LETTER: Standing up to Lafayette’s quiet racism

Image courtesy PASA
The Aluminum Show at The Heymann - Oct. 25, 2016
Jackie Lyle is executive director of Performing Arts Serving Acadiana, more commonly referred to as PASA.

Over the last three decades, I have brought artists of color to the stage of the Heymann Center and out into our community. I am always asked by these talented people about racism and race relations here.

My reply has always been, “We have the nicest racism. It is so polite.” I then explain how divided our community is. If you haven’t seen this condition, look around and listen. Let me share a few comments that I have heard in these 30 years:

  • “We’re not buying season tickets this year. You have too many black artists.”
  • “I don’t like dance and I especially don’t like to watch black people dance.”
  • “We’re going to pass on sponsorship this year. You have too many black artists.”
  • “It’s the media that’s causing all this uproar over race. You don’t really think we have a race problem here?”
  • “I’m not going to the 20th anniversary performance,” said a board member.
  • “I don’t want to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater again.”
  • “There’s a black guy at your house.”
  • “The Congo has arts? I thought they only threw spears.”
  • “You can’t sell a house for that price in that neighborhood.” (We did.)

These comments were made by my neighbors, your elected officials, my colleagues, the people who lead the businesses you support, other community leaders. I have stated them with quotation marks because these are some of the actual words that have been spoken to me. I have not attributed these statements to the people who made them, and there is one example that I cannot even include; it’s so unbelievable. If you recognize your own words here, I only regret that I did not act then and call you out.

On my side of the conversation, I’ve had missteps, too. Of course. We all do. I study. I ask. I learn. I stumble. I study. I ask. I learn. I stumble.

You can, too.

In these dark days, I tell you, we have a storm brewing that is worse than two Hurricane Katrinas combined. I am sorry that our mayor has elected to torch our community with uninformed leadership that is provoking and stoking unrest that will either move us forward, or cut hope for the future from under our collective feet.

If you do not understand the gravity of where we are today, please find me on Facebook, private message me and share your phone number. I’ll direct you to information that may be helpful.

If you don’t like what you’ve read, do not bother to comment. That’s what your forums are for.