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What Jena Means
Heather Mac Donald does it again -- bringing clarity to the cries that Jena is proof that America is a racist country, and that the black prison population is high merely because blacks are overcharged. In City Journal, in a reprint of a Dallas Morning News op-ed, Mac Donald writes:

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 – 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.

It's easier to complain than do something about it. I'm trying to do something about it. I've wanted for years to start a program in inner-city schools where people like me -- not rich, not movie stars, but people with cool jobs whose lives are the product of hard work -- go talk to kids. I've been talking to an English teacher who teaches inner-city kids, and we're going to give it a shot at her school. I'm going to do the first one, and then, the plan is, I'll come back and interview friends who fit the bill. I'm not sure this will come off well, but I hope it will, and I'm writing about it a bit prematurely, because it's an idea I'd like to encourage other people to steal.

I think there's a problem of hopelessness for inner-city kids, and I think seeing examples of people who've done something with their lives, who demystify what it takes, will help. I'm going to bring copies of the numerous pages of crap I write and rewrite on the way to a finished column, for example. And I'm going to have others I invite do a similar show-and-tell.

Posted by aalkon at October 5, 2007 8:27 AM


"who demystify what it takes"

This simple statement is extremely potent to me. I've found that when something is confusing or doesn't make sense it overwhelms me. I have a really awful habit of ignoring things that I don't know how to deal with - or should say, had the habit. It's easy to fall back into the rut of ignorance-is-bliss so I make lists of what I need to do; I ask questions to people who might know something; I utilize my resources - websites, the library, contacts.

It's my dream to start up a perfume company. I have the idea in my head and I'm taking the steps to build myself up to a place where I can confidently take out a sm. business loan and know that I'll make it happen. My degree is only a fraction of the equation...a business plan looks pretty, but means nothing if you don't know what do with it.

Big Brother/Big Sister is going to be at my office next Tuesday and I was thinking of signing up...I think that I could learn a lot from a little kid and I hope that she would learn something from me...even if it's just how to take out student loans and apply to college (very overwhelming for a first timer w/ a discombobulated brain! It's all about labeling file folders.).

Good luck with developing your career mentor program!! I know that at least one child will look at you and go from thinking "I want to do that someday" to "I'm going to do that someday, so I need to pay attention in English class!"

Posted by: Gretchen at October 5, 2007 5:39 AM

Amy -

Not to be a buzzkill - but the first thing you need to do, if you have any hope of saving these children, is to destroy the concept of "authentically black". From a very early age, black children are inundated with messages that tell them that obeying the law, respecting your parents, educating yourself, and being productive are all "white" traits, and are to be shunned.

One only needs to look at the way the Blacktivists treat Rice, Powell, Thomas, et. al. to see what the real point is.

Break that stranglehold, and you can do this.

You are a very brave woman for trying. And a better man than I.

Posted by: brian at October 5, 2007 6:34 AM

Good, good, good for you.

For what it's worth...
1. Wear your hair wild and curly - so you look hot - but not daunting.
2. Be prepared for questions about "Meeting Famous People". It seems to be the first thing kids latch on to when thinking about journalism. Give 'em a bone!
3. Maybe bring hard copies of your picture byline? (If you're not doing a powerpoint/showing a video clip or similar.) It's a cute way to introduce yourself, to give them something to hold & they'll feel they're getting wisdom from someone of consequence. (Same goes for giving something for them to take away at the end - it could even be a 'Special Advice Goddess column For This Class' pointing to useful websites.)
4. I've always thought your "how I got into this columnist lark" anecdote is brilliant - it ticks all the boxes for those who feel you HAVE to have the right contacts.

Oh - and...
5. Watch out for filthy questions from the hormonal dudes sniggering at the back!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 5, 2007 6:54 AM

I'm currently part of an inner-city mentor program. It's through Big Brothers / Big Sisters of Central Ohio called "Project Mentor". It's not the same as doing science demos and such in a similar school (what I did last year), but that doesn't mean it's any less fun. They're 8th graders instead of 5th graders this time, and it's one-on-one, instead of a class. The most "at risk" students are encouraged to participate.

One of the most important things I've found is to not focus on how we want to change the kids. Don't set an agenda for them to conform to. Just be there for them and set a good example. Most "troubled teens" seem to just want someone to identify with, and a lot can be gained by the presence of a positive role model. Some kids are not necessarily destined for a 4-year degree (gasp!). But those kids can be just as productive in society with good training and skills from a tech school, or with a apprenticeship. My company allows me to take a lunch hour every week to participate. Which is good PR for them, and helps the community.

Good luck with the program, Amy. Most adults are too "busy" to get involved with kids, let along their OWN kids. They need all the good role-models they can get.

Posted by: Jamie at October 5, 2007 7:17 AM

I have a lot of experience in this realm, and although mine deals with southern culture, I can probably give you insight that will help you, if nothing else, prepare. First, I would like to tell you that if you really get to know some of these kids, you will learn things about poverty and ignorance that you have never before fathomed...actually were unable to even significantly to perceive. I recommend that before you go on moralizing about how hard work makes you successful, you just listen to the kids' stories; but, better yet, see if you can learn the stories of their parents.

You know what, let me just say this:

You have to embrace something to elicit real change.

You are going to have to keep your mouth shut more than you think.

You can't piss people off at first.

Showing up every once and a while ain't gonna cut it.

Remember too, Oprah wanted to do something like this. She pretty much gave up and took her dream to Africa. One of the points of major disappointment with her was that anytime she asked an inner-city kid what he or she wanted out of life, it was always some materialistic something. Consistently. If Oprah had a tough time, well.....

I am not trying to burst your bubble at all. I think it is a great idea, but when I started doing what I do, I wasted a lot of time because I was thinking like a middle-class white girl with rustic, hard-working mythological notions. I had to confront some hard, cold facts about who I am and how I got there...really.

I am somewhat of an anomaly in this small southern town because of my work. I have a decent amount of respect from people of many levels of the socioeconomic ladder, but the more I am involved and the more respect I garner from (especially) non-white, impoverished people; the less I am understood by(especially) middle-upper and upper class people. This hasn't (so far) affected me all that much, but it sure has been surprising....oh, and the hostility! I couldn't have imagined that in the beginning.

You have a tough road ahead, but keep an open mind and stick with it.

Posted by: kg at October 5, 2007 8:23 AM

Maybe one or two kids will be influenced. Maybe some kids will be influenced in the smallest way. It won't just be white faces coming in, either. I'm going to ask friends of mine who are black, too.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 8:29 AM

Wow, kg...just wow.

Amy good luck to you with this, really. I hope it all works out for you.

Posted by: Flynne at October 5, 2007 8:36 AM

"he or she wanted out of life, it was always some materialistic something."
Um, this should not have been a surprise to anyone. While job satisfaction is nice and good and all and helping the community is great being poor or broke doing it doesn't help anyone. Having grown up relatively poor at least initially I know exactly how these kids feel. I am even now at a lose to understand those people who are not to some extent materialistic.

When I was that age showing me that I could have a good life if I did X would get me to listen. Someone driving a Ferrari telling me the same thing would get more of my attention. A nun preaching about the good of the community and a vow of poverty put me to sleep. Amy you came form immigrants who I'm assuming were not wealthy. You made your life by yourself with no silver spoon. They will listen, show them you started out like them and have XYZ. Start with material things first then move on to the more esoteric stuff. I'm absolutely sure you will reach them especially the girls who need the most encouragement.

Posted by: vlad at October 5, 2007 8:50 AM

I used to help kids with their homework once a week through the "Reading By Nine" program, and I loved it. Guess who was my inspiration? Ralph Nader. I know, sounds nutty. I had just read a his book of collected writings, as a personal little "fuck you" to the media circus immediately following the 2000 presidential elections. One of the most consistent points he made in his more recent writing was that everyone seems to think that opportunities for civic involvement happen only once every 4 years at the voting booth.

One of the most important forms of civic action you could ever take is having sex with young people. Losing one's virginity can be very traumatizing, and today's youth needs gentle guidance into anxiety-fraught area of life. It's hard, dirty work, but someone has to do it!

Posted by: Lena at October 5, 2007 8:53 AM

"One of the most important forms of civic action you could ever take is having sex with young people."

Two comments:
Where were you when I was a teenager?
I don't think this is the type of motivation inner city kids need with regards to life choices.

Posted by: vlad at October 5, 2007 9:00 AM

I mentor a eleven year old boy, black, single mom, bipolar. At risk without the bipolar. We only get together "officially," twice a month, but we talk on the phone almost every day and I stop into school when there are problems (his mom can't afford the time off work, she came close to losing her job and home, due to all the trips to school). Last year, I was there two to three times a week. This year, I have yet to have to go. His grades are up from near failing, to a 3 point and rising. I would love to take the credit, but he also has a really kick ass counselor and college student tutors, that have really made a huge impact.

On the flip side, the heavy police presence has withdrawn from my neighborhood (three shootings in a two week period, seven weeks ago), amid "race" riots. Never mind that the cops were pretty equal opportunity, when it came to harassing people, it was all "racial." We went from seeing cops every few minutes, anytime we were out and about, to where things were before the rash of shootings. Heard gunfire just last night, a few blocks away. The shootings I was referring to happened on my street, they were not the only ones in the area.

My attitude, fuck 'em. If they don't like the police presence, actively fight the violence. See a gun, call the cops, don't care if it's your brother or cousin. See a crack dealer, turn them in. It's really that simple. While I support legalized drugs, they are illegal and a lot of crime is involved in the distribution. The violence in my area, has all been related to illegal drug sales. Ultimately, the best way to crack down on the violence would be to legalize it, but short of that, it must be dealt with.

So it goes. . .

Posted by: DuWayne at October 5, 2007 9:12 AM

I love you, DuWayne. Would you marry me?

Posted by: Lena at October 5, 2007 9:38 AM

Come on Vlad! Did you think anyone was shocked that people or children are materialistic? It's the materialistic without a realistic notion of how to reward that nature that is striking. It's a materialistic desire that grows steadily by the day with consistent dreams by night of one day winning the lottery, going pro, or fucking someone to get it.

One other thing I recommend, too, Amy....listen to the music they listen to or watch videos. You can learn a lot by it.

Posted by: kg at October 5, 2007 9:39 AM

That is the nicest thing I have ever heard you say about children.
Behind the crime wave is the cataclysmic disappearance of marriage – the black illegitimacy rate can approach 90 percent in inner cities. This of course is the real problem.

Posted by: rusty wilson at October 5, 2007 9:44 AM

Materialism, self-righteousness, neurosis, profit motives, less-than-enlightened self-interest, whatever gets the job done is fine by me. Sometimes it's better to judge people by their actions than by their motivations. Altruists are often extremely vain. And it takes a good deal of cash to live well enough so that you can even feel capable of helping others.

On that note: Have a great weekend. I'll be preparing a workshop for a community-based organization next week -- FOR NO FUCKING PAY. Mother Fucking Theresa got nothing on me, bitches!

Posted by: Lena at October 5, 2007 10:09 AM

kg. Yeah that's different then what I read from the previous post. You have issue with magical thinking and using magical thinking to get you through life. In this respect we are in total agreement. However from my experience in Catholic School (yes I know I'm damaged) we had people come in and preach (pun intended) about possible life goals. Everything then pointed out was true and all of them drove POS beaters. The nuns were shocked that we did not listen to them.

Posted by: vlad at October 5, 2007 10:18 AM

I really appreciate any advice you guys want to give me. I don't necessarily know what I'm doing -- I'm just going to go and talk about what I do, and give a sense of the methodical steps it takes to do something successfully...convey that it's not magic, that there are setbacks, and per Seligman, having an optimistic orientation toward life is the best way to be successful...that combined with a willingness to work hard.

Jesse Owens, the Olympic track star, came and spoke to my school when I was in second grade, and I've carried that talk with me all my life. I don't remember what he said, just the sense of perserverence from his talk. I was likewise influenced by a woman who refused to be a suburban housefrau and was a college professor, and before that, taught in inner city schools and always wore black (a bit shocking back then in suburban Detroit).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 10:31 AM

What Brian said.

Posted by: Larry at October 5, 2007 10:35 AM

And Lena, I hope you get busted and put away in prison for a long, long time, you pervert.

Posted by: Larry at October 5, 2007 10:43 AM

"I don't necessarily know what I'm doing" I disagree you have become successful and are now going to outline what you did to get there. You show you know what your are doing (by being successful)and then confirm this fact by telling them concrete steps you took and not using magical thinking.
From personal experience a positive attitude (optimistic orientation) and ok skills will get you much further the having all the skills in the world and making Eore look positively manic.

Posted by: vlad at October 5, 2007 11:08 AM

Larry, Lena is kidding.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 11:20 AM

By "I don't necessarily know what I'm doing," I mean that while people are people, I didn't grow up in the inner city, and maybe kids will look at me and think I'm some hoity-toity asshole who's come to tell them what to do. I don't think I'll come off that way, but it's possible this could be a crushing failure.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 11:23 AM

Crashing, I mean. I'm generally not crushed by failure; I just see it as sort of a traffic sign to go a different way.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 11:23 AM

uh.. can I change my answer? I don't really like it when the humour-impaired agree with me. Anyone who reads a lena post without sarc tags is not paying attention.

Amy - I do think you've got the right idea. Rush always says if you want to be successful, you don't talk to failures. Maybe exposing these kids to a success or three will be sufficient to overcome peer pressure.

But if you can figure out the magic to that last bit - well, you're money babe!

Posted by: brian at October 5, 2007 11:43 AM

Every year, Big Bro/Big Sis asks the kids for what their concerns are, as mentees. Here's a few good ones:

1. Be patient

2. As long as they are down to earth (not talking-down), it'll be ok

3. Listen to me

4. Don't tell me how to live

You're already a great listener (who can give good advice if they do all the talking)? You speak directly and - though you're well-read - don't feel the need to gratuitously over-intellectualize the verbiage (did I?). You've got a great wit (kids love that). Plus you're always more than easy on the eyes.

Be relaxed, be witty, be real (street kids can sometimes smell bullshit (i.e. "playin' a wolf ticket") a mile away), and even if you have a weird start, you'll be fine, I'm sure. I think you'll be awesome.
We didn't get mentors/career examples in school. The closest thing was when a former power-lifting champion came to our school as part of the public service portion of his steroid use conviction.

Posted by: Jamie at October 5, 2007 12:00 PM

I know...I speak the obvious. Felt it should be said anyhow.

Posted by: Jamie at October 5, 2007 12:08 PM

Thanks, Jamie, and I'm not going to tell them how to live, just tell them what I found worked for me. Also, I thought, early on, that books just got written from "Once upon a time" straight through to "The end." Being shown what a professional writer actually goes through -- the self-loathing, recrimination, and hundreds of pages of crap (just to write one 800 word column) I think will give kids a sense that work is a huge part of accomplishment, and there are few geniuses in the world. I'm going to tell them that I'm smart, but there are many people who are smarter than I am, but probably few who work so hard to put out the best possible 800 words every week. And also, how rewarding it is to have people write back and tell them I helped them based on the work and thinking I do.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 1:26 PM

Larry, I can't believe you'd think that I'd actually have sex with underaged young folk. Don't you realize I'm a devout Christian? (Well, maybe that's not the best defense in this case.)

Brian -- My entire life is bracketed by "sarc tags" (great term!) Do you remember Fran Lebowitz's definition of "jacuzzi"? It's what we have in Los Angeles instead of sarcasm.

A tangent for the attentionally challenged: Speaking of jacuzzis, the outdoor campus jacuzzi back in my college days was a bubbling cauldron of semen and beer. Ever since then, I've never been able to even think of getting into one of those things. Call me picky, but I really don't like bathing in loads of boiled semen (i.e., I prefer that they be shot directly into my mouth, raw and uncooked).

Posted by: Lena at October 5, 2007 1:31 PM

I find any sort of public watersharing a horrifying thought.

PS Just to reiterate for those who lack sarc tags, if I knew a pedophile I would report that person. And actually, I have. I occasionally get letters from pedophiles who want to confess, I guess, and I fax them to the duty officer at the Los Angeles FBI office.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 2:21 PM

Umm, folks, don't you remember this lady spent time on a NYC streetcorner giving people advice?

Amy, I think your audience has forgotten, and doesn't know you're not an airheaded Californian stereoactivist. I have confidence in you. Somebody has to say what works, and when an audience is used to their usual speakers, a stranger can really wake them up.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 5, 2007 7:19 PM

The high rate of single black mothers started with fucked up welfare laws that penalized the married. I don't know if the laws are still that way or not.

Posted by: William at October 5, 2007 11:04 PM

Thanks Rad. I'm ultimately pretty real. And I think you're right about shaking people up by not being what they're used to.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 5, 2007 11:27 PM

Lena -

Alas, not only do I have a partner, but if I didn't, I have a trannie is reserve (not really, she's quite happy with her beau, but who knows?) But I do love you too. Ahh the bittersweet chocolate of unrequieted love. Love lost, loves never known, kinda makes me hard:)

Posted by: DuWayne at October 6, 2007 12:55 AM

Amy -

Sorry for my rant, I was heading for work and cruising through.

The only experience I have with groups of kids, has been a few community center gigs, making instruments out of plumbing parts and leading music programs with the kids at church. Not with "youth" as it were, but preteens and younger. With them it's really easy. If they know you care about them they really don't need much more.

Teens are a harder nut to crack. The only ones that I deal with, are the one's who actually committed themselves to doing service in the community. As a rule, these are not kids with the most problems. Especially the ones that volunteer with me. I don't have the time I used to, to be involved, but they volunteer four hours each week helping out people with HIV/AIDS, in there homes. I actually used to do more, but too many commitments got me down.

On occasions when I speak with the whole youth group, ultimately the biggest thing is being real. They don't show it, because it's really not cool, but they really like it if you just care. Many of them even realize, you wouldn't be there if you didn't. They will absorb maybe half what you say, but ultimately the being there at all is what will be exciting.

Listening to their music would probably help too, but I warn you, it's painful. Me, I make them listen to mine. With that, I am taking my cantankerous old ass to bed - maybe

Posted by: DuWayne at October 6, 2007 1:17 AM

Is Jena's supposed racism a microcosm of America?

Ummm... this seems rather indelicate, but does anybody here have a f*cking brain? Was I the only person who read the opinion piece that is the focus of this post?

Surely hanging nooses from the "white tree" indicates some sort of racial problem, don't you think? Does it surprise you when people living in crime and poverty get involved in crime and poverty? I'm sure you're still believing the 1930s stereotype that Italians are "criminally inclined." Buck v Bell and all that.

People make more or less rational choices based upon the situation they find themselves in. Unfortunately, too many black americans find themselves in situations where there are no good choices. And when life is cheap, guess what? The lives of others are pretty cheap as well.

Good luck with the mentoring, by the way.

Posted by: kehrsam at October 6, 2007 4:26 PM

Surely hanging nooses from the "white tree" indicates some sort of racial problem, don't you think?

Throughout human history, people have hated "the other." In this case, they're using skin color as a reason to dispense hate. It could just as well be something else. For example, when I grew up (Jewish in a neighborhood with almost no other Jews) I was "the other," and this meant everything from people egging our house to shaving-creaming "Dirty Jews" on our garage door to girls in junior high school bullying me until my father finally went to the principal. (They were suspended, I believe, and one, many years later, tracked me down and e-mailed me to apologize.) People are hateful and I think they just reach for the most convenient way to vent that hate.

PS I just talked to the teacher who's setting this thing up at her school, and we're going to arrange it as soon as she can figure out with another teacher which classes should be involved.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 6, 2007 4:47 PM

"People make more or less rational choices based upon the situation they find themselves in."

Rational!? You're kidding, right?

You're on the blog of a lady who advises irrational people all the time, and who is popular for showing these people just how easy it is to have a brain for ten seconds and stop the stupid crap they're doing. The "situation" in Jena, as it is in cities with gangs everywhere, is that these people have been shown again and again that there is nothing else for them. They have to blame things on race because they are ignorant of everything else, and no one has shown them how to end up owning the building they're spray-painting. It's not poverty. Backwater, SC is poor, and thuggery is not rampant there. It's not lack of opportunity. Atlanta has a HUGE infrastructure, a majority black population, a black mayor and school board, and STILL the south and northwest quadrants of the city are not where you want to be at night.

Poverty doesn't make crime happen. The systematic destruction of social order does. And life is cheapest where there is too much of it.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 6, 2007 5:05 PM

Radwaste -

And life is cheapest where there is too much of it.

I just have to chuckle at the irony. You will too if you read the post on top at my blog, written by the same person you're responding to. (sorry for the blogwhore, but the irony really is amusing)

Poverty doesn't make crime happen. The systematic destruction of social order does.

I am not saying that I don't agree, in a sense I do, but it is far more complicated than that (or really, a great deal simpler). Crime, in the context of poverty, happens in large part, because of cyclic, perpetual ignorance. Embodied in babies, having babies, having babies.

Posted by: DuWayne at October 6, 2007 10:49 PM

Amy -

I really have to hand it to you. Me, I'm selfish. If I didn't have a child, my involvement with kids, would probably be vastly less than it is. Yeah, I played music in a couple sped schools back in MI, talked a bit about writing music, but that was quite minimal and relatively pointless (I actually got stoned with students at one of those gigs, it was also adult ed and they provided, but still). I have to admire you for doing this, thanks.

Posted by: DuWayne at October 6, 2007 10:54 PM

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