Summer is heating up

Yeah, I think every New Orleanian needs to read and reflect on this article. Go read it, or at least read the edited selections in the “extended entry” portion (highlights mine).

And when I say reflect, I mean reflect on what you individually could do to help diminish the racial/economic strife in the city. There’ll be a thousand opportunities later to blame it on the usual suspects or trot out your pet “root cause” theory or to ignore the subject entirely.

Rather than direct blame outwards, I’d love to hear about the productive things that can be done on an individual level to break down the divisions in our city. What has worked well for you in the recent past?

I’ll start: two weeks ago a couple friends (1 white like me, 1 black) became concerned about the imminent closure of William Frantz Elementary, especially as it related to the school’s important civil rights history. Now it’s an all-black school in the 9th ward. So we went to William Frantz and just struck up conversations about the school with any interested neighbor or parent who wanted to share a thought on the matter. Plenty did. I listened earnestly, and gained a whole host of insights that would have never occurred to me otherwise. A small crowd formed, and there was an excellent, impassioned discussion on the sidewalk outside the school. A teacher even brought her class outside to see what was going on, and we chatted with the 3rd graders about Ruby Bridges’ heroism at that school– nearly 50 years ago.

Not only did I learn a great deal, but I went an extra step outside my comfort zone that day, openly visiting with residents of a neighborhood I’d normally avoid, and doing much more listening than talking. It broke down some of my provincialisms and I’m better for it. And I’ll be inclined to do more of the same in the future.

Selections from an LA Times article:

The college student’s death five months ago [at Razoo’s] has become a flashpoint for New Orleans, plunging a city famous for its easygoing vibe into a painful period of introspection and antagonism.

In March, a jury found the city’s first black district attorney guilty of discrimination for firing 42 white employees and replacing them with blacks.

In April, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, an African American, said the ouster of schools Supt. Anthony Amato, a Latino, was a “lynching,” while offering, at least at first, a response to Jones’ death that many blacks called tepid.

Now, it seems that every piece of legislation that lands in City Hall becomes mired in race. When one city councilman recently proposed scrapping a rule requiring police officers to live in the city, the measure was seen by supporters as a way to make recruitment easier. But many blacks have condemned the plan, fearing that new recruits would be suburban whites.

Enmity and distrust have grown so deep that some white community activists trying to participate in a recent antiracism demonstration were ordered to leave by black activists.

“There has been a perfect storm that has ripped the cover off of race relations in New Orleans,” said the Rev. Anthony Mitchell, a Baptist pastor who is African American. “The people who control public discourse here don’t like to talk about it. It’s not good for business. But this is really two cities.”

With a tourism industry that generates about $5 billion a year in revenue, New Orleans bills itself as the quintessential melting pot, a city of uncommon diversity, where food, architecture and ethos trace their lineages to a bright spectrum of influences

10 Comments so far

  1. Craig (unregistered) on June 4th, 2005 @ 7:43 am

    Good article.

    As far as what to do on an individual basis, I think the best we can do is to simply be Out There on a daily basis. Your excursion to the school is a good example.

    Just last night, Kim and I took my daughter up the street to have a few drinks and shoot pool. We walk into The Exchange and the (small) crowd is about equally black and white. I put down a challenge to play the winner at one of the pool tables (two black guys were playing). I wind up playing one of them while by 21yo daughter winds up playing the other on a different table while a few more folks gather to watch. After about 20-30 minutes, there’s plenty of talking back and forth between the tables, lots of laughter and things wind up with handshakes and a few hugs all around, involving black, white, straight, gay, male and female. THAT’S diversity, and it begins at home.

    I know there is an undercurrent in New Orleans. I see it as being worse in Atlanta, where things have become more economically segregated. I think the best answer is found on an individual level, though I heartily applaud what the city is doing to address the issue.

  2. oyster (unregistered) on June 4th, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

    Atlanta used the slogan “the city that’s too busy to hate” while reinventing itself as a “New South” city.

    Should New Orleans’ should adopt something like it. Perhaps: “the bigger the party, the better.”

  3. Craig (unregistered) on June 4th, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

    Good suggestion.

  4. Kelly (unregistered) on June 7th, 2005 @ 9:24 am

    I think that the most important thing right now is that there is more open discussion. I’m beginning to see more local leaders address the issue of race in the city rather than ignore it. It’s going to be a long hot summer but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  5. emoticones (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 4:20 am

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