Landrieu’s new book encourages thoughtful reflection of privilege

Mitch Landrieu’s time as mayor of New Orleans will soon end, but he seeks to continue influencing the Big Easy and the nation as a whole. This desire is evident in his new book, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.” Despite its title, which references the removal of statues and monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders in 2017, the book mostly focuses on Landrieu’s personal life. While it contains the type of self-promotion one would expect from a politician’s writing, it also provides insight into how those with privilege and power can advocate for the oppressed and marginalized.

Landrieu describes how the career of his father, former New Orleans Mayor and Louisiana State Representative Moon Landrieu, shaped his view of racial justice. Landrieu writes that his father “voted against twenty-nine Jim Crow laws at the legislature in 1960,” and he describes how he received threats and taunts as a child due to his father’s opposition to segregation. Landrieu also describes how growing up in the racially diverse New Orleans neighborhood of Broadmoor allowed him to befriend children of other races.

Despite Landrieu’s abundant exposure to race-related issues, he still struggles to understand the feelings and struggles of the African American community because of his own experiences as a white man. For example, when the musician Wynton Marsalis first approached Landrieu about removing that statue of General Lee from Lee Circle, Landrieu could not fathom why the monument would cause so much discomfort and frustration. Despite his initial confusion, Landrieu listened to Marsalis and other activists looking to remove the Confederate monuments, eventually deciding to take down a number of them.

More important than Landrieu’s initial inability to understand the perspective of African American residents is his decision to listen to their opinions and value their feelings. It is often difficult for those who grew up with privilege – whether it stems from race, class, sexuality or gender – to understand the unique frustrations of marginalized groups. By giving others the space to share their own experiences, those in positions of power better advocate for those who are marginalized.

Landrieu’s decision to take down the monuments also demonstrates the importance of prioritizing the collective good over personal gain. Removing the monuments was costly and difficult. Landrieu says he believes that removing the monuments angered many white voters and ruined his chances of winning a state-wide election, but he stands by his efforts regardless, as he believes it was the right thing to do. It is not enough to lend an ear to the problems of others: leaders must also take meaningful action to help, even if it impedes their own political careers.

Landrieu’s life story reveals that the process of learning about those around us is never finished, regardless of one’s upbringing, education or career. Tulane students should keep this notion in mind as they live and study in New Orleans, a diverse and complicated city. Those with the privilege and means to help others must listen to the needs and desires of those around them and commit themselves to helping those around them if they wish to see a more equal and just society.

This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Madeline is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Comment