Writing about Race:

Jasper, Texas
My friend Christopher was arrested once in Evanston because he didn't have any I.D. with him-- it's a good thing that they didn't ask for his freedom papers or he'd have been shipped back to Mississippi. My friend Henry was put in jail for THREE days because he didn't have car insurance and his mom couldn't make bail. Three-month-old Amari suffered significant damage to his arm during childbirth but he isn't receiving critically needed physical therapy while his mom--a medicaid recipient-- is bounced from doctor to doctor. And my little friend Shanika, who goes to a special kindergarten, will probably never get the help she needs to overcome her learning disabilities in an overcrowded (public housing) public school.

Last week one of my well-meaning workmates handed me a news-paper article that described how three white men (sporting kkk tattoos) had chained a black man to their truck and dragged him to his death. I read the article because she seemed to expect me to and I echoed her horror because she seemed to expect me to. But if I had spoken from my heart, I might have uttered a weary "what else is new?" If I'd been even more bold, I would have asked if Americans are similarly outraged every time a black person gets on the elevator at Presidential Towers and the white passengers startle. Do we react with anger every time Jane Q. Cicero calls my friend Florence? Do we protest when beer guzzlers argue (with no concern for people nearby) about which NBA shine plays better?

Jasper itself was not a shock; it was a shocking, grisly, unconscionable example of the many injustices that go on daily. My friend Toni says that peoples' reactions ranged from non-reaction (like mine) to depression to grief to outrage. She thinks that peoples' reactions result in part from their own experience of racism. People in their sixties have lived through this a hundred times, they grieve but they are not surprised. People in their thirties are angry but they are resigned to their own impotence. (Some of them may be so committed to the belief that they are fully integrated into the mainstream that they must immediately repress Jasper.) People in their twenties--who have no personal knowledge of the Civil Rights movement or what preceded it--are surprised and outraged and they jump up to DO something. And little kids--I just hope it's too early to tell them.

My friend Max said it made her heart ache--another life lost. As a woman, she ached for his mother and for his children and for all the people in his life who would be so devastated by the unthinking cruelty of three evil men. As a black woman, she ached because we have really come nowhere.

Lots of people are writing about race now. The Thernstroms believe that we've come so far that everyone should be pleased. Nathan Glazer, who made a career of attacking affirmative action, has realized he might have made a mistake. William Julius Wilson said that racism isn't what kept people poor. And President Clinton is hosting a nationwide festival on race.

I guess I just don't understand what all this commentary did to save the black man in Jasper.

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