"This is a picture of you shopping while we're talking about racism and history in this country — you don't give a damn."
A white school board member in Louisiana was recently called out by a man named Gary Chambers Jr. after he spotted her seemingly shopping online during a meeting to rename a local school named for Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The Baton Rouge resident noticed East Baton Rouge School Board member Connie Bernard looking at an online shopping website during the meeting on Thursday and severely criticized her for not respecting the significance of the issue at hand. Shortly before he took the podium, Chambers took a photograph of Bernard in the act and flashed the picture to the Board during his address.
And here's Connie. Member of East Baton Rouge school board. Who "implied members of the public needed to perform more research into the legacy of confederate commander Robert E. Lee before supporting calls to strip name from a Baton Rouge High School." https://t.co/Ol39o0JYo0— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) June 21, 2020
"This is a picture of you shopping while we're talking about racism and history in this country," he tore into Bernard. "Only white members of the board got up while we're talking. You don't give a damn." According to Independent, Chambers cited Lee's history as a "brutal slave master" and disputed a false narrative perpetuated by the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War and propagated by some pro-Confederacy historians, who hail the Confederate general as an anti-slavery champion. "You sit your arrogant self in here and sit on there shopping while the pain and the hurt of this community are on display," he said.
This isn't the first time Connie Bernard, who has served on the board for a decade, has been the subject of controversy.— The Advocate (@theadvocatebr) June 22, 2020
"You should walk out of here and resign and never come back because you are the example of racism in this community. You are horrible," he said. Posting a video of the incident on Instagram, Chambers wrote: Connie Bernard shopped while Black people discussed renaming Lee High. I told Connie Bernard to her face she needed to resign from the East Baton Rouge School board. She was shopping while citizens were speaking about changing the name of Lee High. She was a school board member 4 years ago when they voted to keep Lee associated with the school.
Then she chocked a teenager in his home in 2018, she should’ve resigned then. Then she got on TV last week telling Black folks we needed to learn more of Lee’s history. When we don’t confront elected officials we give them permission to disrespect us and to devalue us. Connie needs to resign. I stand on that. If you think her actions are unacceptable send an email to the members of the board encouraging Connie to resign, he added. Speak truth to power, stand on your convictions, let NONE of them slide, and #KeepPushing. We got work to do.
According to The Advocate, following a lengthy debate last week, the school board voted unanimously to form a special committee to come up with alternative names for the 61-year-old high school. This follows a 2016 vote to keep the school named Lee High. Bernard—one of the five board members who voted then to keep Lee in the name—said at the time that she did so because of the strong feelings of many school alumni and constituents. In an interview with WVLA-33 earlier this month, she said that that parents and students uncomfortable with a school named Lee High should "learn a little bit more about" Robert E. Lee.
"I would hope that they would learn a little bit more about General Lee 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," she said. Bernard later issued an apology for making the comments in a written statement last week. "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," she said. "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."