The Bywater: Not so Black and White

Texture of the Bywater

One of the glass-is-half-full things about being homeless* is that we get to live in a lot of different neighborhoods. The week after next, we’re staying in the Bywater. Yesterday we walked down there from Canal Street to check it out.

My college boyfriend used to stay in the Bywater when we were students at Loyola. I was living in Gentilly and would make the drive from St. Cecilia to my Aunt Velma’s nearly every night. Velma was old, white and working class New Orleans. She warned me about the “coloreds.” She said I had to be careful.

But, yesterday, we walked up Royal Street busy with funky cafes, Ironworks and artist studios. I had to look up the term “gentrification” because I’m not exactly sure if that’s what’s happening to this neighborhood. Some parts have been cleaned up and artified. There’s still a lot of rough texture, though, abandoned buildings and senseless murders.

A lot of people that we meet encourage us to move to the Bywater when we get off the homeless boat. Many of these people are white, educated, professionals who came down here post Katrina to volunteer. They fell in love with the city and the neighborhood they were helping to rebuild and stayed. One woman told me that her windows are screwed shut. That she would love to open them during this fall weather, but she’s afraid. I wanted to tell her that we did just such a thing 20 years ago at an Uptown dinner party, and two kids came in with a gun and took our cash, our jewelry and our pecan pie. The fear can take you to horrible places.

As we walked up St. Claude Ave. after dark, I felt a little afraid. But what I felt more was a sense of freedom. There is nothing like walking through a neighborhood at night to make you feel alive. We passed some amazing locations for our film. People, mostly black people, were sitting out on their stoops, hanging around, enjoying the evening. (Here’s one difference between the blacks and the whites in New Orleans. Black people say “hello, how¬† you doin’?” to strangers passing by their doorstep. White people don’t.)

I’m thinking long and hard about the old fear these days. It’s not so black and white. It has something to do with freedom, but I can’t really work it out yet. It has something to do with responsibility. Since I’ve come home to New Orleans, I’ve met people of many races, many religions and of many classes. I have been treated fairly and respectfully by every one of them.

New Orleans is a lovely city without fear. But, beware that chilly side. It will seduce you too.

*Patrick has asked me to footnote any mention of our homelessness with the fact that we have been homeless by choice since July 23, 2008. It is a somewhat experimental lifestyle, one of the aims of which is to limit our impact on the environment.

4 Comments so far

  1. missmoo on November 11th, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

    Daneeta, I’ve been enjoying your posts. But please don’t stereotype white people, we say "Hey, how you doin’?" too. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about living here, that people say hello to each other, even if we have never seen them before and will never see them again. Maybe it’s because I’m from St. Bernard, where I find we still hold some of those Yat traditions? I don’t know. But just because there aren’t as many white people sitting on doorsteps (that does seem to have fallen out of favor in white communities), that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t say "hi".

    Thanks again for your posts.


  2. termite on November 11th, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    i find your posts to be very negative for some
    reason.

    i hope that’s just my imagination and i’m wrong.
    wouldn’t be the first time.


  3. micah2010 on November 11th, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

    PLEASE WRITE ABOUT AND JOIN THE OFFICIAL NAGIN RECALL. INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE AT http://www.myspace.com/flush_louisiana


  4. Daneeta Loretta (daneeta) on November 12th, 2008 @ 6:50 am

    Missmoo: I admit, I may have generalized a bit too much. In my experience since coming home, I have noticed that a large percentage of black people say "hello" in passing. A large percentage of white people don’t. Asians in general say hello. Mexican’s do not. Maybe it’s the neighborhoods we’re hanging in. St. Bernard is a whole other kettle of fish. My mom spent 18 years there with her 3rd husband. My sister still lives there with her family. I spent some time there. I’m still processing that.

    Termite: What specifically do you find negative about my posts? I try to call things like I see them.

    Micah: I will read your info, but I will tell you right now, the music turns me off at this hour in the morning.



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