Many people around the country (myself included) have been outraged by the news of the white teens who brutally killed James C. Anderson, a 49-year-old African-American automobile worker who lived in Jackson, Mississippi, by running him over with their car.
A lot of Mississippians of good will (both Black and white) have worked so hard to see the state get past its ugly history of racial violence and their efforts have paid off to a large extent. Things have changed a lot in Mississippi. I’ve seen it happen. The laws and signs that once regulated Black people to the back of the lines are gone. We have the highest number of Black elected officials in the nation with African-Americans serving at the municipal, county and state level. We even have a Black man vying to be the Democratic nominee for governor of Mississippi. Yet despite all of this political progress, Blacks still find themselves at the bottom rung of society when it comes to economics, education, housing and healthcare.
According to Dr. Marianne Hill of the Center for Policy Research and Planning at the Mississippi Institute for Higher Learning, the wage gaps between Black and white Mississippians remain substantial. In her study titled The Economic Status of African-Americans in Mississippi, Hill writes: “The median household income of African-Americans in the state in 2006 was $21,969 or just 51% that of white households ($43,139). Lower household incomes also result in a wealth gap. Only 26% of African-Americans here had homes valued at more than $70,000 in 2000, while 60% of whites did.”
As a native Mississippian who has spent all 50 years of my life here and as a student of history, I cannot honestly say that I am surprised that these teens may harbor such deep-seated racial hatred. Mississippi’s history is replete with racially motivated violence, especially when the economy is constricting the way it is today. Whenever the economy is bad Blacks and people of color have been designated as the racial scapegoat — the reason why good hard-working whites are losing their jobs, houses and general way of life.
Beneath the surface of racial progress, Mississippi still remains a closed society — a state divided into two separate realities. One is white and largely privileged, the other is Black and largely disadvantaged. These gaps are the result of decades of racism both de facto and de jure that has prevented African-Americans from gaining equal access to decent jobs, education, health care and equal housing. Believe it or not, in 2011 there are still places in Mississippi where hatred and intolerance of African-Americans is still the subtle yet powerful zeitgeist of the day. Daryl Dedmon and his friends didn’t come up with the idea to go to Jackson and mess with the first “N-word” they saw out of a vacuum. No, that seed was planted in their minds a long time ago and was watered with the bloody history of Mississippi lynchings. The vicious killing of James Anderson is but another name on a long list of racially motivated deaths (including Emmit Till, Medger Evers, Vernon Dahmer and Mack Charles Parker) that took place in the great state of Mississippi. James Craig Anderson’s death should remind us that racism is still alive and well not just in Mississippi but all over.
As my grandmother used to say, “You can change signs overnight, you can change laws overnight, but you can’t change people’s hearts overnight.” There are white people who secretly feel the exact same way Dedmon and his friends feel about African-Americans and people of color.
If history is any indication of what is to come, and as the economy get worse and worse, we can expect to see more racially motivated violence toward Blacks and people of color in the future. If we as people of good will are to prevent this ever happening again we must be vigilant and see that justice is served to the fullest extent of the law.
(Photo: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)