Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, said Tuesday that America needs to address institutional racism and stress the importance of diversity now more than ever.
“When people say that racism is dead, it’s not that they’re wrong,” Landrieu said to over 150 students at the on-campus discussion.
Landrieu visited the Texas Union Theater to speak on the challenges New Orleans, a predominantly African-American city, faced when trying to remove several Confederate monuments. Landrieu, who championed the movement, drew parallels between these challenges and Austin’s Confederate monuments.
“Every state has got to deal with (the monuments),” Landrieu said. “In some instances, it’s a state issue, and in some instances it’s a local issue. But I think the Legislature and governor, and the mayor and city council of Austin have to decide for themselves.”
Landrieu said New Orleans still faced problems removing statues even after getting through the red tape and legislative hoops, which is reflective of how hard it is for society to overcome things such as racism.
“Even in the second decade of the 21st century, even well after this issue had been litigated … it was still hard to move into the actuality of doing what we wanted to do,” Landrieu said. “This is to say that we’ve got a long way to go on the issue of race.”
Lisa Porter, a communications staffer for the LBJ School, said they chose Landrieu for this event because he serves as an example of civic leadership.
Landrieu served as mayor of New Orleans from 2010 to 2018. In addition to discarding four Confederate monuments, he also led the city in its recovery effort after Hurricane Katrina and helped keep British Petroleum accountable after its Gulf Coast oil spill.
“LBJ School is all about training policy leaders, and who better to talk about leadership in times of crisis than this guy?” Porter said.
Government sophomore Jakob Lucas said Landrieu’s desire to minimize racism as a white southern male was compelling.
“There is a legacy of racism throughout the institutions, the geography and the architecture of UT,” Lucas said. “It was important for students to come see this because it’s a first-hand discussion of what it means to reckon with your past.”
After the event, Landrieu dispelled rumors he was running for president in 2020 and offered insight into what he thinks society should work on.
“Being able to see people for who they are — that’s what transcends racism,” Landrieu said.