50 years ago, a bomb took the lives of 4 black girls in Birmingham and destroyed a church as well. Today, Americans like to think that those days of racial hatred and bigotry are behind us, but they’re not. Lynchings, separate water fountains and segregation as a law may be gone, but we still have a problem. Segregation is still practiced in various parts of the country, especially here in Acadiana.
In Louisiana, there are still “black bars” and “white bars.” There are “white churches” and “black churches,” often within a stone’s throw from each other. I’ve watched groups of black people automatically seat themselves in the back room or along the walls of a restaurant on many occasion like it was 1953, and this is 2013.
This isn’t your grandfather’s segregation, but it still exists. As an outsider here, this has puzzled me since the first time I set foot in the humid climate that blankets the I-10 corridor of South Louisiana. When I asked about it, people would say “that’s the way it’s always been, cher” and look at me like I had said that eating crawfish was weird or I’d insulted their gumbo.
There will always be cultural differences that lead to some amount of separation between races—I get that. What we must do is continue moving toward equality and inclusion, and stop letting “cultural differences” be an excuse for thinly veiled racism. The South isn’t the only part of the country that has resisted integration but we’ve certainly cornered the market on it. It is still not so unusual to hear people drop the “N” word in a conversation when they aren’t around their black acquaintances, then five minutes later, buy a beer for their black coworker or family member when they show up at the local watering hole.
The prejudices here in Acadiana, they’re rather unique when you look at them in comparison to other places, but it still gets under my skin. I grew up in a part of Virginia that was ravaged by the Civil War, or “The War of Northern Aggression” as some people there still refer to it as. The degree of racism there is different from other places I’ve lived. The “N” word was used often by the old men who rolled their cigarettes by hand around the pot-bellied stove down at the old country store. However, whenever the kids walked in, they’d avoid the slurs in addition to the profanity. It was as if the older generation knew that their prejudices needed to go to the grave with them.
Eventually, racism will go the way of the drive-in movie theaters and Polaroid cameras. It’ll be a twisted piece of nostalgia that our grandchildren just won’t understand, and I can’t wait for that time to come.
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