A funny thing: those most afflicted by the scourge of racism don’t have a clue.
The governing council of St. Bernard Parish has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Recently they voted 5-2 to limit a homeowner’s ability to rent out his single-family dwelling. He can let it only to someone he’s related to. The aim, the authorities said, is to preserve the integrity of the neighborhoods and maintain the same culture they had before. There will be no jokes here about “what culture?” in this parish which has long depicted itself as the poor relation of New Orleans.
Predictably, citizens inside and outside the parish are yelling “racism”. Having lived in the Deep South since the age of 11, and after watching local and state governments go through all kinds of legal maneuvering and verbal contortions in order to keep down racial minorities, I have to say that what St. Bernard Parish is doing looks mighty suspicious.
Letters to the editor in Wednesday’s paper take both sides on this issue. (I think I’ll spare you, if that’s all right.)
Parish councilman Craig Taffaro, who authored this regulation, said to a reporter, “What a tremendous burden it must be to believe that everything is motivated by race. Our motivation is simply to do what’s best for our recovery and to restore and maintain our pre-Katrina way of life.”
Hmm…let’s see…what was that expression we used to hear in Alabama throughout the 1950s…the “Southern way of life.” Elect this candidate because he wants to preserve it; oppose that guy because he wants to destroy it. As I recall, no one ever defined the term. It was just “understood.” By whites and blacks alike, I’ll wager.
As a pastor for over four decades, I suppose I’ve committed every social and etiquetical (is that a word?) breach there is. I’ve offended the handicapped, teased the hurting, and joked about the pain some walking wounded were experiencing. I’ve done all this and more, but never maliciously. I didn’t “mean” to hurt them. But I did.
Let’s give the St. Bernard Parish Council the benefit of a doubt and say they did not mean to be racist in this restriction on renting property. But that was the effect. And it needs to be undone quickly.
In a recent article here, “My Friends Toby,” I mentioned the Bill Glass Crusade of 1969 in Greenville, Mississippi, and the relatively large numbers of African-Americans who attended that event at the high school stadium. At the time, I suppose we patted ourselves on the back because we took a stand against segregation and for brotherhood. But I’m remembering something else I’m not very proud of.
When we first started planning that crusade, early in 1968, we pulled together a representative group of black and white ministers. I still recall that a Reverend J. F. Redmond was the leader of the African-American pastors. He was grace and kindness, dignity and Christlikeness. Somewhere in my files is a newspaper photograph of a planning group with Mr. Redmond sitting at the table with some of us. For our initial planning, the ad hoc committee was inter-racial. However.
Looking at the letterhead we made up for the actual crusade–and this would govern the committee structure for nearly 12 months, leading up to the revival itself–not one chair of any committee is anything but white. Reverend Redmond’s name is nowhere to be found in the organization. What happened? Why did we let this happen? I don’t have a clue.
Those most afflicted by racism don’t have a clue.
This is no “apologia” for the George Wallaces of the 1960s or the David Dukes of the 80s. For my money, these and so many others did not “mean well.” They were mean-spirited and power-hungry and willing to do whatever was necessary to advance themselves. In 1958, in fact, after John Patterson beat George Wallace for the governorship, Wallace is said to have commented, “He ‘out-segged’ me.” He never let that happen again. Everything about that period and about so many of our leaders–I’m thinking of Birmingham’s Bull Connor here–was shameless.
Just as shameless was the way we “good whites” turned a blind eye and deaf ear to such goings-on and held our peace. Our churches did not lead the way, but followed the culture of the times, even to the point of turning away “people of color” when they knocked at our door.
We meant well, we said. Yeah, right.
“God forgive us. And Lord, now, today–make us sensitive to how our actions will be perceived by others, particularly the powerless and the unfortunate. Teach us what it means to truly love our neighbor as ourselves.”
“For Jesus’ sake. By Jesus’ blood. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”