Racist “Pranks” and Jena Fatigue
“It wasn’t that we were making fun of the Jena 6 incident. We were just fed up with it… I have just as many black [friends] as i do white. And I love them to death.” – University of Louisiana-Monroe student Kristy Smith, whose Facebook.com page shows students in blackface, apparently acting out the beating of Jena High School student Justin Barker.
The events surrounding the arrest and charging of the Jena 6 has sparked at least two copycat incidents on U.S. college campuses, including Ms. Smith and her friends’ parody performance of the beating that led to the Jena 6 arrests on her Facebook page.
Subsequent Jena 6 inspired episodes of campus racism include a noose found hanging outside of the University of Maryland Black Cultural Center and a noose found hanging from the doorknob of Columbia University professor Madonna Constantine.
In her noted essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” scholar Peggy McIntosh notes that one of the benefits that she, as a white woman, experiences as a result of white privilege is that she “can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color, who constitute the worlds’ majority, without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.” Revise this sentence to read, “I can remain oblivious of the language and customs and perspectives of persons of color,” and I believe that we just might have uncovered the roots of these copycat incidents of racism that have popped up in repsonse to the Jena 6 trial and protests.
If white privilege means being able to remain oblivious to feelings and beliefs that people of color have toward major social and political issues and events, then prominent cases like the Jena 6, whose wide media coverage is virtually impossible to ignore, destabilizes the conventional relationship between white people and people of color by forcing white people into direct contact with the perspectives of African Americans. The widespread coverage of the Jena 6 protests — on the major networks and on cable, on internet news sites and blogs, and on radio news — compromises the usual ability of white and other non-Black Americans to read or hear Black perspectives selectively, at the the time, under the conditions, and on the topics of their choosing.
Responding to the widespread criticism of her online blackface performance, Kristy Smith, explained that she and her friends were “just fed up with [the Jena 6 case and/or coverage].” The subtext of this statement is that she was “just fed up” with having to deal with people and ideas that are so different from her own. So too were the as yet unidentified culprits behind the noose displays on the Columbia University and University of Maryland campuses.
I am betting that these unknown perpetrators would, if found and confronted, express a smiliar “Jena fatigue,” a not-so-rare psychological condition that spreads rapidy with racial, class-based, religious, or sexual majority populations when the issues and perspectives of an otherwise underrepresented minority group take center stage (usually as a result of an act of overt racism, classism, sexism, or homophobia). Symptoms include fatigue and frustration in the effected majority groups, most often over the loss of the ability to pretend that their ideas about race are universally shared by all. Risk factors include narrow-mindedness and race, class, gender, sexuality, and/or religious majority status.
Note: People of color, gays, Muslims, Jewish people, poor people, and women may all find themselves at risk for developing this affliction when and if the majority groups that they belong to are forced into contact with the perspectives of members of the corresponding minority (think wealthy and middle-class and/or people of color, white and/or wealthy women, wealthy white gay people, etc.)
Posted by Ajuan Mance