From the Backwoods of Mississippi

Dr. Chan Crawford

Today’s blog is by Dr. Chandra Crawford, UNITY’s director of public policy.

“Go back home–we don’t want you here!” “Why would you associate yourself with such trash?” And my favorite, “You must have received your degrees from the backwoods of Mississippi!”

Those are examples of the hate-filled speech hurled at me by three leaders of the opposition to the proposed rehab of an old nursing home into apartments for low-income workers and formerly homeless residents with disabilities. We were in a small break room during a Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) hearing. As my smile broadened, their voices grew louder—my smile represented love and compassion–yes, even for those who were clearly not interested in treating me as a human being (nor homeless residents as potential neighbors for that matter).

In retrospect, my stance of love is rooted in the racial politics/history of the U.S.: I am a descendant of people who were capable of embracing an alternative ideology to violence and aggression, in light of institutionalized racism and widespread, deplorable acts of violence in order to guarantee the civil rights of a larger group of citizens. The notion that others thought so much of my future as a woman of color that they morally endured hostile aggression for a greater good is monumental, so I think I can handle these angry opponents. Needless to say, the fight to secure homeless residents safe and affordable housing is worth it!

It is however disheartening that in 2010 others are still resorting to the old tactics of mean intimidation to deny basic civil rights to citizens. I will forever respect Flozell Daniels of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation for remaining calm and civil during the same BZA hearing after being “physically touched” by another angry neighbor opposed to the proposed apartment building, which Flozell came to support (not to mention the seemingly racialized comment that followed). Nonviolence as a way of social change is not only a creed I follow, but one that Mr. Daniels obviously adheres to as well as he graciously asked his perpetrator to refrain from physical touching and continued to sit next to that person peacefully during the entire hearing.

In the struggle for social justice, when these unfortunate situations arise (and alas they do arise), I often think the late author Audre Lorde said it best: “One cannot dismantle the master’s house by using the master’s tools.” That is to say there must be a moral distinction between those seeking justice and the unjust. Maybe one day I will return to my birthplace (as it is true, I was not born in New Orleans, although I have dedicated the past 2 ½ years of my life fighting for the rights of some of its most vulnerable citizens). I am not sure what to make of the trash comment and although I did not graduate from a school/woods in Mississippi (no offense to MS), while here in the area I plan to continue to fight for the rights of others, as so many have done for me, in the same dignified way.

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