I Wish I Could Say I'm Surprised

Via Crooks & Liars a story of thinly veiled racism out of my old stomping grounds, St. Tammany Parish, LA.

Now something to realize about the area--when we moved there (I was seven, this was 1976), within six months, we'd gotten a newsletter in our mailbox from the local Klan. I remember seeing it on the kitchen table and asking my dad about it. He didn't go into much detail, but it wouldn't be the only time I would see that sort of thing. I heard the n-word quite often in school, and this was well before the word had been reclaimed by the black community--my schoolmates used it in the ways their fathers and mothers and grandparents had always used it.

St. Tammany Parish was where I learned the term "white flight." Mandeville and Covington, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, was the place where, I was told, old money went when New Orleans started getting dark. Slidell, where I grew up, was more working middle class--a lot of my classmates' parents worked at Michoud where the external tank for the space shuttle was built. Others worked in the Gulf on oil rigs. And they were all hit hard in the 80s, when the LA economy collapsed under the weight of $10 a barrel oil and Reaganomics (although that didn't stop the reddening of the state).

But racism, especially of the casual nature, was prevalent. Even though the racial makeup of my high school was probably close to 50-50, interracial dating was unheard of--it was the quickest way to be ostracized from the white community. And even though I moved between both groups with relative ease, there was always some distance between me and my black friends, a wall I was never quite able to breach.

I left St. Tammany in 1989, when I moved up the road a bit to get married. I spent the rest of my time in LA in Tangipahoa parish, which was more rural, less suburban, and equally racist, although by the time I eventually went to college, interracial dating was less of an issue. There were well-defined walls up, however.

In the four-and-a-half years I was at SLU, from 1995-1999, one traditional fraternity accepted an African-American male (and sadly, it wasn't mine). None of the sororities accepted an African-American female. Blacks had their frats and sororities, and whites had theirs, and I don't remember there being much in the way of mingling outside the governing councils either. One fraternity, the Kappa Alpha Order, wore their "southern pride" in their picture window, in the form of a Confederate Battle Flag, and their formal was known as "Old South," wherein they dressed in grey Confederacy uniforms and claimed it was all about heritage and not about hating the darkies.

And I can't imagine things have changed much in the 6+ years I've been gone either. The southern Republican party has too much to lose if the general (read poor) populace ever stops scapegoating blacks long enough to realize just how badly they've been fucked by their leadership. You may not hear the n-word shouted by white folks in the streets as often these days, but make no mistake about it--racism is still the predominant political motivator in that area.

And if you don't believe me, watch the video of St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain at Crooks & Liars. It's enlightening.

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