Something Like the Truth

Louisiana’s people can handle the truth about their state and its future

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By Robert Mann

“How dare you!” a reader scolded me by email after reading my previous column, in which I argue “Louisiana is sick and dying.” She added: “If you have such disdain for this state and this city then get the hell out.”

In September 2016, when I wrote the first draft of what became an elegy for Louisiana, I shelved it. I was afraid I’d be overwhelmed with many such angry responses. I wasn’t certain it was wise to brand an entire state hopeless. Moreover, I wasn’t sure I believed it, having written two years earlier that Louisiana still had hope and that our young people should consider staying to fight for its future.

What prompted me to publish my grim thoughts was reading a remarkable book published last year, “Strangers in Their Own Land.” Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s examination of Louisiana politics and culture through the prism of corrupt and neglectful environmental policies is bracing, depressing and deadly accurate.

If you think my conclusion is grim, you must read Hochschild’s account, not only for its searing indictment of our decades of environmental degradation but also to appreciate the unwillingness (or inability) of so many to recognize and punish the culprits.

Ostensibly, Hochschild wants readers to understand the Trump-loving Tea Party members adrift in a sea of social change and economic disruption. In doing so, she also reinforces my point: Our state is deathly ill, and there is little inclination to do something about it.I was prepared for a fusillade of ferocious responses to my column, very much like the one above. So I was surprised by how many not only agreed with my diagnosis but said they have had similar conversation with friends and families.

“You put into words what I’ve been feeling for a while,” someone told me on Facebook. A Louisiana native, now living in Texas, wrote, “I have often thought of returning and staying because I love it and will always consider it home, but unsure I want to fight a seemingly losing battle.”

By email, a New Orleanian wrote, “As I get older (I’m almost 67), I realize that nothing, NOTHING, is going to change in this place, and it’s profoundly sad.” A state official called to say he agreed with my analysis about our unwillingness to embrace progress and reform. “We just don’t have it in us,” he concluded.

At church last Sunday, a friend greeted me at the door. Her eyes welled up. She and her husband had discussed the same concerns my column addressed, she told me. Their daughter has begun her second year of college in a distant state and won’t return. That’s because the young woman lives in a progressive, diverse and well-functioning community, the likes of which she never experienced here.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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