Friday, January 16, 2015

Civic divide

I'm not qualified to speak for New Orleans, but I did live in Baton Rouge, and also I'm from Lafayette, so I can at least assert this:

The problem is, at least in part, is Baton Rouge’s problem with New Orleans. When I lived in Red Stick, I heard tons of trash talk, not just about New Orleans, but about Lafayette as well. That New Orleans was decadence personified and its hurricane refugees (you dig) are the cause of every problem from mall riots to traffic jams. As for Lafayette, it’s too big for its britches. This was far out of proportion from what I heard New Orleanians and Lafayette people say about Baton Rouge. It was mostly, “Go Tigers!”

In Baton Rouge, the common refrain is, “We’re not New Orleans.” It’s a weird boast. New Orleans is a vibrant, diverse and distinct city. But like any city of such stature, it has an attendant abundance of homelessness, crime and conflict. The Baton Rouge area, by contrast, is culturally dominated by white Republican Baptist LSU disciples. If you’re not every single one of those things, they’ll pray for you. For them, the cultural diversity of New Orleans is not worth the unrest that goes with it. And there’s something suspicious about that cultural diversity, too, come to think of it.

There are people at work now forging a more concrete, welcoming identity for Baton Rouge, and good for them. (And yes, there are plenty of people and places I like there.) Because the experience I took from living there is that it’s a city that defines itself largely by what it isn’t, and by what outsiders aren’t. And the gaping lack of sidewalks wasn’t so great either.

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