Earle Hitchener once said that the difference between the British and Americans is that the British believe that 100 miles is a long distance and Americans believe that 100 years is a long time. Some Americans, when considering racism in America, think primarily of the legally condoned racism of slavery and Jim Crow. To them, because Jim Crow is legally over and nobody is siccing dogs on anyone or calling out fire hoses, there is no racism (or at least none of note). So, when confronted with talk of Black Lives Matter and microaggressions and systemic injustice, they often retort with something along the lines of “That racist stuff happened a long time ago so get over it!” Consider this: Ruby Bridges is a year younger than my mother. When it comes to historical changes, it’s hard to think of anything still in living memory as “a long time ago.” And even if it was a long time ago? There are a lot of people in this country who cleave their identities to association with a failed rebellion that neither their grandparents nor great grandparents would even have remembered. The irony is, of course, that the Venn diagram of these two groups, the “get over it” folk and the failed rebellion folk, contains quite a bit of overlap. Hypocrisy? Disingenuity? Obtuse-ity (is that even a word?)? You can pick your term. You’re also probably wondering why I’m even talking about all this. A little over 20 years ago, a man was murdered here in Jasper. My words are measured and subdued because, though unlikely, I know there might be children reading this. He was killed and it remains in my memory. I remember the days and weeks and months after. I remember the protests, especially those in defense of killers. And I remember the name of this town, reverberating in televisions’ speakers, going out all over the country, possibly the world. At least until it wasn’t. The media always moves on to the next thing. Something else happens or our attentions are grabbed by the new and shiny. But I remember. And this was the weight upon me as I stepped out of the car and onto the square. I was frosty. I’d seen so many courthouses before and I shall see more after, but none conjures such visceral feeling in me. I kept looking around as if I was about to be jumped any moment, my shoulders squared up, ready to react. Tensed up, ready to fight a foe that I intellectually knew would not come, I walked around the building.
Sure, there are a lot of things on the grounds, but honestly only one of them mattered. So much more is deserved than a bench, but that is what there is to remind us that sometimes monsters work among us. Some people, though, will not feel that way because these monsters do not want to feed upon them. That is a fear they will never have to know. All I can ask is that they remember that some live with it every day.
At least there was something gentler there. Butterflies are not something I associate with this place. So I followed them. I came for a cache and I would find one.
I found it inside a little keeper. This little tortoise has done his job well and, once the log was signed and returned, continued doing a bang up job. But I was done here. I just wanted to get out of this town. I sped on down the road until I was out of this county, well on my way to…