When Doug Marlette died July 10th, bringing to an end his wonderful comic strip about the South, Kudzu, most of us who â€œdonâ€™t hate the South,â€ as Quentin Compson would say, were saddened by the thought that, as Sam Smith put it so nicely recently, we lost â€œa Southern strip that wasnâ€™t condescending and that didnâ€™t set us back another ten years every time it appeared.â€
One has to wonder what Marlette thought about the travesty in Jena, Louisiana, that Iâ€™ve posted about here and here in the last month – if he knew about it. And especially how heâ€™d feel about the antics of some â€œgood olâ€™ boysâ€ this week.
As Alan Bean, former Baptist preacher and activist whoâ€™s been working in Jena and who attended the trial of Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena 6 defendants tried, reports at the Friends of Jena site, perhaps the perpetrators of the Jena crisis are the white men – the school superintendent and the district attorney – who refused to treat the behavior of white students with the sternness they reserved for black students:
People are beginning to understand that the official response to the noose hanging (symbolized by the public comments of Mssrs. Breithaupt and Walters) validated the color line the noose hangers were desperate to preserve.
In this atmosphere students were left, Bean believes, to â€œwork things out for themselves.â€ This led to fights – in each case with whitesâ€™ actions treated differently. Bean says this was done for one reason – so that the district attorney, who had warned black students specifically that he could make their lives disappear with the stroke of his pen, could make good on his threat:
People are beginning to realize the true significance of Mr. Waltersâ€™ threat. He was setting up a situation that was bound to end in racially-tinged violence. Sooner or later some white kid was going to take his lumps at the hands of black kidsâ€“and when that day arrived, Mr. Walters planned to be waiting at the courthouse, pen at the ready.
And now the NAACP and other important racial equality organizations are turning their attention to Jena. And how does the town respond? By treating the actions of the men who destroyed the church sign and the lawn of the Antioch Baptist Church where the first NAACP organizational meeting was held, as the work of â€œoutsidersâ€:
What I find interesting is that these men are not from Jenaâ€¦Seems like outsiders (of all colors) love to come in and make more trouble. I hope they are prosecuted to the fullest. How shameful! – Alexandria Town Talk commenter on the story of the vandalism at the Jena church
Those words – â€œSeems like outsiders (of all colors) love to come in and make more troubleâ€ – reveal more than their writer intended. For any native Southerner (like this one), theyâ€™re part of an old, old code that goes all the way back to the â€œpeculiar institutionâ€ in which Southerners spent the first 60 years of the 19th century. Theyâ€™re inherently paternalistic, racist, and xenophobic. Theyâ€™re the reason I referred to the old question asked by Southerners to this day: â€œAre you related to the â€¦?â€ Itâ€™s a question meant to discern friend from foe – dating back to antebellum days when white Southerners strove to identify â€œtroublemakersâ€ such as abolitionists – and a question still used to test whether one seeks to cause that greatest of upsets to Southerners of that mind set – change to the status quoâ€¦.
Marletteâ€™s character â€œUncle Dub,â€ (pictured above), often referred to in the comic strip as one of â€œthe last good olâ€™ boys,â€ is renowned for his irreverent attitude, best expressed by his personal motto: â€œI prefer clutches to churches.â€ Holder of the Nobel Prize in auto mechanics, heâ€™s dubious of the religious right, critical of both Democrats and Republicans, and especially trenchant about the foibles of bad acting good olâ€™ boys. His creator might have him say this about the vandals who targeted the Antioch Baptists Church in Jena, the Jena school superintendent and district attorney, and the kids themselves, black and white, tangled in this sad and sorry mess:
A pretty good definition of maturity is knowing how immature you are. A pretty good definition of sanity is knowing how crazy you are. A pretty good definition of wisdom is knowing how foolish you are. – Doug Marlette
Letâ€™s hope that Jena, LA, heeds such sage advice soon.
Update: Lydia Bean of Friends of Justice, the grassroots organization that brought the Jena travesty to international attention,Â shares their site and solicits donations: http://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com .Â Please go there and donate what you can. This is too important a cause not to support.