Imagine the gall it takes to sit in a meeting where community members are sharing their personal stories of racism and scroll through an online store on your computer. Now imagine the gall it takes to not just be in that meeting, but to be one of the people running it and decide your new clothing needs are more important that the concerns of Black community members.
Gary Chambers, Jr. caught East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Connie Bernard on camera shopping online during a hearing on changing the name of Lee High School—as in Robert E. Lee— on June 18. As community members shared their feelings about having a school named for the general of the confederate army—the one who fought for the South's "right" to enslave Black people—Bernard appeared to be pondering what color dress she was going to buy.
When Chambers' turn came up to speak, he said he had intended to get up and talk about how racist Robert E. Lee was, but instead was going to talk about Connie Bernard, who was "sitting over there shopping while we're talking about Robert E. Lee." Holding up his phone, he said, "This is a picture of you shopping, while we're talking about racism and history in this country."
Chambers pointed out that it was only white members of the board got up from their tables while people in the community—which Chambers says is 81% Black—were talking. "Because you don't give a damn, it's clear," he said.
He did explain how racist Robert E. Lee was: "Not only did he whoop the slaves, he said, 'Lay it on 'em hard.' And after he said, 'Lay it on 'em hard,' he said 'Put brine on 'em so it'll burn 'em.'"
"And you sit your arrogant self in here," he said, addressing Bernard again, "and sit on there shopping, while the pain and the hurt of the people of this community is on display. Because you don't give a damn, and you should resign."
The entire video is gold, with Chambers explaining how Bernard should have resigned two years ago when she was caught on video choking a student, and how she should now walk out and resign, "because you are the example of racism in this community."
The mic drop moment at the end brought the point home: "We built this joint for free," Chambers said. "And we're done begging you to do what's right."
When Chambers mentioned Bernard "talking foolishness" on TV the week before, he was presumably referring to a June 10th interview with WVLA-33 in which Bernard said that people who didn't like the name of the school needed to brush up on their history.
"I would hope that they would learn a little bit more about General Lee," she said, "because General Lee inherited a large plantation and he was tasked with the job of doing something with those people who lived in bondage to that plantation, the slaves, and he freed them."
After understandable backlash, Bernard issued an apology in a written statement:
"My comments last week about the naming of Lee High School were insensitive, have caused pain for others, and have led people to believe I am an enemy of people of color, and I am deeply sorry. I condemn racial injustice in any form. I promise to be part of the solution and to listen to the concerns of all members of our community. I stand with you, in love and respect."
However, she also told The Advocate that what looked like her shopping was just a popup ad that she hadn't closed out. "I wasn't shopping," she said. "I was actually taking notes, paying attention, reading online comments."
But Chambers wasn't having that nonsense either—he had receipts in the form of a 20-second video of her scrolling through a full screen of clothing while one of her fellow board members—a Black woman—was speaking.
Another attendee at the meeting, Arthur Pania of Baton Rouge, corroborated Chambers' account on Facebook, "I personally watched her for about eight minutes, attempting to decide between a beige and red dress," he wrote. "The only thing I had issue determining from my sight was if it was a short dress or nightware."
People with this much blatant racism in their bones and a willingness to blatantly lie in an attempt to cover up that racism has no business making decisions for anyone, much less school children in a community of mostly Black families. As Chambers wrote on Instagram, "Our children deserve better, our community deserves better. If she remains it gives permission for others to do the same."
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