Nowhere in the country is Mardi Gras more awaited and celebrated than in South Louisiana. Anyone who knows me knows I take my born, raised, and still in South Louisiana status seriously. I love Louisiana, flaws and all. However, sometimes, my fellow Louisianans let me down, and today, some did.
Today was the 35th annual Spanish Town Parade. Spanish Town is a big deal in Baton Rouge. It’s hailed as the most provocative and envelope pushing parade that many Baton Rougeians see, without heading to a different area code. All the fun of Mardi Gras, with (slightly) less debauchery than New Orleans. Just look for more pink than you ever thought was possible in one place, at one time and the flamingos, and you’ll know you’re in the right place.
As a native Rougeian, while I don’t always make the Spanish Town Parade, it has always held a special place in my heart. It serves as the place where Mardi Gras started for me, when I was younger and New Orleans was just far to risqué for my mother to risk. I’ve even had the pleasure of riding in the parade a couple times, a few years back. This year, I was really in the Spanish Town spirit. I even begged my boyfriend to accompany me because most of my friends were already in New Orleans.
Imagine the gut punch of watch the first float come down the street, only to see it decorated in confederate flags. Was the rainbow coloring, instead of the normal red, white and blue supposed to make it more friendly? More PC? More easily digestible? It didn’t. “That’s just one float,” I thought to myself, trying my best to enjoy the atmosphere and beautiful weather. My wishful thinking didn’t last long. What actually happened was a parade of hate adorned in pink flamingos making its way down Convention St. Of course, as with all things, some of the floats were the sassy, snarky, slightly off color humor, I’ve come to expect from the Spanish Town Parade over the years. However, more floats than I cared to count were joking about things that simply are never funny, like murder and rape. They were mockingly antagonistic towards the Black Lives Matter movement and blatantly disrespectful to victims of police brutality. One float depicted a flamingo with a sign around his neck with the words “I Can’t Breathe” emblazoned across it. Another mocked police brutality victim Freddie Gray by including him in a list as “Freddie Grey Goose.” What is funny about a man being choked to death by the police? Where is the humor in a man being placed in the back of a police vehicle and thrown around so violently that his spine was almost severed? I am not amused.
No one involved in the making of these floats thought, “Maybe this is a bad idea”? No one aboard those floats thought, “This isn’t funny”? No one realized that some issues just aren’t jokes? Not to speak up is to be complicit. To accept what I witnessed as the Spanish Town Parade today is to accept outright racism and I will not stand for it.
Parades are public events, for public enjoyment. The ENTIRE public. If Spanish Town was for “whites only”, someone should have posted a sign. I’m sure some residents still have a sign or two stored, just in case. But since there was no sign, and no notice that my blackness would be under attack, it shouldn’t have been. I shouldn’t have had to look at the black children around me and wonder if they recognized what they were seeing. I shouldn’t have had to feel like an outsider in my hometown.
Mardi Gras and the whole carnival season has been regarded as a time when parade goers could just have fun, breathe and get a little crazy. Today was not a fun experience. What I saw today was a far cry from the good, moderately clean fun I have come to love and expect from Spanish Town. My heart broke on the parade route today. I was disgusted by many of the krewes and the contempt parade organizers allowed to be shown in general, but to the black community, specifically. My boyfriend and I left early. I was over it. I was tired of the disrespect and the ridicule. I didn’t know it when I woke up this morning, but today was likely my last Spanish Town Parade.
I want to believe that change is possible. I want to believe that we, as a nation, are progressing. I want to believe that, eventually, all of America will be safe and accepting of all people, regardless of race, gender, or religion. I want to believe it, but the evidence seems to point to the contrary.