Deryl Dedmon is a nineteen year old white teenager from the Jackson, Mississippi area. Deryl and some of his buddies decided that they were going to go into Jackson and harass a black man as they had done this before. Let’s not be polite about this. I am sure the conversation between the white teenagers went more along the lines of this: Let’s go get us a nigger not lets go get an African American or black man.
I live in the south six months of the year and hear people use the term nigger as if it were an acceptable part of social conversation. I have met white folks from all walks of life and age groups use the term when referencing African Americans. I have heard white high school coaches say that they have niggers on their team and that is why they are so good. I have heard white folks say they did not and will not vote for Obama because he is a nigger. I am willing to bet that the states of the old confederacy all have sizable populations who feel this way.
Back to good old Deryl; the good old white boy. He and his friends had targeted African American before and always selected an African American male who was either drunk or homeless since they were less likely to report the incident. This time Deryl and his buddies went too far. They physically harassed James C. Anderson, 47, in a motel parking lot and then Deryl drove over his in his pickup and killed Mr. Anderson. Security cameras caught the assault and murder on tape.
Deryl was sentenced to life in prison and his compatriots have yet to be sentenced. The sentencing judge, Jeff Weill, spent some time during the sentencing saying how bad Dedmon reflected on Mississippi and how Mississippi folks weren’t like that anymore. It was almost as if the judge was more concerned about how the good white folks of Mississippi were perceived by other Americans rather than the heinous crime committed by Dedmon and his buddies. This does not surprise me because many white southerners I meet would like to bury the race card forever and continue to run the south they way it has always been in regard to matters of race.
An example from my recent travels to Jasper, Arkansas will underscore my perceptions and beliefs about some white southerners. My wife and I went to eat in Jasper after hiking in a state area. A restaurant was recommended to us and we went. The food was very good and the experience was pleasant until we were ready to go. During our time at the restaurant a family from Louisiana had entered the restaurant and apparently knew the owners since they struck up a conversation that seemed to carried over from a previous encounter. This restaurant is not a chain restaurant so I could hear everything they were talking about and the man from Louisiana told the restaurant owner that he was having problems with his Cadillac and wanted to know if there was a good mechanic in town. The owner told him the he would have to find someone with slanty eyes to work on it since all the parts came from Japan or Korea.
On our drive back to home I counted four confederate battle flags flying in front of homes along an Arkansas scenic by way. No American flags, just confederate battle flags. This was actually a good day since I usually see more flags than four.
The south is still a difficult place for persons of color to live; just ask Mr. Anderson’s relatives or Trayvon Martin’s relatives. Think of how persons of color must feel when they drive by those confederate battle flags flown so proudly by white folks who probably do not use persons of color when describing people who are not white.
Timothy A. Bess
April 5, 2012