Spirit of New Orleans

Months after Katrina, my opinion hasn't changed

Shortly after the Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I had an opinion piece all ready to go. On the day I was going to post it, President Bush gave a televised speech defining "exactly" what the government was going to do. His speech went against nearly everything in my post.

So now that we have seen just how "effective" government aid has been, let's try this again.

My mother's family comes from Louisiana and Tennessee. Back during the Cajun cooking craze, all the popular Cajun chefs sounded like many of my relatives, or at least tried to. I used to go back to Louisiana as a kid. As an adult and a Corporate Clone, I went there a few times for business.

New Orleans was into the tourism business. Much of what was passed off as "genuine New Orleans" was anything but, you had to look for the really interesting parts. The parts that weren't written up in the guidebooks. Sometimes you could see the desperation. Oh, not everyone and not everywhere. But it was always there, just around the corner and just bubbling up. It didn't take much to bring it up in a mess, much like a burst sewer pipe.

Yes, there was racism there. And mongrel mutt that I am, I still look "white." And that put me square on one side, whether I wanted to be there or not. Or even if I agreed with the side that I was supposed to be on. Racism has been called our national tragedy for good reason.

But now I am going to tell you about the New Orleans tragedy, the one that took place long before Katrina hit.

New Orleans is the city where racism was never allowed to heal.

New Orleans is the city where blacks were made a permanent underclass.

New Orleans was the model for American victimhood.

And New Orleans was always playing catch-up with other cities in the American South.

I can't exaggerate the billions of Federal dollars that were poured into Louisiana and New Orleans in an attempt to fix this or that social problem. Flood control. Education. Highways. Police. And literally dozens of other programs. All this taking place over years, decades. And all predicated on one simple assumption.

"The black people can't make it on their own."

"They have to have help. Lots and lots of help. Don't ask too many questions, just keep those checks coming."

New Orleans victimhood not only depended on racism, it reinforced it. Louisiana politicos got and kept power by telling blacks they would never amount to anything without help, no matter how hard they tried. Those politicos promised everything except accountability, and that is exactly what they delivered.

That is the dirty secret that no one wants to acknowledge.

There has been a lot of talk about how New Orleans is never going to be the same. All true.

But you know, Phoenix is not the same city today that it was in 1972. Denver has changed since 1987. Chicago is not the same as it was in 1926. Parts are the same, but parts are new.

Cities grow and change. At least the healthy ones do. As I look at all the devastation in New Orleans, I remember a section of San Francisco. One of the most picturesque cities in the nation, and this one part was under a freeway. All the views that were nearly everywhere else in the city, and this one bit was pretty much a cave, cut off from direct sunlight. Then an earthquake hit and the freeway collapsed. There was talk of rebuilding the freeway for a couple of months, but that is all it amounted to, talk. The surviving parts of the freeway were ripped out, and today that same section of San Francisco has become a showplace.

It takes people to make a city something other than a collection of buildings. It takes noise and smells and paint and traffic and a million and three things that people do when brought together in a small space. It's not controlled, it's organic.

Unless you want it to be an exhibit. Some recreation carefully repaired every night when the crowds go home. Something behind glass. Something that isn't supposed to live outside the hothouse.

Yes, many of the people who made New Orleans unique won't be coming back there to live. And we should be thankful for that.

You see, it happened once before. In the wake of the Jim Crow laws, people from New Orleans moved. They went to Chicago. They went to New York. They went to California. And this nation has never before or since seen the explosion of creativity and art that took place. We call it the Jazz Age now, and everything afterwards was different.

We need to stir new ideas into the mix. We need to look at old ideas from a new perspective. Most importantly, we need each other.

I don't know what New Orleans the city will become. But I welcome the spirit of the New Orleans that was. May it spice the America that will be.

— NeoWayland

Posted: Sun - January 29, 2006 at 08:11 PM  Tag

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