You would think that it would be hard to find a statement more outrageous than hopefully-soon-to-be-former-Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's attempt to prove that he's not a racist:
"I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."
For that matter, you'd think it would be hard to find conduct more outrageous than Bardwell's repeated refusal to marry interracial couples. Unfortunately, this turns out not to be the case. It's almost painfully easy to find both more outrageous statements and more outrageous conduct. All you have to do is look at what other Tangipahoa Parish officials have said and done when confronted with the blatant racism of Keith Bardwell.
For more outrageous words, see Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess, as quoted in a recent AP article:
Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said Bardwell's views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government.
"However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand," Burgess said in an e-mail. "I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish."
For more outrageous deeds, we have a second Tangipahoa Justice of the Peace - Terri Crosby. Crosby is the Justice of the Peace who eventually carried out the marriage that Bardwell refused to officiate. Bardwell referred the McKays to Crosby for the wedding, as he has done with other interracial couples in the past. Crosby, by the way, has a granddaughter who is mixed race, and told CNN that she doesn't think that the area is racist.
I'm not so sure about that.
There can be little doubt that Keith Bardwell is an out-and-out racist who is mentally unequipped to cope with the demands of life in the second half of the 20th Century. He is a pitiful creature - one of the more pathetic examples of humanity to make the news in recent weeks - but it is not remotely fair to paint him as the only villain in this case - or even as the main one. After all, it's not entirely his fault he was put in the position to do such damage - he is, after all, an elected official.
Crosby, Burgess, and the other politically active people of the parish lack Bardwell's poor excuses. They may think of themselves as not being like him, but they condoned his behavior. They knew - there's no way that they couldn't have - about Bardwell's idiocies, but they did nothing.
Crosby married the couples that Bardwell wronged. She undoubtedly knew that he had refused to do his job. Yet she did nothing about that. She raised no fuss, filed no complaints, and left him free to insult the next innocent interracial couple. She has failed in her duties at least as much as he did.
Burgess may be disappointed that there are now people around the world who believe that he runs a parish populated by racist hicks. He may want Bardwell to go away now. But it boggles the mind that he was ignorant of Bardwell's views. You don't get to be a political power anywhere by being ignorant of what the other politically active people around you do or think. Yet not only has Bardwell been repeatedly elected to his job, he's never even had to run against an opponent.
The absolute best that can be said for the officials of Tangipahoa Parish is that they did not care about what Bardwell was doing. They might want to think of Bardwell as an anomaly, and they probably want to believe that they're all doing fine when it comes to race relations. But they're not. The problems that Tangipahoa Parish has with race go far beyond the despicable actions of Keith Bardwell.