Guess where it’s being stirred up?

Mike Luckovich

As late as the 1960s, some (but not all) white politicians used race-baiting as a way of trying to obtain, or cling to, power. Until the mid-’60s, state elections often centered on racial issues.

There were some notable exceptions. In 1969 Moon Landrieu, who’s white, was elected Mayor of New Orleans, promising to integrate city government – and he did. John McKeithen, who made race-baiting statements when running for governor, became a strong supporter of civil rights issues once elected.

In 2009, some (but not all) black politicos are using race-baiting as a way of trying to obtain or cling to power. Ray Nagin, who was first elected mayor with the enthusiastic support of the white and black middle class, resorts to it occasionally.

Forty years after Landrieu’s triumphant campaign to deliver social justice, Nagin’s Sanitation Director, Veronica White, uses race-baiting as a shield. Her ploy of releasing the e-mails of white city council members cannot be anything else but racially motivated. So too are the efforts to recall Stacy Head, one of the brightest and most inquisitive minds ever elected to the council.

As in any city in the world, there are certain inequities among races in New Orleans, but it has to do more with economic class than with race. Truth is, the black and white middle classes share more in common with each other than with the less fortunate or more privileged of either race.

Those who want to exploit race as a way of holding on to power don’t want to admit it but, overall, black people and white people get along pretty well in New Orleans. In February the city celebrated Zulu’s centennial. In March, there’s the feast of St. Joseph, which, in New Orleans, is an honored days among blacks as well as Sicilians.

In April, New Orleanians of all colors dance at Jazz Fest and French Quarter Festival to music played by musicians of different colors. When locals lament about the loss of Deuce McAllister or cheer Chris Paul, they’re not seeing skin color but heroes.

Talk to the younger generations, especially those who have graduated from college within the last decade. Racism is as removed from their minds as a slide rule or a hi-fi phonograph.

Where there is racial tension, it comes primarily from one place – City Hall. That is where it’s stirred up. It is all about power and there’s little dignity. Stacy Head should be cheered rather than having to face the muck of political intrigue.

As the population becomes better educated, race-baiting will be less effective as a tool. That day, we hope, is coming soon – especially in the age of a black president who was elected with the strong support of a white majority. There will still be those who need to find some cheap device to further their cause. But maybe, by then, they will find no other option then to just go away.

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