Bad Memories Down South

I’ve just spent nearly a week back home in exurban Atlanta, and I regret to report that the events in and in reaction to Ferguson have brought back (at least in some of the older white folks I talked with) nasty and openly racist attitudes I haven’t heard expressed in so unguarded a manner since the 1970s. The polling we’ve all seen about divergent perceptions of Ferguson doesn’t even begin to reflect the intensity of the hostility I heard towards “the blacks” (an inhibition against free use of the n-word, at least in semi-public, seems to be the only post-civil-rights taboo left), who have the outrageous temerity to protest an obvious act of self-defense by a police officer.

Putting aside the legal issues (you can’t really expect lay people to understand how grand juries work unless they’ve served on one), there seems to be a complete lack of reflection on the fact that it’s the black kid who is dead and the cop who is alive and free. This skewed perception of the equities of the matter is what most reminds me of the very bad old days back home, when to a shockingly overwhelming degree white people believed all that civil rights stuff was a fabrication of outside agitators and lying yankee reporters inciting the normally placid if potentially dangerous local helots to “act ugly,” richly earning whatever hellish retaliatory violence that might ensue.

I don’t know if the good conservative Christian white people of Georgia will eventually hold rallies to honor Darren Wilson the way they did for William Calley, but it would not surprise me at this point.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.