Friday, September 21, 2007

Strange Fruit of Social Networking

It’s the 1960s again in Jena, Louisiana with massive protests against racial injustice but with a few 21st century twists.

The crowds, the speeches and even the symbols--nooses from an oak tree--are the same, but the mood is somehow different. The protesters. drawn by Facebook and MySpace, are more convivial.

“At times,” one news account reports, “the town resembled a giant festival, with people setting up tables of food and drink and some dancing while a man beat on a drum.”

Martin Luther King III and Jesse Jackson are there, but no police with high-pressure hoses and attack dogs, more a replay of Woodstock than the March on Selma.

The remnants of racism are being discovered and denounced by a new generation, as well they should, but members of an older one can be grateful they won’t have to confront the lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” Billie Holliday’s immortal plaint:

“Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees/Pastoral scene of the gallant south/The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth/Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh/Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.”

What’s happening in Jena is so different that even President Bush feels safe in commenting on it: “The events in Louisiana have saddened me," he told White House reporters. "All of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice."

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