Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baton Rouge: Now I remember why we left


Well, the comments on my "Dear Baton Rouge" post have been, uhhhhh . . . enlightening.

For instance, now I remember exactly why Mrs. Favog and I left, and were glad to do so. And also why -- even though I sometimes get wistful over home -- we'll be moving back over the dead body of my Omaha-born wife.

I can't blame her. I really, really can't. Like folks often say, Baton Rouge is one of those places it's really interesting to be from. . . .

AS I SAID, the comments on that previous post over the past couple of days have been interesting. And they've pretty much convinced me that, once again, my old man inadvertently told the truth one fine day, via one of his typical dyspeptic rantings.

Indeed, when it comes to my hometown, "Dey ain't no hope!" Or so it would seem by the rednecks and wannabe Ku Kluxers who crawled out of the swamps and into the Revolution 21 combox.

Here are excerpts from every single comment, except for a couple of deleted ones from a guy who was getting obsessive and, finally, obscene:

From Colleen:

And now I want to see Omaha. My own home state of NJ had Asbury Park infamously in ruins for a decade or two there, but it is on the rise again. I'm
not sure what caused the turnaround but I did hear mention of the real estate trend of "follow the gays." I believe this is also known as "follow the artists," and if you can follow some gay artists to where they're settling, that place should really be booming soon.

From GO:

You nailed that one...Omaha does it with multimillioniare philanthropists, and you're mad because Baton Rouge can't do it?

What you're really mad about is that Baton Rouge doesn't have lots of millionaires...


From GO:

The school systems of Ascension, Livingston, and the private school system in Baton Rouge are THRIVING and getting GREAT MARKS on standardized testing and achievements...The reason? Nobody, not a millionaire, not a middle class state employee, not a married college student with school aged children, wants to send their kids to a system that has been run for FOUR DECADES by the NAACP and a ridiculously senile old judge, acting as a puppet at the behest of the prosecution in a desegregation case...

Seriously...a judge that takes 40 years to decide a case? FORTY YEARS? In the balance was our community's school system...

Do you HONESTLY think anyone with half a brain wants their kids in a system like that? Being run like that? Under that sort've weight?

Oh, wait a minute...NONE OF YOU REALIZED THAT, did you?


(snip)

The community got its school system taken away, and then they realized it might not ever get given back to them...At what point-DURING A FORTY YEAR DESEG CASE-does the community just give up? The judge & the plaintiffs never wanted to give it back...So why dump money and resources, nevermind time and volunteering the resources many had available, to a system that was being run not by the community, but an organization and a judge who were both proven to have smashed it to bits...

The community isn't to blame for our school system...Catholic, Redemptorist, PBS, CPS, Livingston, & Ascension's collective systems and growth are almost DIRECTLY
attributable to the NAACP, and that idiotic old bat of a Judge Parker, and their completely inept bungling and gumming up of the works of that system...


From GO:

What we're talking about is how the community lost control, and a motivated (politically? ethnically?) community group held it hostage with quite possibly the dumbest man to ever wear a robe and call himself a judge in history...For 40 years, guv-u-nuh...

That wasn't the COMMUNITY holding it hostage...That wasn't WHITE PEOPLE holding it hostage...That was a judge and a community group.

There is no wrangling, no tangent you can spin off on while raging once again about a machine you want to blame someone else for building...

Own it. The truth shall set you free...


From GO:

So the community is supposed to subject itself to the machinations and the posturing during the case...

For 40 years?

That's what a "progressive" community does in your eyes?


(snip)

What's hilarious is that you IGNORE the fact that the community lost control of its school system. It was no longer their own.

Would you pay a child support for children that aren't your own? Would you pay someone else's car note without being able to drive it?

Of course not...Yet you are excoriating the same community for not passing taxes to fix a system they had absolutely no control over...

No taxation without representation, m'friend...You talked about not escaping, I showed you how the community did exactly that.


From Anonymous:

Two numbers, Omaha 80% white, BR 46% white. No need to post any more statistics.


From jamarco:

You have proved his point. Deseg. and busing really worked? right? Just like mom used to say, "you can't bring your friends up, they will only bring you down". Same goes with the schools in BR. Mamma was right. Now all the public schools in BR are in the same shape. And guess what, the money is still there, in BR. Have you been to Perkins Rowe or the Towne Center? When is the last time you drove down highland road, went into the back gate of the country club of Louisiana by giving the guard a Bigmac? or waited for a table at Louisiana Lagniappe for better than hour, or Better yet have you driven down Airline to Ascension Parish?

If you want to look at some real good numbers look at Ascension Parish. It compares very well to your Omaha.


From Anonymous:

It's not about white flight. It's about a large black population, that is uneducated,
unmotivated, and that will continue to vote for democratic politicians who perpetuate the problem for their own benefit.


From Anonymous:

When a city has over 100,000 blacks who are granted majority black districts and elect judges like Don Johnson, and Senators like Cleo Fields, and councilmen like Bones Addison, you are screwed. Just move the hell out as soon as you can, and find somewhere like Omaha or some other western or midwestern state with demographics that don't look like ours, and you'll never regret it.


From jamarco:

you keep losing your own argument. If you live in a place with a broken toilet, and no mater how much money you throw at it just can't be fixed. Most sain people have two options replace the broken toilet (private schools) or move to another place with working toilets (ascension-livingston). Why would you want anybody to live in a place with a broken toilet, I don't. When you look at the racial makeup of omaha, how did the busing work, you took a very small number of black students and bused them to white schools right? and probably closed the black schools, that plan did not work here, we
bused blacks to white schools and whites to black schools. I lived it!


From jamarco:

i didn't want to point this out not being a racist and all, but of the ten places taht Kiplinger ranked as best places to live not one has a majority black population.


From Lee High Rebel:

Dear Flavor Flavog,

No federal judge destroyed the Baton Rouge School System. The black "students" single handedly destroyed the Baton Rouge School System. You see they destroyed the physical property, buildings, grounds etc. of the schools that they attended. No one wanted to teach there or go to school there so those schools suffered. Then there was desegregation, and as there nature requires, the black "students" then physically demolished the new schools that they attended. This in turn demolished the spirit of learning in the system and anyone who actually wanted their kids to get more than just a free lunch had to send their kids to a private school or leave the parish. That's how the Baton Rouge school system was destroyed.


From jamarco:

nope, i will be around for awhile, will attempt to leave a bit of wisdom EVERY day, even after you stop posting them. I may even attempt to leave comments on some of your other topics also. And by the way us "rednecks" from the great state of looseiana are coming if LSU can pull it out! I have in the past spent lots of money in your town...and i guess you can tell that I had several black english teachers in highschool and at least one at LSU, so my grammer and command of the English language leaves you wanting...

From KingHueyDeweyLouie:

You must have been a kid when you moved, or else you never lived in Baton Rouge, maybe your wife did, I don't know. A lot of people don't know these things are in baton rouge even people that still live in Baton rouge don‘t. But there are some very small businesses along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, they are easy to miss, like I said a lot of people don't know they are there, as a matter of fact when one blew up several
years ago people thought is was an earthquake...big plants and I don't mean alocasias or colocasias I mean, petrochemical plants! Just sit back and take in some clean Nebraska air (if you can stand the smell of corn, although I understand that a lot of corn is now grown in cotton and sugarcane fields around baton rouge) and imagine the amount of money that is generated by the millage taxes that these buggers pay to the city-parish. By the way I don‘t think the $75,000 homestead exemption applies. So there is a lot of tax money in baton rouge. As a side note, Jamarco calls it as he sees it, you shouldn’t resort to name calling and making fun, he types fast and he slept through most of his English classes, I know, I wrote most of his papers. And by the way, he is not a redneck, he hasn’t been on a tractor in years and he doesn’t cut his own grass, some guy named Pedro does (now he really is a redneck).

From Lee High Rebel:

The truth isn't hatefulness or kindness, it's just the truth. I watched the truth unfold
from 7th grade through 12th grade. Now I make my money in the construction industry rebuilding and repairing the damage that is done to the schools by the "students", and I'm good at it. I wouldn't be where I am today without those little demolition experts, God bless them.


WHAT'S INTERESTING (and troubling) is that racial scapegoating erupted from something as simple as my making a point about how Omaha, a city with many similarities to Baton Rouge, really has made remarkable progress in the time I've lived here -- such progress that it's being noticed nationally, and is appearing in lists of "best cities."

Really, how do rants about the injustice of school desegregation logically arise from my noting that in many respects, Baton Rouge -- my hometown -- still struggles, and that the difference lies in the realm of "civic culture"?

I opined that Omaha has an extremely strong one, and Baton Rouge . . . not so much. Likewise, I noted the rundown condition of my alma mater, Baton Rouge Magnet High, and the existence of large tracts of crumbling and blighted property -- the old Bellemont Motor Hotel, for instance.

Many things I might be, but naive isn't one of them. I fully expected
that lots of Baton Rougeans would be angry that I'd "dissed" their city. Wouldn't surprise me a bit if lots of Baton Rougeans gave me the Scott McClellan treatment, calling me a disloyal little rat who hauled butt, then dumped on my hometown in front of damn Yankees and everybody.

Of course, if you're gonna crack on me for leaving Louisiana, and if you're going to be fair about it, you're going to spend the rest of your life ripping me and a few hundred thousand other folks a new one. And you -- to your dismay -- will find the list is an ever-growing one.

ANYWAY,
all this I would have expected.

What slightly surprised me, but oughtn't have, was that after the first positive comment, not only did things go negative and nasty, but that the unifying theme was that Baton Rouge's problem is as plain as black . . . but not white. That Baton Rouge would be just fine if it weren't for federal judges, the NAACP and a city-swamping Negro menace that has destroyed the schools and God knows what else.

Really. That's the gist of people's complaints . . . that I'm some sort of Yankeefied turncoat who just refuses to see that Baton Rouge sucks because it's no longer white enough. The bile lies pooled above, for you and all the world to read.

Now, the question remains regarding how representative these comments might be. After all, this is the Internet. Throw a news story or a blog post out there on the Information Superhighway, and it's going to attract combox nutwagons like a windshield attracts love bugs.

But still. You also can count on a fair number of reasoned, and reasonable, respondents along the road. Everywhere but here . . . when the conversation turns to what's wrong with Baton Rouge (where I used to live), what's right with Omaha (where I now live), and what the former might be able to learn from the latter.

The law of averages tells me this is a fluke. Having been born and raised in Louisiana tells me I shouldn't be surprised. And William Faulkner tells me that, in the South, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

SO SHOULD I BE surprised that, two decades since I last lived there, my hometown -- at heart -- is still a churlish little backwater, riven between black and white, unable to work and play well with others but (as always) hiding behind a delusional "Laissez les bon temps rouler" façade?

Ou
ght I really be shocked, shocked that the reality of Baton Rouge might, to a large extent, hinge on a critical mass of bitter little George Wallace wannabes who -- though rendered incapable by the feds of literally standing in the schoolhouse door and proclaiming "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!" -- still find it within their means to segregate themselves in white-flight schools and in comparatively white communities . . . to hell with the commonweal?

To tell you the truth, that's as good an explanation as any for a state where Medicaid, social services and education (both higher and elementary-secondary) are always the first things the budget ax whacks. It's as good an explanation as any for a school system going from something like 67 percent white to 83 percent black in 28 years.

And that looks like a likely culprit for why not only did voters not approve any school-bond issues for three decades, but also for why no one cared enough to hold "the bad, awful school board" accountable for its actions . . . or inaction . . . or outright abdication of its responsibilities. Or whatever.

While I'm thinking of it, do murders in the 'hood -- unless they're especially grisly or sensational -- still end up reported as briefs inside The Advocate's Metro section, while slain white folks more than likely end up on a section front? Just asking.

Mayor-President Kip Holden likes to refer to Baton Rouge as "America's Next Great City." Really? What I see in my comments box, the abject dump I saw when I visited my alma mater and the plethora of rundown and abandoned properties any traveler will see surely suggest that the good mayor might suffer from "America's Next Great Disconnect From Reality."

ONCE AGAIN, as Abandoned Baton Rouge blogger Colleen Kane -- a New Jersey transplant -- so reasonably asked at the end of one of her posts on the ruins of The Bellemont motel, "Baton Rouge, kindly explain thyself."

I don't pretend to know how Baton Rouge would explain itself. All I know is how I would explain it, as someone who was born, raised and educated there. And as someone who worked there, then moved away from there.

But I do know how a lot of folks in these parts see my home state . . . and my hometown.

They see it as an exotic, bizarre and fascinating place they wouldn't mind visiting. But no way in hell would they want to live there.

Sadly, I can't say that I blame them. Because, when it comes right down to it, neither would I.

3 comments:

KingHueyDeweyLouie said...

would you know it...http://www.cityrating.com/

ranks Houston number 1 for best place to live.

KingHueyDeweyLouie said...

see, i am no different than you. My wife just told me to fix my son's truck and to leave you alone.

T. Wong said...

Wow. It's been a while since I've visited. Thanks for reminding me why I DO NOT want to return to BR. I found myself pining for home this week, but now I know why that word "nostalgia" (like melancholia) was first used by doctors to describe an illness. Nostalgia for Baton Rouge is a cognitive distortion arising from selective memory.

The entire EBR School deseg debacle looks like a murder suicide by a husband who discovers his wife in flagrante delicto with another. Realizing that he no longer has her to himself, he kills her, her lover, and himself. If he cannot have her, neither will anyone else.

The white majority, realizing that they no longer had the school system to themselves, are trying to kill it. First by white flight, then by creating a parallel universe of private schools, then by neglect, then by opposing the funding necessary to maintain the public schools. And they are killing themselves in the process.

But doesn’t this metaphor break down? After all, nobody would share his wife with another, right? Right!

A more appropriate metaphor would be the husband whose wife has a child. A reasonable man shares his wife with the new arrival, hoping that despite trials and tribulations, the new arrival will add a richness to his life he has not yet experienced.

True, the new arrival will, at first, be disruptive, demanding, and trying. Nevertheless, the new arrival will, over time, blossom. And the husband can take some satisfaction from being a part of that process. And the family is stronger.

Well, Baton Rougeans cannot embrace the latter metaphor. They immediately assume that the new arrival could never enrich them. That the new arrival will only bring heartache and discord.

And the prophecy then fulfills itself. With gusto!

You don’t get it, Baton Rouge. This racial scapegoating is merely a way to rationalize your profound failure. To absolve yourself of any responsibility.

Can you really expect any group, as a whole, to rise above poverty and its inevitable by-products if they remain marginalized? Of course you can—if you remain STUPID!

So go on and fix your trucks. Consider getting yourself some mud grips. You will need them to get you through all the b.s. you continue to create.