“A Judicial About-Face, Grudging but Rare, In a Bias Case”

That’s the New York Times headline for an Adam Liptak Sidebar (the name of his legal column) and I used it because it’s a slamming head and says so much about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, Georgia.

There are federal courts that civil rights lawyers wince over, and the 11th Circuit, southern to its core, is one of them. Here they overturned a jury verdict (very bad form for an appeals court, to suppress a jury decision) in the lower court, that awarded $1.4 million in an employment discrimination lawsuit against Tyson Foods. (Don’t you get the feeling that Tyson Foods must be the only employer in the entire south? It does seem that any time something awful happens to minority employees in the south, it happens in a Tyson Foods plant.)

Here was the case, as summarized by Liptak: “…a white manager at a Tyson chicken plant in Gadsden, Ala., called adult black men working there ‘boy.'”

One employee, Anthony Ash, testified that “being in the south, and everybody know being in the South, a white man says ‘boy’ to a black man, that’s an offensive word.”

“You might as well use the N-word if you are going to say that,” Mr. Ash added.

Here’s what the Appeals Court said in overturning that verdict (brace yourself, because you’re going to go ballistic): “‘The usages were conversational’ and ‘nonracial in context,’ the majority wrote…”

A brief filed by eleven civil rights leaders, one of them the first black federal judge in Alabama’s history, embarrassed the court into a highly unusual, if sulky and bitter, reversal.

Read the whole article. It’s not long but it tells you everything you need to, but don’t want to, know about the deep fissure in this country over race.

It’s an unpleasant reminder that whenever I traveled in the south, I was acutely aware that those people are still fighting the Civil War and are still furious that they lost.


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