OPINION | Capitol insurrection exposes long-denied realities of Deep South

Lily Mae Lazarus, Views Editor

In the wake of the recent United States Capitol insurrection, Tulane University students must re-examine the immense political divide in U.S. politics relative to the Deep South. As temporary residents of New Orleans, Tulanians live in and profit from the vibrant city they call home. Yet, the lasting racist roots of New Orleans’ past, the wounds of prejudice and the over-romanticization of a neglected city, coupled with its location in the Deep South, require both the administration and students to recognize the dangers of white supremacy’s survival, political polarization and the overlooking of substral New Orleanian historical dilemmas.To adequately understand the importance of the Capitol riot, one must understand its origins and political characterization. The gradual progression of former President Donald Trump’s actions to keep himself in power and his normalization of undemocratic behavior revitalized the seeds of treachery within an already divided American public. This behavior was last seen en masse during the American Civil War against the Confederacy.

Trump’s undermining of and efforts to overturn the November 3 election by disenfranchising voters, urging voters to illegally vote twice, attempting to coerce officials to alter the elections results and publicly pressuring the mob to go to the Capitol and “take back our country,” serve as sufficient evidence of his complicity and central role in both undemocratic behavior and the attempted coup itself. 

Regardless of Trump’s involvement and the coup’s failure, the insurrection exposed the long-denied fragility of American democracy and signaled the demise of the nation’s exceptionalist narrative. Further, the attempted coup reiterated the prevalence of white supremacy and the survival of Confederate values. 

White supremacy’s resurgence in the U.S. grew exponentially following the entrance of Donald Trump to the political sphere. Further, Trump’s electoral success fed the white supremacist alt-right movement’s growth. The alt-right’s success in the past five years demonstrates the long ignored popularity of racism. 

Their danger is seen in the level of violence emanating from the group. In recent years, white supremacists killed more people than any other type of domestic extremist, and they have crafted an estimated 13 domestic terror plots or attacks within the past five years. Despite the movement’s threat to public security, they face little interference from law enforcement as seen during the Capitol riot.  

Despite advanced notice and the public planning of the Capitol riot, officers reacted in a more passive manner when confronted with the mob. Although some Capitol Police officers fought with rioters, others stood by and even posed for pictures as members of the American public threatened the safety of lawmakers and former Vice President Mike Pence. 

While this lack of overt force may be a subconscious response, the mob’s ability to breach the Capitol, some brandishing arms, others toting zip ties, provides a clear image of white supremist ideology in America. More importantly, the mob’s behavior reflected the same lawlessness of the lynching era, a time that profoundly impacted Tulane’s immediate community. 

As an institution in the Deep South, Tulane offers students a unique environment to contextualize the Capitol riot and understand the undemocratic tendencies of lawmakers, the survival of white supremacy and the resurrection of the Confederacy. Tulane and the surrounding New Orleans community constitute a blue bubble, set apart from the rest of Louisiana. Nonetheless, the racist history of New Orleans, the impact of the Civil War, segregation and Jim Crow are burned into the city’s memory. 

The Confederacy was and ought to be remembered as one of the most prominent examples of treason and a stain on the nation’s history. It is for that reason the Confederate flag never saw the halls of the U.S. Capitol until Jan. 6, 2021. In New Orleans, the community does not share the same protection from Confederate imagery, calling into question the continuation of the city’s troubling past. Tulane students, while encouraged to explore New Orleans, think little of remaining white nationalist and racist symbols.

59% of New Orleans residents are Black or African American. Despite this clear majority and the city’s proclaimed liberalism, painful reminders of racial discrimination and the Confederacy scattered around New Orleans testify to the survival of white supremacy and the Confederacy. New Orleans was home to one of the U.S.’s largest slave markets which generated decades of torture, rape and misery. During the Civil War, New Orleans served as the Confederacy’s most important port. On a state level, of the close to 4,000 lynchings in the U.S., 540 occurred in Louisiana and many of the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s faced brutality upon arriving in the area.

Prominent Confederate monuments of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard remained displayed in New Orleans until 2017. During the monuments’ removal, crew members worked at night and wore masks to protect their identities from defenders of the Confederacy and alt-right protesters, a testament to the underlying racist anger surrounding the city.  Trump referred to the removal of Confederate statues in New Orleans as “foolish,” claiming he was saddened to see the U.S.’s “history and culture” being “ripped apart.” 

The casual Confederate references in New Orleans are often overlooked. They range from Jefferson Davis Parkway to schools named after supporters of segregation. For many New Orleanians, their nod to the city’s painful past goes unnoticed. This nonchalance towards images of hate is troubling. 

Tulane’s campus is not immune to the grasp of New Orleans’ racist history. In fact, Tulane’s Victory Bell, which was removed last February, came from a plantation which profited from slavery. The Victory Bell was home to university traditions and was showcased on campus tours. Although the university confronted its connection to the Deep South’s troubling history, it failed to properly address the scale of other symbolic prejudice in the city. 

Although the vestiges of the Confederacy and slavery are important to the current New Orleanian political predicament, the city is also plagued by vast inequality. As Tulane students enjoy the lush foliage of Audubon Park, the St. Charles Avenue estates and the stone gates of the university, they remain entrenched in a rose-tinted reality of New Orleans. This warped perception ignores decades of prejudice policies which have provided Tulanians with the privileges they happily enjoy.

Black families in New Orleans generate $25,000 in average annual income, while white families make close to $70,000. Further, Louisiana has one of the world’s highest incarceration rates, and most of the incarcerated individuals are Black. These indicators of bias have plagued New Orleans for decades but go unnoticed by many Tulane students.

Tulane’s campus is nestled in an enclave preserved by the remnants of redlining. Its walls remain untouched by the havoc wreaked by Katrina, surrounded by dazzling mansions, in what was traditionally a white neighborhood. Upon inspecting maps that outline redlining, it is evident that these abandoned practices continue to this day. Specifically, health quality, life expectancy, infant birth weights and academic performance are intrinsic to the city’s old maps. Tulane’s surrounding area enjoys the luxury of a higher quality of life compared to redlined communities. 

In a post-Katrina New Orleans, the city had the opportunity to address the historically racist housing practices. Yet, following the devastating hurricane, subsequent policies only exacerbated and expanded upon centuries of community-based inequality. Specifically, lower income residents were forced by wealthy settlers to live in low-lying backswamps which flood frequently. During the Jim Crow era, these communities eventually formed New Orleans’ first large scale, exclusively Black neighborhoods. 

Further, racial zoning laws dating back to the 1900s pushed Black residents out of predominantly white neighborhoods. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed racial zoning laws unconstitutional, the city simply rebranded them as “neutral zoning” rules to serve the same purpose. 

Prejudicial housing practices only continued after Hurricane Katrina with Road Home grants which were allocated by homes’ pre-storm values. Unsurprisingly, predominantly Black neighborhoods received less money for homes of comparable sizes to those in predominantly white neighborhoods. Consequently, Black families faced far more difficulty returning to their lives in New Orleans leading to only 42% of long-term Black residents to re-establish themselves compared to the 70% of their white counterparts.

The vast majority of Tulane’s student body is white and comes from outside of Louisiana. Consequently, the gravity of New Orleans’ deep seated issues may be lost among the masses. This is not an excuse to inadequately address the all too pertinent divides of the Deep South and the Confederate remnants in the community. 

White supremacy is not going to disappear. If anything, it has reemerged with greater force, propelled by new age media, political polarization and the normalization of inequality. To best serve the New Orleans community, Tulane must force students to confront the difficult realities of America’s social climate so as to foster positive change. At the very least, Tulane must condemn the looming threat of violent political polarization and use their position of privilege to serve the local community from which it profits. 

While it is far easier to remain in the comfort of ignorance, in order to be beneficial members of the New Orleans community, students must face the city’s truths and work to educate their peers on the gravity of continued inequality. Regardless of partisanship, it would be a shame to witness further dishonor during what are already unprecedented times.