actual problems holding blacks back. Both whites and blacks are complicit in this sabotage. These ecstatic festivals of racism-bashing are a crippling ritual in the co-dependency between absolution-seeking whites and angry blacks, a phenomenon that African-American scholar Shelby Steele has powerfully analyzed.
The demonstrators exhibit a palpable desire for the moral clarity of the civil rights era, as do the reporters, who cover their every utterance. But there has been nothing like Selma or Montgomery for the current generation because much of America has accomplished almost an about-face on race since the 1950s. The current martyrs to American bigotry are a far cry from Rosa Parks.
The Jena situation is undoubtedly a bit more complex than the tale the press has woven of hate-filled whites and peace-loving blacks. But even if it were not, the catharsis that this morality play has offered to its participants is spurious. The real tragedy is the dysfunctional culture that holds back too many blacks from seizing the many opportunities open to them.
This piece originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News