Small towns have their problems just like big cities. Race can be one of them. The problem is when anyone who reports these problems is the target rather than the problems themselves.
Recently the Natchitoches school board elected a white superintendent over what was claimed by dissenters as equally qualified black candidates. Some saw this as a move to get control, aided by officials outside the educational system, at the University and within the city administration. Others saw it as a race issue, with some wanting a white superintendent and others a black superintendent. Regardless of what the motives may have been, the basic issue is settled with the election of the superintendent.
After a week of wrangling, meetings, controversies, back alley gossip and innuendos, the facts are these: the issues involved in the selection of the superintendent are multi-various and the interaction between participants on the school board and elsewhere in need of fixing. The children should be the focus, however, as everyone agrees.
While this goes on, behind the scenes, in a whole different venue called Topix, members call for “killing the messenger, ” i.e. the reporter who opened up the discussion of race as being part of the problem with the choice of school superintendent. In this case I was the writer of the material, published as a news story on two different sites to date, who simply reported the opinions of members of the black community and their concerns about race. Other issues other than race were not discussed in the article because the topic was, instead, the African American initial perception of what occurred during the selection process.
Rumors flew, and continue to, about what really happened. Suffice to say, as Reverend Joseph Dupree of Natchitoches maintains, the choice has been made; and people need to reconcile.
Reconciliation, however, may require a dialogue about race, something that folks on all sides of the issue refuse to acknowledge as a problem. Yet the political atmosphere during elections is toxic with the topic of race, where on Topix and on the streets was part of the discussion, verbal and written attacks.
The problem of anonymity in discussion of matters as serious as race is that it feeds into itself, creates additional dissension and anxiety, especially when there are accusations of irregularities back and forth that are unwarranted. As someone who doesn’t read the forum threads, but is told about them frequently; as a reporter I have no interest in gossip when it is anonymous. I am, however, interested in proper feedback as took place on the postings of the article source itself because they provide me additional information and education, which any reporter who wants to do a good job will relish. Those people who were unafraid to counter my information are those who demonstrate that open communication can be part of the solution to any problem. Those who gossip anonymously, however, remain part of the problem.
Given Natchitoches’ history of segregation and slavery, the former within living memory of mature citizens in Natchitoches, now in key positions of the town, discourse about race is essential; but no one wants to openly talk about it. There is too much fear and denial. Instead back door gossip continues as the main method of discussion, which is detrimental to the health of the town and the development of its citizens. The very fact of mentioning that race is a factor in elections and other issues is attacked as racist, which is particularly divisive and prohibits the very idea of proper reconciliation.
At the foundation of many political problems, whether school board, city or state elections in Louisiana, the real concern might be money and power, who controls what after all—just like in other places, with the infusion of race, which continues to be the practice in a town still divided in many ways by its history that people have difficulty coming to grips with in healthy ways.