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If you have read this blog with any frequency, you know I’m from Mississippi. I am also a woman. (I feel the need to say that one more time because a very kind local business journal linked to my blog, but referred to me as a “he”) I am also white. I bring up the white woman thing because I’m going to talk about race today, and people tend to listen to a Southern white woman talk about race when her speech is not shot through with racial vitriol. Apparently, this breed of Southern white woman is seen as an anomaly in certain parts of the country.
I’ve talked a little about race before. A rather ridiculous poll came out saying there was a rather large percentage of Mississippians who believed interracial marriage should be illegal. I won’t get into it here, but basically I said that was bullshit race baiting and we need to move along because there’s nothing to see here. You can read the piece here if you’re so inclined.
Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a CNN story, “Video show white teens driving over, killing black man, says DA.” While I pay attention to news of my home state, I missed this story. I also want to let you know that there is a racial epitaph used there several times. You may be sensitive to it, so I’m letting you know it’s there. I did not redact it because I think it’s an important part of the story.
Here’s a link to the video. I debated about whether or not to watch it, but my friend Desmond said if I was going to write about it, I had to watch it. I’ve seen battlefield footage that disturbed me less than that video. I sat here and watched a man die by getting plowed over by a truck. He was a man. And then he wasn’t. He was someone’s son. And then he wasn’t. And I have to tell you, based on what I’m reading, it looks like he was killed for the indefensible sin of being black.
But what I really want to say isn’t about the crime itself. It’s about Mississippi’s response to the crime. What response? Well, that’s the problem. This happened back in June, but it takes a CNN report to get anyone talking about it. I asked Desmond, who follows Mississippi news more closely than I, if he knew much about the story. He said, “I read about this in the Clarion-Ledger (the Jackson, MS newspaper) and…at first sounded like the two boys and the man they killed got into some kind of argument, i.e., a drug deal gone bad.” Another friend in Meridian, MS said she heard something about a hit and run, but none of the other “disgusting” details.
After knocking about the Clarion-Ledger site for a while, I came upon a piece by Ronnie Agnew, executive director of the paper. (Although I understand he is leaving this post to work for Mississippi Public Broadcasting) Mr. Agnew said he was taken to task by a reader who wanted to know why the paper was not expressing outrage over the paltry bond set for one of the teens charged in the crime. Mr. Agnew sensibly replied that newspapers do not dole out punishment for accused criminals.
But then he went on to say, “The case has received some national attention because of the hate crime allegation. Before those conclusions are reached, there are more basic questions that need answering, such as: What is an 18-year-old from Brandon doing out in the pre-dawn hours in front of a Jackson motel? Was there an altercation with Anderson that precipitated the incident?”
It doesn’t matter. IT DOESN’T MATTER. It doesn’t matter what anyone was doing out. It doesn’t matter if there was a drug deal. It doesn’t matter. Oh, you got raped? Your skirt was too short. Oh, you got mugged? It’s stupid to carry cash. Oh, you were beaten and run over in a parking lot? You shouldn’t have been in that part of town anyway. Every account of this incident I’ve read talks about how small and frail the defendant looks. That’s supposed to matter? Let me explain this to you, it doesn’t matter how small you may be, when you are in a giant pickup truck, YOU ARE BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN THE MAN YOU RUN OVER. Is knowing he’s frail and pale supposed to make me feel sorry for him?
You know why people hate us, Mississippi? Because we lie to ourselves. You know why I’m making the giant leap from white kids beating and killing a black man to calling it a hate crime? Because it’s true. So if you want to sit there and wallow in your pity, go ahead. But leave the rest of us out of it. If you want to go on believing that the majority of black crime is perpetrated against white victims, keep your ridiculous, bigoted backwoods ways to yourself. You want to know why Mississippi can’t attract business? Because you steadfastly refuse to send white children to school with black children. Because you think job training is the same as welfare. Because every time someone points out inequality, you get your back up and start prattling on about hate crimes committed in Wisconsin. And you know what, I know it’s true BECAUSE I’VE DONE IT TOO. I’ve tried to say, hey, we’re not all that way. This stuff happens in other places, too. And it does. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s happening in Mississippi. And that’s where I’m from. And we can produce all the Faulkners and Weltys and Andersons we want, but it’s not going to matter as long as we tie ourselves to some ridiculous idea of a simpler time when the Negro knew his place and plantation owners were just misunderstood businessmen.
This crime finally gets attention on Mississippi news stations and all of a sudden the internet lights up with stupid. That’s why people hate us. And, yes, some of the comments I’ve read from black people have been just as disgusting.
I sat here for a while after watching that video and just sort of crumpled. I’m angry. I’m sad. And I feel completely powerless. And no one should have to feel this way.
And, yes, I’m going to let justice take its course. And that probably means that another white man is going to get a smack on the wrist and a stern lecture for killing a black man.
You prove me wrong, Mississippi. You prove me wrong.
Susan Wilson decided to be a writer in 6th grade upon winning a creative writing contest with an entry defying both logic and basic rules of grammar. Leaving behind a career in retail and training, she launched Yeah, And Another Thing after coming to the astounding conclusion that real writers need to write. A native of South Mississippi, she now lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband and family.