*Crime is down in Grand Isle, Louisiana, but residents of that small, predominately white fishing town still feel threatened. The presence of nearly 1,000 Gulf oil spill cleanup workers – many of them black and Latino – has so unnerved and angered townsfolk that some of them have taken to flying Confederate flags as a warning to the outsiders who are now sharing their town. But those outsiders are pumping big bucks into the hard-hit local economy and that underscores the hypocrisy of some Grand Isle residents.
Apparently, some of the workers contracted by BP to clean up the oily mess around Grand Isle have been behaving badly in town. Partying late into the night, bumping loud music on their car stereos, urinating in public… There have been reports of drunken men stumbling into people’s yards at night to pass out on lawns, bang on doors or splash in kiddie pools. Somebody said they saw an AK-47 in a cleanup worker’s truck. (Maybe he was a 2nd Amendment advocate on his way to hear Sarah Palin speak at a tea party rally?)
One can see how residents would be annoyed, but none of the reported nuisances amounts to a major crime. And the line between fact and perception has gotten blurry. Grand Isle police made 22 arrests last month, that’s seven fewer than in July of 2009. Nonetheless, a lot of people in Grand Isle seem to feel that they’re in danger – and they seem to view that danger in decidedly racial terms. That’s why they brought out their Confederate flags.
With the Dixie banner fluttering from her front balcony, 48-year-old Theresa Brunies told Los Angeles Times http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/11/nation/la-na-oil-tensions-20100811 reporter Louis Sahagun, “I’d hate for Grand Isle to become known as a racist community. But these flags are just our way of telling strangers to keep out.” Now why would anyone think that’s racist? Feel free to roll your eyes now if you haven’t done so already.
The real message in Grand Isle is: keep out, but keep giving us your money. Local businesses, which faced potential ruin after the BP oil spill, are now turning large profits thanks to the cleanup crews. With sport fishermen and vacationers staying away from Grand Isle in droves, motels and fishing camps are charging BP inflated rates to house its contract workers. Rates have climbed as high as $100 per person per night and some renters claim to be raking in $30,000 a month.
Theresa Brunies, the Dixie flag waver who wants to keep strangers out, is making mad loot off of those strangers. Her catering company sells 1,200 box lunches to BP contractors every month and Brunies – apparently oblivious her own hypocrisy — told the L.A. Times, “They pay very well. It’s definitely been a boost to my revenue.”
Racism is so pathetically predictable. Throughout our nation’s history, the haters in power have denied dignity, opportunity and equality to people of color but they’ve always been quick to thrust out an upturned palm whenever they thought they could make a buck off of our efforts.
Those white folks in Grand Isle who are so scared and angry need to ask themselves how they’d manage if BP sent its contractors – and all those big checks – somewhere else. Instead of unfurling that symbol of racist intimidation which is the Confederate flag, the Grand Islanders need to roll out the welcome mat.
Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.