Where is all this racial tension coming from? (Not about breastfeeding.)

October 1st, 2007 by MamaBear

A couple of stories in the news lately have me worried. First there’s the controversial Jena 6 case. I won’t go into the details of it. It’s way too controversial and media contaminated, and, at least for now, I’m not touching it with a ten-foot pole. I might as well write the word “abortion” instead of “Jena 6,” because both terms guarantee to piss off everybody, on both sides of the debate. Not worth it.

Rather than alienate my readers, I’ll instead draw your attention to the more recent case of a young girl in California who got her wrist broken by a guard at her school. According to the news reports, Pleajhia Mervin, a 16-year old high school student, dropped a birthday cake on the floor of the school cafeteria. She picked up the mess, but was then told by the security guard to pick up some crumbs she left behind. Mervin went back to pick up the crumbs, and when she was done, started walking to class. The security guard, not satisfied with the way Mervin had picked up the crumbs (WTF? Isn’t that what the janitorial staff at a school is for?) engaged in a verbal altercation with her which culminated in him slamming her against a steel grate and twisting her wrist until it broke. I cannot make this shit up, people! It was caught on a video cameraphone by an quick-on-his-feet fellow student. (Said student was also “taken down,” by the guards — WHY?? –, and his incident was also documented in a picture by yet another student, thank goodness.)

There is so much wrong with this, I don’t know where to begin: The flagrant abuse of power by the guard(s) in question; the subtle sexism (”How dare she not finish cleaning up every last crumb?” was the implication the guard’s actions carried, wordlessly); the subtle racist insult (so subtle Mervin’s mother had to explain it to her) by the guard who broke Mervin’s wrist: “nappy-head;” the fact that even daring to document the abuse of power was seen as so much of a threat by the guards that they chose to assault the rogue documentarian (who was himself another student) for NO legitimate reason… On and on and on…

Which brings me to my point, here: Where is all this racial tension coming from? Was it always there and I just didn’t notice? Is it like the sexism I didn’t notice (and I’m a woman), because it was so much of a part of life that I didn’t register the subtle jabs at women doled out by society, over and over again, those spoken and unspoken, unless and until they became as obvious as this news story? Is this a backlash of some sort? Or is it that I couldn’t put it all together before because never before was I mature enough to understand, and never before were the resources at my disposal (the internet) to help me connect all the dots? It could be all these things and more. Thank goodness for the internet; that’s all I have to say. Second only to the right to vote, it’s probably the thing that will make it possible for the ordinary person to finally have a voice.

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5 Responses to “Where is all this racial tension coming from? (Not about breastfeeding.)”

  1. Lesley Says:

    Yes, I do think that the tension has always been there, just below the surface. And that countless of offences between those of different races go unreported.

    Unfortunately, it`s only the big ones, like this attack on this young girl and the Jena 6 incident, that make the news because they are so sensational. The day to day stuff, and yes in some places it is day to day, goes unnoticed because it has become a part of the daily routines.

    My high school had a lot of racial tension in it, and I believe a lot of it had to do with the fact that there was not a lot of mixing of races until the students hit their teen years. The communities feeding into the older grades were somewhat segregated, communities which were established back in the 50’s-60’s-70’s. As a result, you see cultural groups coming together who have been raised on old fashioned thinking and they just did not have the ability to see through the nonsense. They were teenagers, not a group known for its rational thought. I personally was lucky enough to a) grow up in home where my parents made a concious decision to shed the attitudes of their parents, and b) attended an elementary school that had much more diversity. I was very confused initially by the tension I saw when I reached high school.

    Because my high school had gained a reputation of having race related issues, they worked very hard to make sure that racism went punished.

    Unfortunately, while there were strict consequences for offences on black students by white students (which rightly or wrongly, were labelled as race related), incidents of black students attacking white students were dismissed because school authorities never wanted to look like they were being harsh to black students. Meanwhile, white students were randomly jumped, white females (myself included) were sexually harassed by black males and then threatened afterwards by black females, and there were a couple incidents of gang rape on white students that went unpunished. (as a result for me, it was a long time before I shook the immediate mistrust of black men, and before I could trust that if I went to an authority figure that I could be protected if in danger)

    Not suprisingly, there was retaliation from both sides. Full blown riots broke out the year after I left the high school, and now 10 years + later there is always a police presence in the school.

    There is so much more work to be done before all cultures can live together in peace. Tolerance only goes so far, we have to stop looking at one another as races, and start seeing one another as human beings.

    And I have ALL KINDS of things to say about the Jena 6 incident. So many things went wrong there, and it started long before those 6 boys jumped that kid, long before those other boys hung nooses in the tree. But I’ll sit over here quietly, since you’re right…there is a lot of passion on both sides of the argument, a lot of media distortion and it’s hard to be objective.

    As for the incident you brought to our attention…that was disgusting display of power abuse. I hope criminal charges are laid against that security guard because there is no excuse for his action.

  2. MamaBear Says:


    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It’s like this issue at this point is a chicken-and-egg one, where no one can quite see where it started (or no one wants to because slavery, the natural place to start, was so long ago and so horrific that nobody wants to even think about it and how it relates to today)… I’m so sorry you went through what you did, that anyone needlessly suffers at the hands of hatred and blind intolerance. There seems to be backlash after backlash, with people (rightfully) upset about injustices committed against them or their family members… When will it end? I don’t know. There needs to be reconciliation so that the hatred stops.

    I find it really telling how you said you were confused by the tension you witnessed in high school. Looks like your parents did a good job. Sadly not everybody’s parents do.

    I hope Pleajhia Mervin wins her suit against the school. If she’d been a white teenage boy, you know she would. There was no excuse for the abuse of power the guard displayed over her and the classmate who documented it. I don’t see why her being black and female should make a difference, but unfortunately, it does.

    Race relations during the Rodney King era were so horrible that it took a full-blown city riot (a horribly destructive one that injured and killed many innocent — white — people) to get justice for him. Why is it that violence is the only way to get the justice system to take notice of the racism that is staring right at them? There was a tape in the Rodney King case, too, yet that wasn’t “enough” to convict the cops who had clearly beat him! A city-wide riot was, though. Sad that’s the way the world works, sometimes. Horrible, but true. Do people have any incentive to trust the justice system? I don’t. Too many people “doing favors” for other people to try to get the real criminals from paying their debt to society.

  3. jgilberg Says:


    I find it pretty amazing that the mother of the girl complained and “was herself arrested and is now suspended without pay from her job WITH THE SCHOOL DISTRICT!”

    Shockingly weird.

  4. MamaBear Says:


    The link you provided is chock-full of interesting links… Thanks!

    About the girl’s mom… Hm… This makes me think perhaps the school district now has it in for this family… Having dealt with the sticky politics of school districts, it wouldn’t surprise me ONE bit.

  5. jgilberg Says:

    I know! Who’da thunk it.
    Suicide girls is like the Playboy of the 70’s. Great articles!

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