In one section of the city residents gathered to remember the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott with the dedication of a memorial bench by The Toni Morrison Society.
In another section of the city confederate flags were waving and a float was preparing to parade down public roadways mocking the killings of unarmed Black men and women.
As shocking as the images were for some—and as predictable as they were to others—what was even more disturbing and revealing were the efforts by some people to justify and rationalize the presence of confederate flags, but especially the float as mere satire.
Furthermore, descriptions of the float as a joke that may have gone too far and dismissals of the negative reactions that followed revealed what many people have already known; the idea that we are living in a post-racial or colorblind society is a big fat lie. Race matters as much today as it did more than 60 years ago when blacks were legally forbidden from owning their own buses lines, saddled with a bus fare increase, and forced to stand while seats reserved for whites remained empty. Through collective action, the community forced changed. The change was not necessarily the type everyone in the community envisioned, but it helped move hundreds of thousands of people to renew or establish a commitment to social justice.
Now more than ever there is a similar need for people of all walks of life to demand more of their friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues. Remaining silent about things that matter cannot be a viable option in the face of such offensive and unjust actions. Mocking a contemporary iteration of a struggle as old as the nation itself is no laughing matter. We should all feel a sense of righteous indignation when unarmed mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters are killed not on foreign battlefields, but on American streets. In far too many cases, the victims’ families are left to not only mourn but in the case of the shooting of a young man in Chicago and his neighbor, now they also have to ward off l
awsuits from the very person who pulled the trigger.
Sadly, the float during the Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade that displayed a brutalized pink flamingo and baton meant to resemble one carried by a law enforcement officer, and bearing the moniker, “Pink Lives Matter,” points to the sad truism that throughout our nation’s history the lives of people of African ancestry have mattered less to some people than animals or even beloved cultural symbols.
Mardi Gras season is a time for celebration. Sadly, the season is also a time when big fat lies about race and racism are on parade.
By Lori Latrice Martin, PhD
Lori Martin is an LSU associate professor of sociology and African & African American studies