Friday, November 16, 2007

Same truth, different perspectives


For those of us who are in the mainstream culture, I've noticed that we assume our perspective is no different than anyone else's. We assume and proclaim that "facts are facts" no matter who presents the story.

However, despite what we want to believe, perspective and life experience affect our views. We each look at things from a different angle...and oftentimes these "angles" depend on our skin color, the neighborhood where we grew up, and the socioeconomic structure of our family.

As I watched a short documentary on the Jena 6 done by a Black filmmaker, I was reminded of this all over again.

Let me confess, I didn't rally behind the "Jena 6." I was horrified that students would hang nooses from a tree and that, in 2007, there is still a place that is designated for "Whites only"...I was disgusted when the news came out that Black students were arrested for a scuffle with White students and the White students were just slapped on the hand for hanging nooses from a tree... But I also heard the "fact" that there is not any legal way to punish the hanging of a noose and the "fact" that there is legal punishment for someone who beats a person nearly unconscious (which was why I heard Mychal Bell was not being released).

Though I understood the larger point to be made (i.e. justice), I was troubled by the way it seemed people were getting together from all over to defend and demand the release of Bell, who has committed "battery" crimes in the past. I continued to hear of other "facts" that I couldn't reconcile as "right." I heard the district attorney's comment, "I'll take your life away with the stroke of a pen," but I also read that the D.A. wasn't talking just to the Black kids, but to an entire school assembly. There always seemed to be reports that "legitimately" justified the actions of the White students, the White D.A., and others. Though I didn't believe it because they were White, I know unconsciously that's probably at least part of the reasons the justifications seemed to make sense.

On the other hand, the momentum for the Jena 6 rally that grew primarily out of the Black community, but also from many others as well, seemed to be presented in more of an emotional way, without a lot of "facts." Was that because there were no facts or was that more about the way it was presented in the media??

And therein lies the problem.

The person who crafts the messages gets to decide how the story is presented and that message is rarely presented by the people who are directly and intimately involved.

It is true that facts do not change. However, what does change is which facts are chosen and how they are presented.

The questions change...

the people chosen to be questioned change...

the images presented to the public change...

and, therefore, the message changes.

The message from the media or well-intentioned people looking in could be trying to present the "facts" as accurately as they know how, but the voice of the people speaks much more truth and eloquence when the message is crafted by those who are directly affected.

Unfortunately, a message spoken by the people is often challenging to find. And to immerse ourselves in something that doesn't directly affect us or our family is often seen as time consuming and takes us out of our comfort zone.

However, I believe we need to make that effort. Perhaps if we made more efforts to do things like that, we would begin to know people and understand how hanging nooses are just as violent a crime as kicking someone when they're down.


Anonymous said...

You're so right. There were so many things about the Jena 6 situation where what "really" happened makes a huge difference. For example, there were reports that the white student was beaten violently, but then there were reports that he went home from the emergency room and went to a party that same night. If that were the case, how was that fight any different from the scuffles that thousands of young males get into daily across the country? How can someone be almost "murdered" and then go to a party the same day? I was upset not that there were consequences for the fight, but what they were. Attempted murder? When the only weapon was a shoe? Being held and tried as an adult even though he was only 16 at the time? But as you pointed much of this was actual fact? How do we know what the real intents and motives were? However, no matter how you look at at, there was evidence of some gross injustices. There were some facts presented consistently that couldn't be explained away. And no matter what, it shook a lot of people awake. It made a lot of people look more closely at things going on in our justice system. It was amazing how many of my 6th grade students knew what was going on with that situation and spoke passionately about it! I think that this situation was a catalyst for other people's voices in other situations that perhaps the media hasnt gotten a hold of and tainted to be noticed and be heard because people are more alert. And the more people who are alert and paying attention the less likely the media can take something and shape it and get away with it.d

Pedagogical Criticality said...

While I understand your commentary, we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a country dictated by a hegemony, which has historically interpreted facts, created policy, and subordinated people based on distinctions of race that are both anthropologically and scientifically unproven. In addition to this, our divisions along racial and ethnic lines often cause us to be cross-cultural incompetents, making it impossible to assess the truth of a situation.

Regarding the Jena 6, I do not think that "we" on the outside will ever know the whole truth. The fact remains that black males traditionally receive harsher punishment than any other group in the US. This is the real issue, “the discipline gap.” Black males suffer from criminalization due to media and even scholarly driven negative images and stereotyping, race and class divisions, and zero tolerance policies that exacerbate racial division, and make it nearly impossible to get a fair shake in the American justice system. And while some blacks may have gone too far, in the sense that one nationalist doctrine of racial tyranny is no less evil than another nationalist doctrine of racial tyranny, we have to wonder whether or not this type of strategy is necessary to counter “white privilege,” which was clearly in play in Jena, LA.

I think the issue is one that is woven into the fabric of American culture, and that American must develop a critique on racial issues that is much more sophisticated than what is currently played out in the media. In the words of Gloria Ladson-Billings, “we must do this if we can even hope to conceive a new vision of America that is more complex and multifaceted than the prevailing cultural narrative”