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Reflections on Race
Voices from the local Black community contemplate the primary challenges facing African Americans and how best to address them.

Reflections on Race: Black Louisiana — remembering who we are

Louisiana cultural activist Tiffany Guillory Photo by Travis Gauthier
Louisiana cultural activist Tiffany Guillory

Reflections on Race: African American Challenges Voices from the local Black community contemplate the primary challenges facing African Americans and how best to address them.

Louisiana: the state in which I live, from which I hail, about which I learn. The state I love seems to appear at the bottom of every list of good things: education, healthcare, quality of life. My people, this new America’s Black people, seem to appear at the bottom of America’s list of good things: income, longevity — things that determine quality of life. So where does that put the Black person in Louisiana? The bottom rung of the bottom, twice low, in a precarious state.

In the search for solutions and a way out of such insecurity, the tendency is to look outside of our own experience, history and gifts for the answers — to look to someone else, somewhere else, anything else that is not Black in Louisiana. Yet, in doing so, we are left with the gnawing feeling that we have relinquished something precious, that we are knowingly walking into someone else’s dream. A series of wake-up calls have come again for Blacks in Louisiana in the forms of police shootings, protests and teargas, a deadly virus for which 70% of its first Louisiana victims were Black, job loss, more housing instability, and the flag of oppression, once defeated, flying in the U.S. Capitol.

The situation is more dire, and the questions remain. What’s the solution? The answers lie in Louisiana — in Black Louisiana — and have all along. These words from the first Black daily newspaper, La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orléans, published Jan. 20, 1865, show us the way:

“There is no man in the world so perfectly identified with our own interests as to understand it better than we do ourselves. … At the first step … that we attempt to make, we find tutors around us, who take upon themselves to redress our conduct, and try to prescribe what we have to do. … We need friends, it is true; but we do not need tutors. The age of guardianship is past forever. We now think for ourselves, and we shall act for ourselves.”

The solution calls for a return to self-determination, grounded in the realization of the value of our own history and uniqueness, partnering with true allies, and above all, not waiting for permission. We don’t need to be taught, just to remember.

We were already radical. Louisiana has historically been at the forefront of change. The first momentous fight for civil rights in the U.S. happened in Louisiana, centered around New Orleans, a century before the movement of the 1960s.

The first Black newspaper and the first Black daily, L’Union and La Tribune, respectively, were published out of New Orleans during that struggle. During the same period, Afro-Creoles built their own schools, educating children of color when the doors to public schools were closed to them. The first Black mayor, Black lieutenant governor and Black governor in the United States were all in Louisiana. The first large-scale bus boycott was in Baton Rouge, and the first child to integrate a southern school would be little Ruby Bridges of New Orleans. 

About Reflections on Race

Black history is unfortunately not always recognized as American history — even today as it was in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, hailed as the Father of Black History, and others brought his “brainchild” to life.

If you ever wondered how Black History Month originated, you need go no further than the founding group’s website asalh.org. It stands for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

In its own history, focusing on Dr. Carter, the association notes: “During the dawning decades of the twentieth century, it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world.”

The association chose as this year’s Black History Month theme: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.

Our guest columns for Reflections of Race will help to secure the foundation of the Black family by identifying challenges and issues facing the African American race. We asked our guest columnists to comment from a local or national viewpoint, and offer solutions along the way. And they did just that.

Ruth Foote, collection editor

We have always been unique. Louisiana culture, Creole culture, the essence of what has drawn people from all over the world to experience the food and music, the joy and celebration of life, is rooted in Africanness and shaped in this new world. Louisianans speak a dialect of French and a Creole all their own, tongues filled with warmth and welcome. Black Louisianans are strong, yet gentle; resilient, yet vulnerable. We are a creative and distinctively beautiful people. 

With all this in mind, Black Louisianans will again launch out into the deep, step out on faith, start something new, rebuild something broken. The right allies will see and join the effort. They will put their reputations on the line, investing money, time and talent to see Black Louisianans prosper. That caliber of friend has been there for Black Louisiana throughout the years of struggle. They lay down their lives for their friends. Our dreams become their dreams.

When we step out to be our own answer, not waiting on permission, change happens. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Black applications to medical school have increased by almost 40%, with Xavier University in New Orleans ranked second only to Howard University in graduating students bound for medical school. There are more examples. Historically Black institutions like Holy Rosary in Lafayette are set for rebuilding. There are new Black-owned farms and new farmers markets, like Fightingville Fresh, popping up in the historically Black parts of cities. To help keep Black businesses afloat, there are more apps created to search for local Black-owned businesses. Black Louisianans are boycotting businesses that don’t represent their values.

A new movement is underway, and something in my Louisiana heart tells me it is only the beginning.