When outsiders come to Louisiana, especially southern Louisiana, they always tell me that Louisiana feels like a foreign country. To be honest, for a really long time, it was owned by foreign countries, so I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to say that those foreign countries affect Louisiana's culture a lot more than the British colonies did. I see my heritage and pride in the Acadian flag that one can see flying in Lafayette at the welcome center.
Regardless of which flag we accept as a symbol of our heritage, Louisiana is still a part of the South and still hasn't escaped racism. Cajuns have an odd relationship with black culture. Back in the day, we were called "coonasses," and while there are two different theories about where this word comes from, one theory is that blacks were called "coons" and so Cajuns were called "coonasses" because we were the lowest of the low, lower than blacks in the social system. I'm not sure if I believe that. However, I can say that blacks and Cajuns have interacted and influenced each other over the years The major difference is that over time Cajuns learned to hide their Cajunness and blend in with other whites. All because of our skin color, we could pass for WASP even though we spoke a different language and were stubbornly Catholic.
There has always been tension between blacks and whites in Louisiana. It's always seemed odd to me. Blacks that I grew up with in elementary school treated me differently by the time we got to high school. Perhaps that was just growing up and didn't have anything to do with race. However, I've noticed that when blacks talk to me, they're very respectful, and when they're around whites, it's very much keep your head down, yes sir, no sir, and get out of there as soon as possible. When they talk with one other, they're much more lively and rowdy and they seem free. It always felt awkward to me because it seems like they stifled themselves around whites.
I can't blame them. It's hard to deal with people who are convinced you're a terrorist or criminal just because of your skin color. My grandpaw always used to say that he wasn't racist, but "some people had to be put in their places," always winking right after he said that. We just nodded our heads and kept our mouths shut because he was the patriarch of the family, but we all knew he was racist. Even he knew he was racist.
This type of racism literally permeates the social fabric of Louisiana everywhere, both in the Cajun world and non-Cajun world. Frequently, on both sides of my family, it's implied that wherever blacks go, there will be trouble. They're automatically criminals who game the system, steal, and cheat their way through life. Low income housing automatically means blacks who do drugs and white people who are corrupted by blacks'influences.
It's really painful to sit there and listen to the chatter. They accuse Obama of being a Muslim and that blacks hate him because he has abandoned their race. Because Obama isn't giving the blacks free rides, they're abandoning Obama. They say blacks are the destroyers of communities and only want free rides. They're lazy, only get into college because of sports, and are horrible workers. I wish I was making that up, but I'm not. Even when I attempt to argue against that stereotype, that not all blacks are like that, only very very few of them are, I get shut down. "Oh, I worked with them. You don't know how it is. You're just too nice to everybody.""
Sometimes I want to scream at them. You're talking about a whole segment of the population, how can you stereotype everyone like that? It's not right. If anyone is tearing down communities, it's those who hold grudges and biases against others instead of approaching each human as an individual. The absolute worst part of this is that the whites, like my family, don't think their beliefs are a problem. They view their beliefs as fact. They say they're not racists, and that it's black people's behaviors that are the problem. Whites complain a lot that blacks play the race card all the time. Most likely, I think white people say that when they're afraid to lose control and power. They don't realize how ironic their statements are.Yeah, blacks play the race card because they deal with people hating them automatically. They deal with people assuming they're criminals all because they were born with certain dark pigments.
When one group of people put downs another just so that they can keep power, I think there's something wrong with that situation. Whites say "they're playing the race card," but blacks are calling out the racism and nonsense they have to deal with on a daily basis. Instead of discounting blacks' experiences and cries of racism, why aren't we listening and trying to understand what they think is oppressing them? Why aren't we creating a better system? It's as if whites have this idea that they couldn't possibly take part in any horrible system, not even unconsciously so it's not them that's the problem. It's blacks' behavior.
Having pride in your heritage can be inspiring and can encourage you to develop an interest in history. We shouldn't have to hide where we come from, but we at least need to question the symbols and beliefs of the past. Some of the current stereotypes of blacks exist today because they came from periods of slavery. Somehow, we need to be able to have a dialogue about pride yet admit that mistakes made in the past need to be corrected. The Confederate flag doesn't mean much to me, so I don't think I can comment on its removal. However, it is associated with slavery, and it's about time we have that conversation. The Confederate flag may be a symbol of heritage, but it's one with an unfortunate past.