Race and Distrust in a Texas Town
The killing of a young black man in Paris, Texas last September reignited racial tensions in the community, tensions which federal mediators have recently been dispatched to resolve. The victim, Brandon McClelland, was run over and dragged by a pickup truck driven by two white men with whom McClelland was friends. Despite this reported friendship, some community members remain suspicious. Paris has a longstanding history of racial violence and conflict, and the killing is reminiscent of the James Byrd Jr. slaying in Jasper, Texas in 1998. Moreover, Paris is residentially segregated into largely white suburbs and largely black housing projects. This segregation is reflected in both the racial make-up and quality of area schools. Given these circumstances, it should come as no surprise that suspicion and distrust are mainstays in the community.
The concept of a “racial project” put forth by sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant can be used to explore the ongoing racial tensions in Paris. According to Omi and Winant, racial projects involve the simultaneous interpretation of racial dynamics and redistribution of social resources. This process links the meanings people attach to race to the structural experiences of race, and it can happen on both the macro and micro levels. The experience of racism by blacks in the United States can be understood, both historically and currently, as a racial project wherein suspicion and distrust are fostered. Whether or not the McClelland murder was an accident may be known only to his killers. The larger issues that his slaying brings forth, however, are a reminder that the matter of race is far from being resolved.