Sunday, May 21, 2006

Proud to Live in C. Ray's Chocolate City

You know, all of this obsessing about race by the ever-frothing talking heads neglects the reality of life in New Orleans, a reality shaped by blacks and whites, Cajuns and Creoles, Vietnamese and Central American, do I have to type "etc." here? living side by side, rather than segregated in different sections, the true norm in melting pot America, a country that routinely castigates the South for its racism, as if racism is that simple or condensed. While there are parts of the South that make me cringe, New Orleans is not one of them. A place like Baton Rouge, where evacuees were subject to threats of being shot by the mayor upon their frazzled arrivals, thanks to a small cadre of criminal looters fifty miles away, is.

That's why a lot of us didn't take C. Ray Nagin's "chocolate city" comments all that seriously and why some of us lampooned them, albeit to the point of redundancy. The truth, which these comments reflect, is that New Orleans is a black majority city. Yet, akin to our American roots, blacks consistently receive the worst schooling and the most punishment. And there are those local whites - you know, jive turkeys - who have been emboldened by their new literal majority and made despicable comments about how we were better off without "them," as if, per another American tradition, our culture, our cooking, our music - the things "they" get credit for, plus a lot of others - could even exist without them.

It makes sense that in a black majority city, a large percentage of the crimes are going to be committed by black people, just as, for whatever reason, most serial killers in America are going to be white; they have the time, money and luxury, I suppose, to savor their crimes. But these same jive turkeys take these numbers and wave their flag of indictment; it's because they're black! Funny how I never hear them say they feel they have the right to castigage huge segments of the community because they're white! i.e., at the top of the national power structure - well, the men at least.

The biggest difference between Mitch Landrieu and C. Ray Nagin, especially given their overlapping answers and similarities at the mayoral crime debate, is their skin color, followed, of course, by the fact that Mr. Mitch is part and parcel of a political dynasty. Doesn't make him a bad guy. Doesn't make him one with any credibility, either. The favored argument of Landrieu supporters seemed to be that he had better federal connections and was more respected in national circles - minus any evidence beyond his father and sister. For me, this shades a little too close to voting for the white guy because he's white and I am glad that, unlike a lot of inexplicably angry, white out-of-staters who parroted the AM radio wisdom that "New Orleans' black mayor is racist," we overcame that bit of fear mongering.

Speaking of overcoming, what of the activists? Well, there are those that do good, but we don't seem to hear much about them. When we heard that there would be a march across the bridge, some of us were excited, Jesse Jackson's mumbo jumbo not withstanding; the way the Jefferson Parish police blocked access for the poor, starving, racially mixed though black-dominated masses striving to survive was despicable. I don't buy the fear excuses; There was nowhere for them to go here! Yes, there was - away from the flooding and drowning. The barrier was the one you erected, not one they were trying to overthrow by virtue of walking across a bridge that belongs to all of us (poor people pay taxes, too, and it represents more of a hardship). Imagine if the Brooklyn PD had closed that bridge on September 11. This is not the precedent to set in times of crisis.

What that march turned into - unbelievably - was not one to reclaim the right of passage, which it accomplished inadvertently, but to protest the election, the election that had already been pushed back. I don't know more than a handful of people here - black, white, you get it - that were passionately in favor of that. So, here comes Jesse tromping across the Mississippi, the Cos making speeches, the arrogant outsiders proclaiming how we silly, racist Southerners should live our lives. I like mine outside a vacuum, but hey. The outside activism would be a lot easier to take if their own communities weren't so divided and if there weren't much larger local issues to protest, such as project residents, including a lot of elderly citizens, being barred from returning to their homes after seven months - until they literally broke down those barriers with the help of a local activist group.

Please think before you speak. We know you don't get us and some of you think we're all a bunch of loons; that's okay. What isn't okay is all your judgment going one-way only. And we shouldn't have to whore for federal support, either; California didn't after the earthquakes, neither did New York after September 11, though Bush has cut the latter's funding repeatedly. You are not better than us. So, we do not beg. We do not degrade ourselves. Sadly, according to a recent poll, 58% of you, who still do not think New Orleans should be rebuilt, are happy to do that for us.

We do appreciate your support. A lot of us do not gush over it because, hell, yes, as fellow taxpayers we expect and deserve it, just as you have, too, and will in the future when disaster strikes. So, please, let's move on from this paradigm. It got old a while ago.


Anonymous Ryan said...

Hi Lisa,

I came across your blog this morning, and just wanted to say that I really enjoy your writing style. I'm from LA and lived in New Orleans the last 6 years, before moving away for a job last summer, and I fully agree with your assessment of both the city and Major Nagin. I realize that full agreement is somewhat boring and offers no constructive crtiques, but so be it.

Best of luck.


10:05 AM  
Blogger John Doheny said...

Thanks for a really coherent analysis of the whole deal.

I sometimes find it hard to explain this place to Those Who Are Not Here (at least without turning the explanation into a dissertation on Louisiana culture and history), but now I'm just going to send them a link yo your post.

It's a pleasure to know you.

John D.

10:37 AM  
Blogger jim said...

I wonder about the plan to walk away from the city over the bridge. The medics who say the police told them to do that, well, they seem like rubes taken in by a nopd officer who just wanted them out of his face. In the heat of that day, was it really a good idea to organize a march of traumatized & dehydrated people away from the convention center, up onto the bridge and over to the west bamk? If the bridge had been open to pedestrians, how many people would have fallen out? Didn't a lot of people at the convention center know all about the bridge police history of brutality? If they had made the trek, there wouldn't have been any water or help waiting for them either.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Vulgar Wizard said...

Well said. :)

5:49 PM  

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