Ras le bol

It’s funny how nearly every post on the New Orleans Metroblog for the past four weeks has generated comments that devolve into accusations of racism. And frankly, I think most of us are sick of it.

First of all, that’s exactly the sort of binary thinking that caused so many of New Orleans’ problems in the first place. You saw it most often at the Orleans Parish School Board, where the gut reaction of the predominantly black board was to oppose any mandates or even recommendations handed down from the state level (read: whitey). In public meetings, the white members of the board and the black members were constantly at odds over which direction was best for the school system; their inability to find some middle ground has resulted in a generation of public school students that can barely read and write.

Secondly, the banter about racism in the Metroblog comments seems often to come from folks who aren’t from New Orleans at all and who have no understanding of the city’s highly complex racial system. If you fit that bill, here’s a quick history lesson: prior to the Civil War, New Orleans had a vibrant, affluent community of free people of color. Some were slaves who had been freed by their former masters, others had bought their freedom (an option unique to Louisiana thanks to the Napoleonic Code), and still others had never been slaves at all. This community–much of which was considered Creole–was enlarged via the system of placage, by which wealthy, predominantly white landowners from the countryside would take Creole mistresses in New Orleans, set them up in homes, and have children by them. These children were considered free, too.

After the Civil War, Reconstructionists tried to reduce things back to black and white, but even to this day, the distinctions between black, white, and Creole remain. And although those distinctions appear to be drawn along lines of skin color, it’s really about class, kids. It should be no surprise that when Katrina hit, the Honores, the Glapions, the Morials–they were sitting high and dry in vacation homes, condos, and relatives’ spare rooms while the poor were being plucked from rooftops.

So, basically, for all of you who think this whole thing boils down to facile issues of race: you’re completely, utterly wrong. Now knock it off.

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