For several years, I have believed that my home state of Mississippi was making great strides in the area of race relations. I believed this because, in my eyes, the state had made unprecedented progress since the days of my youth. In my own experiences as a young child, I was indoctrinated into a culture that required me know how to navigate the "color line," as there were different rules for blacks and whites -- rules which carried the force of law and sanction, but were not found in any book, paper or law; only in the hearts and minds of men.
I felt the double consciousness that W. E. B. Dubois referred to in his 1897 Atlantic Monthly article entitled "Strivings of the Negro People." As he remarked, "one ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." I must say, I felt this way throughout my teenage years. It was only during college and early adulthood that I started to believe that Jim Crow was more myth than reality, and that Mississippi might finally leave the old race regime behind.
However, this faith was shaken to its core on June 26, 2011. On that day, we should recall that James C. Anderson, an innocent African-American man, was savagely beaten and killed in Jackson, Mississippi by seven white teens. The teens, arriving in two vehicles, assaulted and robbed Mr. Anderson before one of them ran him over with a pickup truck. Of the seven teens that were involved in the incident, only Deryl Dedmon Jr. and John Aaron Rice have been charged by authorities. Dedmon was charged with capital murder and robbery. Rice was charged with simple assault and released on bond. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence (video footage), Rice's family, friends and supporters started a Facebook page asserting that he was unequivocally innocent of the charges laid.
I have waited almost two months for the remaining five teens to face justice. Sadly, there has been none. Why haven't the remaining teens been charged for their part in the incident? Most states in the U.S.A. have mob action laws, which are meant to prevent and ensure justice in cases like this, but apparently this does not apply to the state of Mississippi.
I must applaud Robert Shuler Smith, District Attorney of Hinds County, for aggressively prosecuting the case; but I wish he would have went one step further and filed charges against the additional assailants. In his defense, I sincerely believe that his hands were tied. Where his diligence ended, people of all races have answered the call for justice. The family of the victim has asked the district attorney not to seek the death penalty. Also they filed a lawsuit that includes claims of battery, negligence and wrongful death. Kudos to them for having the courage to decide that criminal redress was not enough, and that civil redress was warranted as well. Because of its troubled past, it is not too hard for most people, when confronted with a case such as that of Mr. Anderson, to believe and understand that a heinous crime like this could happen in the Magnolia state.
America, as a whole, would like to think, to believe that the terrible racial violence of the past remains in the past -- that is, it is no longer with us anymore. The real problem with that belief is that it is completely misguided. Are we really naïve enough to think that racism has been dealt even a minor blow in less than one generation? If there is one thing the case of Mr. Anderson serves to prove, it is that Jim Crow is alive, not too worse for wear, and that he plans to stay. While some of us seem to assume that racial tensions are behind us, the horrors of racial violence and hatred remains and its manifestations are quite real. While some are saying America has already moved on, we need to ask ourselves if we really live in post racial America; or are we viewing race relations in this country through rose colored glasses?
It is said in some circles that the sins of the father revisit the son. In this case it is most certainly true. The young teens that perpetrated this crime did not learn to hate blacks on their own. No, most of their formal education was spent learning to view blacks with contempt and acrimony. These teens, like so many others, were indoctrinated into the (dare I say "traditional") cult of racial hatred by the people closest to them; those who they looked up to and wanted to emulate. In a way, I feel sorry for them for having so little to look up to. This was a brazen execution committed in a predominantly black section of Jackson, MS. This was not an isolated incident; this was the manifestation of thoughts that these young individuals had been dying to act upon, but had never found the courage to go through with it.
Although my faith was initially shaken by James C. Anderson's murder, I believe that Mississippi and the country are, in general, headed in the right direction concerning race relations. But as we are sometimes reminded, we still have many miles to go. The killing of James C. Anderson reminds us of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. However, the outrage shown -- by people of all races -- at the tragic and despicable nature of this event gives me some solace, and makes me hopeful that there are those of us who can and will forge a brighter tomorrow. We cannot let the actions of seven misguided teens deter us from realizing the blessed community that Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died for.
As an activist and intellectual, I offer this cautionary statement: those who do not speak out against injustice are just as guilty as the perpetrators. If we passively sit by and let racism and discrimination eat away at our great nation like a cancer, how are we any different than the teens that stood and watched their friends savagely bludgeon Mr. Anderson? In the immortal words of George Santayana, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."