THE BLOG
08/25/2006 10:17 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

MY Truth about Baton Rouge

As part of the flood (no pun intended, please!) of Katrina-anniversary coverage the Washington Post today publishes a particularly ill-chosen lament from the citizens of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It seems that even African-American Baton Rougeans--no, especially African-Americans, as the story takes pains to point out the race of every black person they quote saying racist-sounding things--heartily resent the New Orleans evacuees who have doubled the city's size. They hate the traffic. They hate the strain on city resources. They suspect all the evacuees of being thieves or worse.

Now, I lived in Baton Rouge from age 1 to 14. A more assertively provincial, narrow-minded, anti-progressive, anti-New South place you could not hope to find. The people who choose to occupy its many lifeless, cookie-cutter subdivisions are defined by the fact that they hate New Orleans and everything that it represents: crime, culture, city life writ large. Three of my defining experiences of growing up there were 1) the David Duke campaign for governor, 2) dealing with anti-Semitic taunting and harassment throughout elementary school, including from a self-styled "neo-Nazi" in 6th grade, and 3) the murder of Yoshi Hattori, a Japanese exchange student who was living with some family friends of ours. He was shot because he went to the wrong house looking for a Halloween party, and the homeowner, Rodney Peairs, a meat cutter at Winn Dixie, didn't like his looks. After some well-coached crying on the witness stand, Peairs got off.

Did I mention that Baton Rouge's public schools were the battleground for the longest-running desegregation lawsuit in America's history?

In short, the prevailing mentality of Louisiana's state capital, as I experienced it, does not represent the best of America, or even the best of Louisiana. Printing as fact the paranoia of residents for whom living in a city that has suddenly grown to be its state's metropolis and economic powerhouse is bad news...that's a shame.

PS. I'm really happy so many Baton Rougeans have spoken up to defend their city's diversity, and its response to the storm. I lived there from 1980-1994 and have been back several times since Katrina, and my parents are still commuting there, so they know what the traffic's like. Just after the storm, just as many commenters write, my own family was taken in by their best family friends, who live, yes, in Baton Rouge. I also went back in http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0540,kamenetz,68414,6.htmlOctober to report on the children of evacuees being placed in substandard schools.
I don't think the Washington Post did a good job of putting Baton Rougeans' response to the overwhelming changes wrought by Katrina in context. So I wrote the post, which is nothing more than my personal opinions, about how I felt about the city growing up there, (see above: "the defining experiences of my growing up" not "of the city's history"). Those were my experiences, and my interpretation. It takes a lot of experiences to make a city.