The Jena situation is pretty horrifying, a good summary of which you can get on Wikipedia. The short story is that there was a "white only tree" on the town's high school grounds, a black kid sat under it, the next day three nooses were hanging from it, the white perpetrators were not expelled because the superintendent and school board didn't think anything really terrible had occurred since it was "an innocent prank," a peaceful sit-in under the white tree was broken up by police, racial tensions rose, a white kid got beaten up by some black kids, those 6 black kids were charged with second degree attempted murder (one kid was charged with "assault with a deadly weapon," that weapon being HIS SHOES), even though the white kid was treated at a hospital and released within a couple of hours. There's a lot more, but that's the ugly gist of it.
I take issue with Jackson's comment for two primary reasons. One, to suggest that a presidential candidate who does not suspend his campaign and rush to Louisiana to register voters and protest must be apathetic about racism is simply ludicrous. After all, if Obama started doing that, what would Jesse Jackson do? Isn't this Jesse's raison d'etre? I think Obama has made his thoughts on Jena--and more importantly--the ongoing issues it represents crystal clear:
“When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it’s a tragedy. It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions. This isn’t just Jena’s problem; it’s America’s problem.” “There are a number of signs that the system is not working in this case. It’s a problem when criminal charges are brought against some students for fighting, but not others. It’s a problem when a public defender doesn’t call any witnesses. And it’s a problem when a prosecutor decides to try teenagers as adults for a school fight, a charge that could leave them in jail for the majority of their lives. That is why I join my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus in calling on the judge to consider all the relevant factors and calling on the District Attorney to drop the excessive charges brought in this case. And I, along with other members of the CBC, will continue to monitor this case closely.”
“Going forward, we have to fix our criminal justice system. Whether it’s Jena 6 or Genarlow Wilson, it’s long past time for us to admit that we have more work to do to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair. We must ensure that both victims and defendants can receive equal justice under the law, regardless of race, wealth, or other circumstances.”
Second, to imply that "acting like he's white" means he doesn't care that pre-Jim Crow attitudes still prevail in Louisiana is patently offensive. This case is a travesty of justice. Jena's residents ought to be ashamed that they ever allowed a "white only tree" to exist, even unofficially, among their children. And they ought to further hang their heads in shame that the hanging of nooses was ever for a millisecond considered "an innocent prank." Nooses hanging from trees have meaning to African-Americans. Loaded, frightening, soul-deep meaning. Everyone knows it if they walk for a moment in another person's shoes. The "pranksters" even knew it, which is why they didn't go out and buy balloons or flags for the tree but instead chose rope. No honest person with a shred of human decency can say that nooses hanging from a tree in the American South are meant as anything but a loaded, evil statement. Speaking as a Jew, I can say with total conviction that a swastika spray-painted on your place of worship is "just a prank" only to those who have had the luxury of never feeling the weight of what the symbol represents. Saying that the kids did not understand that weight--and therefore are not guilty of anything--is not a defense. In fact, to my mind, it's a further indictment of the parents and the community who didn't find it important to teach their kids either 7th grade-level American history or basic respect for other human beings.
In this day and age, racism of the kind that occurred in Jena should be considered un-American. Nooses should be considered a kind of domestic terrorism. Towns who blink at it should feel the full weight of the United States Justice Department, as well as the disapprobation of an embarrassed American populace. They should know that their world will come crashing down around them economically and reputationally, visited upon them by Jesse Jackson himself.