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The Jena Six and Black Punishment: Law and Raw Life in the Domain of Non-Existence
Seattle Journal for Social Justice (2008)
  • Donald F. Tibbs
  • Tryon P. Woods, Sonoma State University

This article examines the case of the Jena 6 as a barometer of racial justice in the post-Civil Rights era. We argue that the Jena case is not a moment of excess, of white prejudice overriding the essential equity of the rule of law. Rather, Jena indicates a more mundane, destructive, and parasitic quality to the U.S. legal regime. Full interrogation of this case requires examining how the law itself has evolved through the state’s mandate to capture the black body. The law is not merely a mechanism for maintaining a racial status quo. On the contrary, the law is itself constituted through racial configuration. The point to be examined here is socio-legal and historical in the sense that such an inquiry requires situating our particular spectacle—the Jena 6—at the locus of power created through the conjoined forces of the modern state, law, and race. We investigate three central ethics structuring this legal regime: parasitic pleasure, fraud, and white solidarity. We refer to these processes as “ethics” in order to underscore how the very legal fashioning of racial definition and articulation at work in the Jena case derive from a more fundamental existential problem—or as W.E.B. DuBois put it, "what it means to be a problem." The analytic we offer in this article, then, emerges from the slave codes of the antebellum era and from the de-criminalized violence of lynching and white sadism against black freed-persons. We aim to demonstrate how the Jena case is fundamental to understanding how white supremacy is so deeply engrained in U.S. law that it not only continues to inform the intrinsic political and psychic structures of this society, but its de facto legality brooks little alternative.

Publication Date
Fall 2008
Citation Information
Donald F. Tibbs and Tryon P. Woods. "The Jena Six and Black Punishment: Law and Raw Life in the Domain of Non-Existence" Seattle Journal for Social Justice Vol. 7 Iss. 1 (2008)
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