Reflections on JBS Mississippi Post 1

I bet lots of people are doing cool things this summer. I would love to hear about them- feel free to link to blogs or journals or sites in the comments section.

The Brandeis JBS: Mississippi program, led by sociology professor David Cunningham, started up on Memorial Day, May 30th, with 11 Brandeis students plus 2 TA’s flying and driving down to Jackson, Mississippi, where we will be staying for the next 8 weeks. We’re still working on a concise summary, but basically we’ll be taking sociology classes and compiling an oral history of the civil rights movement in Missippi Mississippi, in conjunction with the Winter Institute and Mississippi Truth Project.

Yesterday we met the Jackson State University students, staff and faculty we will be teaming up with from the Margaret Walker Center, and had our first real day. We talked about what the terms racial justice and civil rights meant to each of us. A common theme was the subjectivity of the term justice, as well as the struggle to define who it is that has the right to enforce these rights (God, humans, the courts, etc). Does civil rights mean the term only applies to citizens of a particular nation, or should the term be used synonymously with human rights, or natural rights? (as MLKJ wrote)

The term racial justice gave me pause. In my criminal law class this past semester we read Ultimate Punishment and discussed the death penalty. Statistics show that blacks are overwhelmingly more likely to receive the death penalty in capital crimes (when it is an option) in proportion to their white counterparts charged with similar crimes. This indicates that juries are not as colorblind as one would hope.

Many people have cried for a reform in the judicial system to change the way death penalty cases are dealt with, in order to make up for this apparent racism. However, as the author points out, the Court has always maintained a stance as being colorblind, and to require special conditions be implemented to even out these statistics would mean allowing race to enter into the criminal justice system, which would make it unequal. A catch-22.

Racial justice is tricky. Does it entail putting strategies like affirmative action into place, to make up for the centuries of abuse and discrimination minorities have suffered? Or does it means remaining colorblind and treating minorities the same as majorities? I’m in favor of the latter. I think the only way for justice to be served is if everyone is treated equally, even if that means not necessarily making up for wrongs that were done to them.

In the coming weeks we will be interviewing people who lived through the civil rights movement in the South, people on all ends of the spectrum politically, socially, economically and more. Hopefully they will offer new insight into this question. Expect to hear more from me and perhaps some of the other students on the trip in the days to come, and check out Jesse Begelfer’s, blog about her experience!






One response to “Reflections on JBS Mississippi Post 1”

  1. lara grey

    It’s really important work you JBSers are doing in Mississippi. Americans must never forget the pain that racism and segregation cause. Emmet Till was tortured and murdered just for saying, “Hi, Baby,” to a white woman. Students Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were killed by a rabid mob just for working for social justice and decency. This all took place in our country barely 60 years ago.
    Thank you for doing this work of documenting this evil period in Ameriacan history.