I imagine many of us figured this would be coming down the pike at some point in Oil Spill Nation.
The scene: Our intrepid MSNBC.com reporter makes her way to Grand Isle, La., where, amid the oil, she finds cleanup workers. Most of them black. Plopped down amid seething, resentful locals in a small town in the Deep South.
Can you imagine what happens?
ACTUALLY, it doesn't take much imagination at all:
To hear it from permanent residents of this tiny town at the southernmost edge of the bayou, the community is under siege. Not only did the massive oil spill in the Gulf force an abrupt halt to age-old routines dictated mainly by fishing, but the cleanup up effort has brought an army of workers from "outside."IT WOULD SEEM that Tony Hayward isn't the only one around with no public-relations sense. Then again, the BP chief isn't the one with his hand out here.
"It’s a drastic change for us, especially in our marinas. It’s all workers," said Sheriff Euris DuBois. "The biggest change is we don’t know them. They are a different nature."
Grand Isle has only about 1,500 permanent residents, most born here, said DuBois. They are accustomed to a large influx of families who own the cottages – or "camps" that line the beachfront. But this year, with the beaches off limits and fishing shut down, most of these perennial tourists have stayed away.
Instead there are an estimated 5,000 cleanup workers – from Texas, New Jersey, Alabama and elsewhere. The workers are all male, and the vast majority are black.
That alone is a shock here. The town has only one black permanent resident, said DuBois, and no black tourists that he can recall.
"And they congregate!" a waitress named Jane told diners from out of town as she described the situation, repeating rumors that there was also a rash of theft and violence. "It’s bad to where our pastor on Sunday warned the congregation to lock their doors."
Some black workers report they have had a cool reception.
"I don’t go out here. I am not welcome," said a worker from Houston who only gave his first name, John. Asked why he felt unwelcome, he said wryly, "uh, just a teeny bit of racism."
A co-worker chimed in: "They gouge us (on rent). They don’t want us here," he said. "But we just do the work cleaning up their environment."
"They don’t like any of us," said a captain from New Jersey who is running a boat in the cleanup.SMALL TOWNS can be something else. Small towns in the recesses of the Gret Stet of Loosiana can be something else even by "something else" standards.
"It's not just blacks. It’s Yankees, and everybody who is not from Grand Isle," he said, giving only his first name, Mike.
And In the Heat of the Night is always playing somewhere. Well, that or Blazing Saddles.