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Last night I stopped by the Parkway for a sandwich and a glass of wine, on my way to a meeting.

I sat at the bar near a woman who was celebrating her birthday with a cosmopolitan.

We got to talking — pleasant enough to start with. She asked me where I was from. Funny how some people latch on to my non-local accent first thing.

For her part, she was born and raised in New Orleans, and had a very distinctive local accent. She’d lived in California for 13 years but never lost the accent.

Now she was back in New Orleans, but looking to leave again. She complained about the crime and the corruption. She liked the place where she was living in Lakeview, where she said she felt safe, but she couldn’t really afford it.

She kept complaining about how bad everything is here in New Orleans, and how the city is not coming back, and so forth.

Finally I observed that the city certainly will not come back if we just sit around and wait for someone else to do it. It’s up to us, I said.

“You’re just saying that because you’re from Indiana,” she said. I couldn’t possibly fathom the depth of the problems here in New Orleans because I didn’t grow up here.

And then it came out: The fundamental thing that disturbed her the most was the black people coming back. That was soon followed by a racial epithet. She mentioned that she graduated in 1967, just before the schools were integrated, so at least she didn’t have to go to school with them.

I took issue. But every time I disagreed or expressed a different view, she said it was because I was from Indiana.

Finally I said, “When I came back after the storm to rebuild my flooded house, I never dreamed anyone would tell me I’m not a New Orleanian. I consider myself a New Orleanian. There are people here from all over the world. I wasn’t born and raised here, but I’ve lived here for eight years. I’m forty now, so that’s one-fifth of my life. And sure, maybe I see things a little differently because I grew up in Indiana. But you know what, maybe that’s a good thing.”

I tried to challenge her bitter complacency, her racism, and the many points upon which we seemed to disagree. I also tried to maintain a civil and friendly conversation, even with a sense of humor. It’s extremely hard to change people’s convictions. I know that, and I doubt I changed hers.

When I was finished eating, I wished her a happy birthday and left for my meeting with an ugly taste in my mouth — and it wasn’t from the oyster po-boy.

Published inNew Orleans


  1. I certainly don’t want to side with the birthday girl, but here’s the thing. I really don’t think that one who hasn’t grown up here, or at least the South, can understand why all the racial divisions and the emphases on race occur here.

    I’ve been in New Orleans since 1990 and in the South all my life. When one doesn’t go to school with African-Americans even though they are a major portion of the population does something to you. Growing up in an area where most of the poor are African-Americans also sends a message.

    The good news is that racism here is not as rampant as it is in Memphis, but it’s still pretty prevalent. Maybe if more of you Yankees move in or stay here there will be more civil discussions of race. Maybe if those of us who have broken free from the satanic bonds of bigotry in the South speak more boldly we can move forward.

    Hope so…thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Good on you B. I applaud your ability to still retain some sense of the bigger picture (the 1/5th of your life comment, specifically) and desire to not only pursue but maintain discourse in the face of ugliness.

    We need more people talking to each other, but it’s not easy to do given different points of view and a pervailing desire within each of us to have our views affirmed instead of challenged.

    Cheers and keep on fighting the good fight.

    “We are all just the same person trying to shake hands with ourself.” – Wavy Gravy

  3. Tim Tim

    B, you’ve hit upon one of the snobbiest things about New Orleans. Even though we’re a friendly town, most will not consider you a local unless you dropped out of the womb within the city limits. That’s an ugly fact of life here, but it is something we can definitely change.

    In my book, New Orleans is soul. If you have soul and you give your heart to this city, then dammit you’re a New Orleanian in my book.

    Bart, you is one of us. I’ll make up a certificate and send it over if that’s what it takes, but nobody should ever question your soul and your loyalty.

    On the other matter, the matter of racism, sadly there is little we can do. We can teach the young to not be racist, but it is all but impossible to convert the convinced and closed-minded. In time, they will all die out. We just have to be patient.

    And thanks for standing up to the racism when it hit you. Sometimes we take the easier course and we just nod politely and walk away when the racist remarks come out. It’s hard to tell a boss, a coworker, or even a stranger that they are at least 150 years behind the times. What you did took courage and I applaud you for it.

    I hope you next po-boy is much, much more enjoyable.



  4. I guess this is a bit beside the point, but the subject of your interview.. while suffering multiple other delusions.. seems to be under the impression that her kind of racism isn’t tolerated by people from Indiana.

    James Loewen’s recent book, Sundown Towns, takes a look at racial exclusion (particularly residential exclusion) throughout the United States. Loewen finds the most severe concentration of “Sundown Towns” (places where African Americans were.. and in cases still are.. not allowed after dark under the implied threat of violence) occurs in the Midwest… especially Illinois but Indiana is also treated in the book. Fascinating stuff. If nothing else it serves to point out the folly in assuming that racism a unique quality of one particular region… or city.

  5. Another thing, which I shared with the birthday girl, and which Howie’s comment compels me to note:

    My grandfather (who lived in Wisconsin and Chicago) had a Klan robe. I grew up in Indiana (which was once ruled by the Klan) in a suburb of Indianapolis which was mysteriously 100% white, and some of my schoolmates had Klan robes in their closets. We Midwesterners don’t call ourselves Yankees — I always thought of Yankees as from New England — but one thing’s for sure: Racism is everywhere, it just takes different forms.

  6. And Jeffrey, you’re right on. My black co-workers in Indianapolis used to joke with my white co-workers from Martinsville — come over for a BBQ, but better be out of town by sundown. They laughed about it, but the scary thing is, it’s still true.

  7. badger badger

    aw, don’t worry about it. I’m a native of Tangipahoa Parish, and still live up here. One side of my family has been here over 200 years. However, because i somehow wound up with an accent somewhat different from the rest of the locals (my mother grew up in Algiers & Gentilly, and a retired schoolteacher,) they always make assumptions that I cannot grasp the nuances of the locale. When it’s discovered that is not a legitimate angle to undermine my opinions, they’ll resort to anything under the sun.

    Bigots are bigots. It’s almost never determined to reason. Too many will cling to anything to keep from reassessing prejudices.

    I’m not qualified to judge who a New Orleanian is, but the city desperately needs people like you. Thanks.

  8. doctorj doctorj

    Editor B,
    Anyone that has loved the city as you and your wife have are native New Orleanians in my book. Thanks for making the new New Orleans. There are people like burthday girl all over this nation and Katrina has made them bolder in their ugliness. But also I think a problem cannot be confronted unless it is in the open. Let the discussion begin!

  9. I have a very confused sense of place. I live in New Orleans. I cannot leave. I cannot live anywhere else. I had a conversation recently, where I was asked how long I plan to say in New Orleans. I said I plan to die here, so the duration is anyone’s guess. The follow up was a request to give three reasons why.

    1) I am unemployable anywhere else.
    2) I have absolutely no means by which to leave New Orleans.
    3) After two weeks in any other city I am profoundly depressed. Since living in New Orleans this is much worse, because I am aware of the depression.

    Which is to say that I am trapped in New Orleans.

    Yet, I am delighted to be trapped in New Orleans, since it gives me the sense of place, and an entitlement to that sense of place, that I did not have before.

    There is no sense of place to which I can return, no place to return. I am from Detroit originally, but my family left in 1976 when I was four. If I say that I’m from Detroit, people in the know will ask, are you really from Detroit? Which is to say, which suburb of Detroit do you come from. By taking part in the economic evacuation of the Motor City, I’ve relinquished my claim.

    I am from Huntington Woods, a suburb of Detroit. A nice suburb, but there is no sense of place. It is lovely housing stock, but it is housing, only housing. There is no place to return, no place to visit. Scotia Park? Burton Elementary? I sat in the park across from my childhood home a few years back, and was concerned that I’d get reported for loitering.

  10. I think it’s essential to push back against the bark eaters (SEE “Swimming to Cambodia”). Otherwise, they’re only encouraged to assume other white people implicitly agree with their bigotry. They need to be told otherwise. Not to change the composition of their heart. That’s their personal problem.

    On the matter of being a New Orleanian … you may not have heard, but I have proclaimed that anyone who lived here prior to the federal flood (or whatever you want to call it) and somehow managed to make it back here to live is henceforth considered a naturalized (or un-naturalized, if you prefer) New Orleanian.

    Those good people who have moved here since Katrina can count themselves in, too.

    And everyone who grew up here and can’t make it back, if they still want to be New Orleanians, they are.

    So says I.

    I was also born and raised in the Midwest in what is known as Chicagoland. MLK famously called Chicago the most racist city in America. The interstate highway system was designed to separate black and white neighborhoods in Chicago, for example. The Chicago police murdered black nationalists in Chicago. I could go on and on.

    I recall going to a wedding reception to a friend from college (Illinois State University) and sitting at a table with several of his apparent friends I had never met. All white. Awkward silence was broken by some schmuck telling a racist joke. It was the last thing I wanted to do but I told the guy the joke was offensive and insulting and stupid. He was kind of sheepish about it, but damn.

    I also recall an incident at a Wal-Mart parking lot in Mississippi when I was in grad school there. An old white woman saw Dedra and I, a biracial couple, and loudly declared, “You know what a good Yankee is?”

    “No, what’s a good Yankee?” her friend said.

    “A good Yankee is one who comes down South and marries a nigger and takes her back up North with him?”

    Racism is racism, though there are different brands. I’ll give y’all that. Some sell better than others, I suppose.

    By the way, I told that old white woman to kiss my ass. It wasn’t the best comeback but I had to say something. I still do. And I appreciate that you pushed back, too, Bart.

  11. David David

    Bart, your inexperience is all too common when interacting with white locals. In my experience, getting to know long-term local honkies has usually meant some inevitable exposure to home-grown racism. I remember one co-worker objecting to naming the airport after Louis Armstrong. Jesus Christ! He happens to be as significant an American artist as there is. It reminds me when Jesus said a prophet is never appreciated in his home town.

    The fact is the indigenous white population’s inability to come to terms with their racism (let alone take responsibility and rectify it) is at the core of this city’s long decline since the civil war. It’s created a culture in which the monied, enfranchised half of the population has actively oppressed the other half. I believe that, as much as anything, has facilitated the relentless corruption that has crippled this city. Ironically, African American culture has made the greatest contribution to the city’s culture and lore. Indeed, that contribution is almost universally admired over the entire planet.

  12. David David

    “This American Life” often has a contributor called Dishwasher Pete. He recently wrote a book about his quest to work as a dishwasher in all 50 states. NPR interviewed him about the book, and he mentioned that in New Orleans restaurants blacks are dishwashers and kitchen help while whites work in the front. The next time you’re in a restaurant take a look; nine times out of ten that’s exactly what you’ll see.

  13. Marion Marion

    Growing up in the South is like being raised by an alcoholic parent or drug abusing uncle. Things can being going smoothly then all of a sudden you walk in the house to anger, pain, confusion and fear. We try not to wake that sleeping drunk while it sleeps. Katrina woke up a lot of sleeping drunks.

  14. […] This post over at B. Rox is such an indicator. I encourage everyone to read it because it is is such a pristine and well written example of how cultures clash here in New Orleans. […]

  15. MAD MAD

    I have lived in NO all of my life (61 years) and never had that attitude. Sure, I’ve seen it and heard from others, but not from people with whom I choose to associate. Such racism still lingers but it is far less pervasive now than it was back then. People are slowly changing, though troglodytes still walk among us.

  16. When I moved to Louisiana in 1965 at age 13 I was considered an expert on race since I had attended integrated schools. As a child (tween?) I had Negro friends over to the house. I met them through a summer league baseball team we all played on. As an even younger child I once asked my grandmother what a “nigger” was.

    I now think my father manipulated the league or the tryouts to put me on an integrated team. If that is true I am grateful to him.

    I’m still amazed at the racial attitudes I encounter here.

    More than ten years ago I had some Mississippi business associates refer to an black contractor as a “house nigger”, they promptly assured me they “meant it in a nice way”. That helped a lot.

    Recently I have spoken to more than one well educated Caucasian who believes the road Home is being directed to Blacks and that Blacks are helping each other manipulate Federal Programs to their advantage.

    There is however blame to go around. African American politicians routinely run two campaigns which never touch. One on “urban radio” and the other in “The Mainstream Media”. No one ever compares the two or reports on the other “campaign”.

    It reminds me of the Palestinians who give one speech in English and an entirely opposite speech in Arabic.

  17. It reminds me of the translation of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamous “wipe Israel off the map”. Supposedly he’s quoting the late Ayatollah who said that the Jewish domination of Jerusalem should be wiped out. A big difference, but the spin has been put on the words. Wars start over words.
    There have been some interesting comments on racism and class made by Jeffrey (gloomy yellow blog) and Mark at Wet Bank.

  18. Andy Andy


    First of all, as a life-long native of New Orleans, born and reared in Orleans Parish proper, I’m on the fence as to how I classify people in your situation. You certainly have the passion of New Orleans, which is great, but your comments regarding Birthday Girl reflect that you still are missing a big part of the picture. While you can never be a “Native New Orlenian,” just as if I were to move to Bloomington, I could not be considered a “Cutter”, you certainly can be a New Orlenian.

    What you and and your Blogger Buddies that likewise have not been born and reared in New Orleans fail to realize is that the matter of race is not so easy. Just as the African-American population often separates itself based on their “blackness” the white segment of New Orleans natives also do the same.

    On one hand, the white culture recognizes a “colored” population that has been living in unison with them for multiple generations. For instance, my childhood nanny started working for my parents when she was sixteen years old and had just had her first child, Clarence. She later had two other sons by different fathers, but over the years became such a part of our family that she possessed keys to our home, was on-hand for every family get-together and spent a number of holidays with us. She was loved by me and my siblings as a family member and that relationship grew as we grew. My parents also had a cook that we shared a similar relationship with, though she had no children.

    Over the course of my life, I have now burried Clarence and one of his brothers as well as burried our cook, giving her eulogy at the service. I have also visited our nanny multiple times in Charity Hospital and relocated her from apartment to apartment from time to time. Although she is too old now, after 30 years with my parents, she later started to take care of my children. This is a familiar story to many native New Orlenians.

    Unfortunately, there is another side of the African-American population that isn’t as pretty. There is the pack of young black children that pushed me off of my bike and stole it when I was 10. There is the black teenager that brazenly walked into my parents front door when my mother unloading groceries and took her purse. There is the black teenager that held a gun to my brother’s head at a stoplight as he stole his car. I could go on, by I think I have made my point.

    Did you notice that none of these incidents of crimes that I cited involved white criminals? Sorry Bart, the proof is in the pudding.

    This is where the attitudes come from and if you were reared in this environment, you too would feel the same way. Deny it all you want, but I know the truth. While you might have some friends in the colored category, you have as much disdain for the other group as I did. Look at yourself, you marched on City Hall and made a critical speech against our government leaders when you should have also criticized this disgusting animal segment of our society, but held back out of your liberal concern for being politically correct.

    I offer these remarks not as an excuse for these beliefs, but as an explanation of how comments like Birthday Girl’s come out. Hopefully you will understand this, though I have my doubts as you seem to refuse to accept the fact that certain portions of our black population (as well as some whites) do not deserve to live in New Orleans, much less in the United States, and that a large segment of our society celebrates the failures of the Road Home program for this criminal population. New Orleans in a better place for it, and hopefully one of these days when you’re not blinded by being p.c., you’ll acknowledge the same.

  19. Good for you for speaking up. dsb’s right: silence implies agreement.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a seemingly normal, benign conversation with someone here when suddenly they start whispering about “the blacks.” It’s really disturbing.

  20. I’ve Lived in New Orleans since Birth! (yay me)

    The Corruption will always no mater if we trust or dont trust the people who we vote in. They blame Nagin for everything. he came in to Mayor-dom within a Corrupt system already, Same as it it was when i was in Elementary School

    in 1994 it seemed like the most violent year in N.O History, over 400 murders alone. 10 years down the line, we had become not only the murder capitol but a crime Capitol as well. We’ve managed to live around this, Right? YEP!.

    Growing up in the St. Bernard projects wasn’t hard for me, Yet I’ve seen my fair share of Dead bodies, Big Guns and Illegal activity. but I had to live around it even after knowing of people that i had grown up with Dying or Murdering people themselves. Usually they’d been killed was because of something stupid, but it happens. Just because it happened around me doesn’t mean i’m apart of that crowd. I still had to live around this stuff

    i went to 3 schools in the 7th ward. I always thought they were good schools. The Kids in my time were born from The parents who were 60’s and 70’s babys, they were like the Rebels of the Old School (lol) . so when things got settled for them, they felt that it wasn’t necessary to teach the child to behave — it was more like “Be yourself, but if u get in trouble, we cant help you” .. which that passed down to the 80’s kids who took that to another level.. So basically.. this lead to loads of Kids dropping out of School only to later depend on everything the System has to offer.

    Eventually the Crimes get worse because of those conditions, the laws and policy’s aren’t being enforced enough and the people and their “F The World” attitudes” have created a Never Ending Cycle.

    Crime and Corruption will always be the case. all we can do is strive to make it better. and we cant even do that without someone being killed days later. shame but true.

    …. lol i think i just went way off subject

  21. An older friend, who has spent much of his life in New Orleans, says there are two kinds of black people; one group he considers people and the other “niggers.” According to him, the former group works hard to make a living, while “niggers” conduct criminal activity and are general miscreants who have no place in a civilized society, and the former hardworking group has been given the shaft by the Road Home program. There is truth to this if you replace “nigger” with “the bad in all of us.”

    My response: Why don’t we just refer to people as people, as good/normal and undesirable? The whole “normal like us” vs. nigger assumption lends itself to a growing and dangerous assumption that non-blacks are inherently better to a community, are incapable of crime and civic inaction and therefore not a part of the problem. (What about the out-of-work Aryan nation punks who harassed a Sikh store-owner friend in the Quarter a few months ago? Oh, they’re just a bunch of kids, right?)

    The point I’m trying to make is that New Orleans is predominantly black and has black people in all walks of life (in fact, this is the first city in which I had a black dentist and black mayor and, conversely, have seen so much black poverty — it reminds me of India). Why say that the city is going down the tubes because the blacks are coming back, while not simply stating that the criminal element has made its way back?

    Another thing the same friend said, “Oh, whites are capable of the same crime and corruption as in New Orleans. They just have their paperwork in order.” Meaning we as a society are more apt to pardon white crime than we are black crime, because we’re so busy identifying with race while ignoring humanity.

    So, Andy, do you know why Bart didn’t criticize the “animal segment” in his speech? It’s because he took ownership of the problem, instead of blaming everyone outside him including the dog, weather and price of tea in China. He said, “I think we all feel a sense of shame — or we should — because this murderous violent society is our society.” That’s really being a New Orleanian. Try it some time.

  22. Andy Andy


    It is of little surprise to me that a woman from Kuwait would have no idea what I was talking about. Bart’s a big boy. Why don’t you let him explain his position on his own.

    I’ve been reading his blog long enough to know that Bart’s the kind of guy that spends a little bit of time every day wondering if there isn’t something to this good black/bad black society. My guess is that XY’s students and a few of his neighbors and friends that keep him from straying to far to seeing things in a different light. It’s just a matter of time. I remind you both of Bart’s comments in connection with the young African-American project resident who gunned down a playground foe with a gun supplied by his mother. Please explain this one. YOu take ownership of this one, because he’s not in my camp.

    Wait!!! I know, this is where you all tyically start blaming the wealthy white society folks for all the problems that they City has. Please set me straitght, I need a good laugh this afternoon.

  23. Andy seems to be saying that the racism of New Orleans whites is borne of experience. That white New Orleanians have accepted blacks who live “in unison” with them, and that they correctly consider the black criminal element as a threat, after seeing “the proof in the pudding” year after year after year.

    Here’s a query for Andy, the New Orleans native: when precisely did this bifurcation of racial attitudes occur on a widespread basis? Surely it is not always the case that whites have felt this way here. The vicious segregation fights from Plessy up until the early seventies, were about ALL blacks not just those who were criminals and other ne’erdowells who couldn’t live in “unison”. It was a matter of ingrained racist beliefs for generation after generation. It might’ve been a more “sophisticated” and “nuanced” racist rationale than other places in the U.S., but, is that such a thing to be proud of? Sure, New Orleanians liked their black friends… etc… but not when it meant school integration or changes in city leadership. There was immense resistance to these things PRIOR to any experiential basis for such resistant attitudes, in the late sixties and continuing through the Landrieu and Morial administrations, for example. Right? (I wasn’t here then.)

    The wealthy white society folks aren’t to blame for all the city’s problems, but they deserve to get their share.

  24. Andy Andy


    Stick with politics. You’re blog about obscure Russians is much more interesting. You’re absolutely wrong about whites not feeling about the 2 black societies for a long time. This bifurcation goes back to the plantation times. THe “House Ni**$%#” were the more civilized group that had a closer relationship with the owners and the filed hands were the rougher of the two groups. We also have the added clash between the creole blacks and the African blacks.

    I have no problem with black people, as long as they work to support themselves and their families so as to not need 100% of public support, they don’t steal, and their children attend school in a civilized manner. I don’t think this is asking too much of them.

  25. Whether blacks of any type are responsible for their actions is not relevant to what the fella was trying to say in his post. The post was addressing whites’ racism towards blacks and how entrenched it is in society here. And he intended (as far as I can tell) to point out how blatant it is when someone thinks they are in the clear from being judged by it. So he decided to let Cosmo Lady know she wasn’t, then she made the point that she had every right to think that way because she was born and raised here and lived here her whole life.

    The post didn’t address nor did I think it intended to address whether blacks deserved that judgment or not.

    But if that’s the argument it has become, let me tell you. They don’t.

    The city is dependent on its African American population and has been for two centuries. Without them, no New Orleans. No tourism, no hospitality, no service, no post office, no clerical, no nursing, no sewage and water, no Entergy, no nothing. They are the heart and soul of the city. I’d like to see Cosmo Lady’s Lakeview ass carry a Sousaphone or bang on a snare drum in a second-line.

    A large population of criminals in New Orleans are black. But a large population of people in New Orleans are black. So the fact that you have witnessed crimes perpetrated by blacks isn’t much of an argument as to their worth as individuals. When you phrase the argument in terms of good black/ bad black it just sounds all wrong whether you intend it to or not.

    I know what you are trying to say though. You look around and see successful, educated, morally-sound members of the black community and you see some who aren’t so much.

    I’ll tell you why people don’t address the problem. It’s not because of political correctness. It’s because racial harmony in New Orleans has been deteriorated to such a point that nothing that comes out of any one race’s mouth in regards to the other race is so shrouded in misconception and pre-conceived notions on the part of the receiver (weather he or she be black or white) that it would just never work. People hear what they want to hear.

    There are so many black and white folks who have such a a grounded view of racial equality in regards to their fellow blacks and whites. Ive heard blacks complain to me about black criminals in New Orleans and I have heard white folks complain about racism.

    The great shame that should be visited upon white people who spout shit in bars is akin to others who blatantly live on government assistance. They are both fucking everything up for the rest of us.

    So this lady is lamenting folks’ return out one side of her mouth and plotting her exit out the other. And in the by-and-by she’s doing her own little part to make it worse.

    And as for the wealthy society folks, I won’t blame them. But they don’t impress me much either. They simply fiddle while Rome burns.

  26. Andy, I’ve probably forgotten more about so called “race” issue than you’ll ever know, as you collect experiences that reinforce the “pudding” in your head.

    The bifurcation I was referring to was based on your description of the black folks you loved and were close to. If you see it as an extension of the hideous “house/field” brand of racist theory, then obviously I was being far too charitable. I thought you viewed some black folks as equally you would other whites, and others as thugs and criminals. (You break this down by “race”, not class in your mind, for reasons unexplained.)

    What I was getting at is that if many New Orleans share this “dual” perspective (some blacks are great while others are welftards or criminals), it doesn’t explain the viciousness of the segregation fight that grouped all blacks (even octaroons and “one droppers” who couldn’t “pass”) as “lesser”, before they even had an opportunity to go to integrated school or to hold public office. Precisely when did this view as blacks– even the “good” ones– being not cut out for integration evolve into your view that blacks are perfectly okay and equal, as long as they work hard, don’t steal… etc?

    What I’m saying is: If you were born and bred in New Orleans a long time ago, I don’t think you were naturally endowed with the view you currently have, Andy (which you seem to indicate is based on lifelong experience). I think earlier generations of New Orleans had something much less egalitarian in mind than what you say you believe. Their view wasn’t: I don’t have any problems with some blacks. It was: I don’t have any problems with some blacks as long as our roles and relations– however friendly– don’t radically change.

    Yeah “race” is a complicated (non) issue. But– generally speaking– I don’t believe the nuanced and complicated view you subscribe to, and which you say you need to be a native New Orleanian to appreciate, holds the same set of core assumptions about black folks that previous generations of native New Orleanians held. Yes, it might be “bifurcated” but it was based on racist assumptions about roles. Yours is “bifurcated” but with (allegedly) meritocratic assumptions (though you still feel the need to categorize by “race”. So, my earlier query that you did not answer was: if you believe there has been an “evolution” from largely racist to largely meritocratic assumptions among New Orleanians like yourself, Andy, precisely when did the lion’s share of change occur?

  27. David David

    Consider Andy’s description of the relationship between his family, an obviously well-to-do local white family, and his childhood nanny, who began employment with them as a child herself. For this woman, what began as a common job for a teenager (babysitting) grew into a life-long career that spanned generations of Andy’s family. In short, she was worked until she simply could not work any longer. Typically, the terms of employment for such domestic help are dubious. Employees are fortunate to receive minimum wage; employers don’t pay FICA, unemployment insurance or health coverage. And for such employees like this single mother, receiving an ethical, living wage is unheard of. The details of Andy’s story bear out that his “beloved” childhood nanny was employed under such desperate terms. That is, for healthcare she was forced to resort to Charity Hospital, and she was unable to achieve any housing stability of her own but was forced to shuffle from one apartment to another. These are the tragic facts of how the local privileged population exploits the disenfranchised, absent Andy’s nostalgic rose-colored glasses. Or as Andy himself said, “This is a familiar story to many native New Orle[a]nians.”

    But there’s more to be derived from Andy’s story than “just the facts.” It also offers a window into the mindset of local bigotry. Notice that Andy felt compelled to point out that his “beloved” nanny had children from multiple fathers. The detail isn’t germane to his point at all; rather, he’s subtly invoking the idea that her children were bastards. However with divorce the norm in our society, the idea of the traditional nuclear family is an anathema. It’s entirely common to have families comprised of children as well as step- and half-siblings, and in any company, it would be considered terribly rude to harp on such details. Yet, Andy doesn’t feel compelled to grant his “beloved” nanny such courtesy.

    But that ugliness is rather minor compared to the broader point that Andy was trying to make. Andy set out to describe two kinds of relationships local white people have with local blacks. And the relationship I examined, replete with its exploitation and bigotry, was brought up as the positive relationship, not the negative one. What Andy calls blacks’ “living in unison” is, in fact, living in a state of economic and social subjugation.

    This is exactly what I meant when I said that, given enough time, most white locals launch into their own racist comments. And by the way, I am a local. It is futile for the local white community to complain about the problems within the black community. If the local white community is serious about addressing our society’s schism along racial lines, we should start by asking ourselves as a community what we have contributed to this problem and then humbly start to rectify the inequities African-Americans have experienced for over four centuries. We should start by empathizing with our black neighbors, something I learned when I had the good fortune of being married to someone who was not a local.

  28. “Andy, I’ve probably forgotten more about so called “race” issue than you’ll ever know, as you collect experiences that reinforce the “pudding” in your head.”

    OH SNAP!

  29. “The city is dependent on its African American population and has been for two centuries. Without them, no New Orleans. No tourism, no hospitality, no service, no post office, no clerical, no nursing, no sewage and water, no Entergy, no nothing. They are the heart and soul of the city. I’d like to see Cosmo Lady’s Lakeview ass carry a Sousaphone or bang on a snare drum in a second-line.”

    As a non-New Orleanian, geographically speaking, I think Varg may be onto to something, non?

  30. Frank S. Frank S.

    I was born here, moved to nearby Biloxi when I was seven and returned here ten years ago to make this city my home again. For the rest of my life. Anyone who makes this city their home [either in body or spirit] is a New Orleanian. Anyone who tells you differently is an ass.

    Racism? There is only one solution–don’t except it in yourself and don’t encourage it in others. That goes for sexism and class-ism as well.

  31. Please omit any further consideration of my comments, because David said everything I wanted to say and more– much more eloquently.

    For the record, though, I was pissed and in a rush when I penned earlier comments. I was trying to use a Socratic argument with Andy, and show that even while granting all his assumptions and using the most charitable interpretation of what he said, he was still making logical errors in his chain of reasoning, as it were.

    Anyway, I’m glad and grateful David came along to comment. Thank you.

  32. David,
    Very good analysis.

    Growing up in East Texas and in Memphis, anyone who lived north, or west of us was a Yankee. You from California? You’re a Yankee. You from Idaho? You’re a Yankee. BTW Floridians were Yankees too. Go figure.
    For many Southerners, y’all couldn’t really be too serious about racism because you didn’t have enough of the “wrong” people around you to hate.

  33. Anthony Anthony

    I had a saying that I used upon returning to New Orleans in Nov. 2005 after my evacu-cation. “May my good neighbors come back and my bad neighbors stay away.”

    I am going to go out on a limb here and provide at least some defense to that birthday girl’s comments. I suspect it had less to do about race and more to do with class. But here in New Orleans class and race are tied together in ways they wouldn’t be in Idaho where we would be complaining about meth addicts and white trash welfare queens.

    At any rate it’s becoming clear that our bad neighbors aren’t staying away. The rising murder rate tells that story with alarming regularity. And my fervent wish that folks who have built themselves a life of dependency would become self reliant in their exile from the city is being dashed as well.

    How great it would be if, after having been provided FEMA housing for 2 years, folks who were in other places, had worked and saved their money and came back to New Orleans determined to rebuild a flooded house with their own money and own hands. How great it would be if we could close those government funded ghettos that have destroyed our historic neighborhoods, the large scale housing projects, because the former tenants were determined to provide for themselves, take the jobs that are now going unfilled and save to buy a place of their own. How great it would be if the folks I see loitering on the street corner cared enough about the condition of their neighborhood to help their neighbors gut their houses or at least pick up the trash on the street? How wonderful it would be for the folks to take the lessons of Sept. 2005 that being dependent upon someone for your safety is perhaps not the best course of action and became determined to be self reliant, contributing to the recovery instead of standing back and watching it happen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people came back to New Orleans with the best ideas from the places they were in exile instead of slipping back into a mode of thinking that it’s all someone else’s problem.

    But they didn’t… and folks sit around the big housing projects all day while other people do the work, as if the businesses in this town didn’t have trouble finding employees. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans had approx. 35% of the working age population out of the work force. Not unemployed, because that implies that someone was looking for a job and receiving unemployment. Out of the workforce. And it is frustrating to see that population return to the city at a point when we all need to do the things necessary to rebuild this city so it can survive another 300 years.

    I’m almost certain that this the complaint and not some overarching complaint against black folks. But against the persistent underclass that contributes very little to this city.

    Two more things.

    Bart- As a native New Orleanian I consider you a New Orleanian. In some respects you are more than most. The psychological distance that the imports bring to the city is good for us. Many of the people i love best here are from somewhere else because they moved here for love of the place rather than stayed here because of our very own version of the myth of Persephone. You are New Orleanian enough for me.

    Two. As a native New Orleanian I am deeply offended at the notion running through several of these posts that our culture begins and ends with the things black folks have done. There were black folks all over the place and they never ended up creating what we in New Orleans have done. It’s everything. French, Spanish, Irish, German, African, Haitian, Italian that brought the culture to the place it is now and if we never had another second line we would still be New Orleans.

  34. DSB,
    You mentioned MLK’s statement about racism in Chicago. Daley’s machine was one of the most durable in the country. 50+ years, I believe. The only other machine that matches that longevity is Albany, NY. We live in the burbs of Albany unfortunately. Both Democratic machines, both very racist.
    The big difference is that Chicago is a major city. Albany is not. Chicago’s southside produced some classic music. Albany’s south end produced mayhem. It has been essentially obliterated.
    David says it very well and succinctly.

  35. bullet bullet

    It is my firm belief that the established black powers in this city actively work against the best interests of the lower class blacks. Why else would the black school board members not rest until they ousted the first competent superintendent that we had seen in a long time? Why else would they keep lowering standards until a diploma from the New Orleans public school system is worth less than the actual paper? An educated, informed black population would not put up with their shenanigans. An educated black population would recognize that Dollar Bill is not their brother, that the money he steals is theirs, that he does not deserve to “get his” simply because he’s black.

    And so the black politicians pit black against white every time. They keep the people ignorant and poor, blaming whites at every turn. They seek to drive a wedge between the races so that they will never get together long enough to throw their bum asses out. And whites are MORE than happy to oblige. They send their kids to white schools. They move to Jefferson or St. Tammany Parish. Then they turn around and blame everything on the niggers. And it keeps going.

    I have seen black individuals in the private sector taking ridiculous advantage of undereducated black customers. I have seen a privileged black kid take a minority scholarship away from a public school kid and feel he deserved it. I have seen well-to-do black people pity themselves and curse the predjudice they must live with and then turn around and treat the underclass with the same predjudice. The black upper class is selling out the black lower class and has been for ages.

    To those who would argue with me, I ask you this: Who controls the city? We have a black Mayor, a black City Council President presiding over a mostly blck City Council, a black Police Chief, a black District Attorney, a mostly black school board, mostly black judges, etc, etc. Where does the white influence come in? Where does the racism enter the picture?

    There is no excuse for outright hatred of a person simply because of the color of his skin. But I think the frustration with being blamed and held responsible for a system of self-perpetuating subjugation and victimization is understandable.

  36. This is a hell of an exchange going. 41 Comments (42 as soon as I hit submit).

    As a native, I think that anyone who lives in the city AND PUTS DOWN ROOTS is a New Orleanian. A Tulane Trustifarian who leaves when they graduate isn’t a true New Orleanian. You definitely qualify as a New Orleanian.

    Varg’s comment about New Orleans being built on the backs of blacks doesn’t hold to scrutiny. Remember, Louis Armstrong was handed his first trumpet by a Jewish Merchant named Karnofsky. Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Dr. John and Little Richard collaborated closely with Cosimo Matassa (Italian) to produce R&B and “The New Orleans Sound.” How many Irish died building the navigation canals? Also, there was this white boy by the name of Albert Baldwin Wood that all below-sea-levelers are indebted to.

    The key to the gumbo is in the mix, not any one ingredient.

    Anyway, keep it coming, this is making for great reading!

  37. David David

    bullet, I think your point about the upper class’ willingness to take advantage of a lower class, regardless of race, is a valid one.

    However, your application of this idea to local politics is off base. It’s not the black vote that got Jefferson re-elected; it’s his white, conservative constituents in Jefferson Parish, following Harry Lee’s lead. Similarly, it’s not the black vote that got Nagin re-elected; it’s the moneyed, white conservatives following Republican Ron Couhig’s lead.

    Back when I was an unintentional-bigot conservative, I would look to public figures like Marion Barry and draw conclusions similar to yours. But good Christ, the white vote has put and kept George W Bush in power. I find the white electorate far more likely than blacks to put their votes toward short-sighted, corrupt ends.


    William Jefferson’s 2nd congressional district appears to be gerrymandered according to this image from his congressional website

    This was the 2006 election results

    remember Harry Lee’s vehement endorsement of Jefferson as a result of his bias against Karen Carter? That might have been what handed Jefferson the election

    a low voter turnout contributed as well

    yes this is definitely off on a tangent based on the previous post’s comments

  39. Anthony Anthony

    This reminds me of the current story of Sherman Copelin. For those who don’t remember when Sherman ran for Mayor in the 90s. His campaign signs read ‘Fighting Them for Us”. which was generally understood to mean Fighting white people for black people. During those days Sherman’s afro sat like two little powder puffs on top of his head and while he was ostensibly the State Rep for the lower 9th ward, it was understood by most everyone that he actually lived in a very swanky neighborhood in New Orleans East.

    Fast forward to 2006 when I am at one of the endless city meetings immediately after the storm. And Sherman stands up and introduces himself as the president of the Eastover homeowners association, looking very sharp. And as 2006 progressed he went on the record saying that New Orleans East had too many Section 8 apartments. Now what “Them” is he now fighting for Us.

  40. Frank Schiavo Frank Schiavo

    I hate it, but the only solution I can see to combating racism is, beside the one I said up there somewhere, is to fight it daily, in yourself & others. Treat it like an addiction. It is easy to blame others, see differences, be afraid of the unfamiliar or not think past the stereotypes to see individuals [just like it is easy to take that drink, hit that needle or any other addiction]. Wallow in that sh*t. Racism takes work to stop in each of us. It doesn’t stop one day and is all gone. Sorry folks. It is an ongoing process, one day/person/meeting at a time. Anyone, regardless of color, can be a bigot. Just like anyone can hate, be afraid, be lazy or need a reason to make themselves seem better or take from another person.

  41. Tony Tony

    This is all a good exchange of ideas and opinions. I’m amazed at some of what I’ve read especially something about an African-American house servant in some earlier post. David’s comments in contrast are quite spot on and succintly stated.

    I left New Orleans quite recently to pursue a career opportunity but inadvertently also to take a step back from New Orleans for a little while. The cauldron of bad vibes, unrest, and political knavery instilled in me a dread about the city I love. This mixed gumbo of comments about racism and class is a prime example of the chaotic drivel that drove me out of New Orleans in the first place. Racism is evil pure and simple. There is no justification for it. I don’t care how long you’ve lived in New Orleans.

  42. This is a very interesting subject and I am amazed at the civility that has characterized these comments. I’m going to try to carefully choose my words and hope that I am not misunderstood.
    I do agree that racism is rampant in New Orleans and I try to see both sides of the issue but as a white person growing up in the city and living there for 29 years I have repeatedly been subjected to racism because I am white. It happens all the time at food establishments, grocery stores, clothing stores, sporting events, you name it. It was the worst when I lived on the West Bank. Several years ago I worked with a guy who grew up in the Bronx. He was the same age as me, I’m now 35 and was 28 at the time, and we would all agree that the Bronx has a fairly broad racial mix. He told me that after living in New Orleans for several years he had become a racist. I asked him why and his response was “The black people here are different. They seem to really hate white people and have some sense of entitlement. A thing that really bothers me is that they all seem to think it’s OK.” I have to agree with him. I have never been treated this way in other places in the country.
    I agree that it’s wrong but I also agree that black political and community leaders tend to use it to advance their own agendas and it’s never acknowledged by the local media. People are quick to place blame when white people are being racist nut never when black people are acting the same way and in New Orleans it’s accepted because if you speak out against you are suddenly branded a racist. A prime example is when Eddie Jordan became the District Attorney and fired a mostly white staff and replaced them with a mostly white staff. He was later found guilty of dismissing those employees without cause be he was never branded a racist. He also aggressively pursued Edwin Edwards, who we all agree was guilty, but never went after Cleo Fields who was just as guilty. There was no outcry from the community. These are just a few examples of how racism is allowed to happen in the open in New Orleans and until people of all races are condemned for it, it is unlikely that it will stop.

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