Parading My Resistance: Sitting Out Spanish Town 2017

 by: Donney Rose

As the final hours of 2016 ticked away, I made a silent vow that I would not allow the coming year to marginalize me in any way within my control. I, like millions of people of color around the nation, had already come to terms with a forthcoming Trump presidency after enduring a nightmarish summer in my hometown.  Over a six-week period I watched my community endure the wreckage of a state-sanctioned murder and the subsequent brutality that came along with protesting it, a retaliatory slaughter of law enforcement, a horrendous flood and dealt with the personal weight of watching students I mentor grieve the sudden loss of one of the brightest young people I ever had the pleasure of knowing. The top of December 2016 found me and my wife indulged in a much needed vacation to Puerto Rico. I spent nine peaceful days decompressing from what felt like a marathon of grief. As I rolled back the tape in my mind of what had gotten me to such an exhausting place emotionally, a timeline of events locally and nationally began to replay. When flashing back to the first quarter of 2016, a particular image came to mind that was almost a warning sign for the civil unrest to come. That image was a parade float in Baton Rouge’s annual Spanish Town parade mocking the death of Eric Garner. Before Alton Sterling became a household name, a few Spanish Town floats found it humorous to make fun of police violence against Black Americans. It sparked outrage but no real results and for this reason, I’m good on returning to this parade indefinitely.

 

To get into how I arrived at this conclusion is to give a brief summary of my Baton Rouge lived experience. I am a son of Scotlandville. Lived my entire childhood through early adulthood in north Baton Rouge. Grew up in an era where downtown development was non-existent. Was not really  familiar with the Spanish Town parade or the Spanish Town area until I reached my mid 20s. Because Baton Rouge is pretty segregated with regards to who lives, socializes and communes where. By the time I reached my late 20s I found myself immersing in downtown Baton Rouge culture. I worked in the area. I promoted entertainment events in the area. I performed poetry in the area. It no longer felt foreign. It is symbolic of Black culture to measure social growth through a lens of white acceptance, particularly if that acceptance appeared previously off limits. I remember nights at the M Bar on Third St. in the late 2000s where the young & Black & professional would socialize in an area that historically wasn’t embracing of us. I remember a similar effect down the street at the Lyceum ballroom. We knew that BRPD would occasionally pepper spray or use car horns that were specialized to sound like dog barks, to get us to clear the street when the clubs closed. It’s not that it ever was truly fair treatment in comparison to the other white bar patrons on the street. But we were living in a newly minted era punctuated by the election of a Black president, thus unconsciously drinking the “post racial” Kool Aid. More than anything, we felt a sense of inclusion if it were not but of our own imagination. The city felt like it was allowing space for our Blackness to be present outside of the lines of Scotlandville & the Bottom & Glen Oaks & any other area that redlining tagged as “coloreds only”. It is during this era I began indulging in a culture of progressive whiteness that led me to attend events like the Spanish Town parade. It started all good. It devolved into something else. The devolving was a sign of a changing social climate.

 

By the time me, my wife and a few friends arrived on the Spanish Town road parade route for last year’s parade, there was a sense of uncomfortable change in the air on a national level. Donald Trump was steadily gaining traction as a candidate in the Republican Party. The Black Lives Matter movement was becoming more of an inescapable ideology in the wake of the 2015 deaths of Sandra Bland & New Iberia’s Victor White. Black exceptionalism was being challenged on all fronts and the leading symbolic figure of it was on his way out the White House. Still, in the festive spirit of Mardi Gras, our intent was to have the same good time at the parade as we had in previous years. It started out fine, and then the “Pink Lives Matter” floats happened. Then the “Rape is just surprise sex” float happened. And before I knew it, nothing about the environment felt safe anymore. Either the float riders didn’t have a clear idea that satire was meant to “punch up” at those in power or they just didn’t care enough to not make a mockery out of police executions of Black citizens and sexual assault. The next couple of days saw myself and others in the community speaking out about what we witnessed. A white man on Twitter told me to “keep my marginalized feelings at home”. Comment sections of local media outlets were divided along racial lines about the parade, and the parade organizing committee absolved itself on any responsibility. Again, this was all before the summer of 2016 when these issues would be directly in our backyard.

 

Which leads us to where we are currently. In a city that has elected a Black woman to lead who heavily ran on a platform of police reform. A city where a white district judge who has presided over several criminal cases, casually uses racial slurs towards a Black woman at a restaurant. A city that played host to Donald Trump on three separate occasions in 2016. A city that historically votes Democratic couched inside a highly conservative state. A city that is the state Capitol where a Democrat governor signed a Blue Lives Matter bill into law that gives police lives hierarchy over citizens they are sworn to serve. A city awaiting a department of justice decision about a state sanctioned murder that the whole world watched. A city split at the seams of white, traditional conservatives that believe the old way of life in south Louisiana is preferred and a new generation of people of color/white allies who are aggressively looking to change its trajectory. A city where the socioeconomic divide is steep enough to decide who has the disposable income to pay to ride on an offensive parade float and who is barely able to keep their lights on. All of these factors make it too risky to engage in the “risqué” climate of a parade where there’s no accountability for the participants. Where people of color are told to take their marginalization as a joke. Where I don’t know if a float will ride by of a flamingo bleeding on the ground next to some CDs, but I absolutely know there would never be one of a flamingo dressed as a bleeding cop.

 

And because these are unknowns and because I can’t predict my outrage, I’m cool on being out there.

 

 

Donney Rose is a poet, educator and community organizer from Baton Rouge. His editorial writing can be found on Facebook on his page,

Observations In Blackness by Donney Rose.