OUR OPINION: Red Stick racism

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Is Baton Rouge a racist town?

People who live in the city may deny it but visitors to Baton Rouge, and those who transfer to the city for jobs, are not shy about commenting on the racial barriers and walls they observe when in the Red Stick.

Even those who grow up in the city and move away for a time, where they experience different race relations in other areas of the country, come back to discover how little the city has changed its racial attitudes over the years.

While it is true Baton Rouge elected a black mayor in Kip Holden, and this was a big step forward for the city, it has not changed the underlying us-against-them attitude articulated years ago by Randy Newman in his “Redneck” song from the album “Good Old Boys.”

The lyrics of the song are about keeping the black race down for the economic benefit of the white race. And while Newman astutely sang that “redneck” racist attitudes are found all over America, he put in some very special digs for college graduates from LSU, who often become part of the ruling elite of the city, and who go in dumb about racial prejudice and “come out dumb, too.”

In a Baton Rouge Advocate story Saturday, a panelist in the Dialogue on Race forum sponsored by The Leadership Greater Baton Rouge Alumni, an organization founded by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce, was quoted as saying he thought panel members were in broad agreement that racism was a great barrier in the city.

In the article another panel member, J.R. Ball, criticized the Baton Rouge Country Club, which he called the most exclusive in the city, for not having any black members.

Ascension Parish broadcast journalist Maxine Crump, according to the article, explained to the audience that prejudice is treating people differently because of skin color, but racism is institutional, occurring when government and business or industry try to take away the rights of people based on their race.

We’re not picking on Baton Rouge because its institutional racial attitudes are any worse than the surrounding environs of Livingston, West Baton Rouge, Iberville parishes or even parts of Ascension Parish.

In the post-Katrina era Louisiana is looking to Baton Rouge for leadership. If New Orleans is forced to reduce the size of its physical footprint because of hurricane related issues, as many are beginning to predict, it will be up to the capital city to assume the mantle as Louisiana’s flagship and economic face to the world.

That face will be ugly to look at if Baton Rouge doesn’t admit that it has a racism problem and clean up its act.