I work at a school that is very diverse. We appreciate each other for our differences (my difference is that I am from New Orleans which is considerably different than being from New Jersey). We have Hindus and Sikhs and Catholics and Jews and Muslims and Shintoists and Baptists and Methodists and blacks and whites and Hispanics and Korean and Chinese and Japanese and Indian and Filipino and many others. It is an interesting place, and it is made more interesting because the people are so different. Racism isn't much of a problem because we are more interested in understanding and learning. The kids at my school are actually pretty impressive.
My experiences in New Orleans are vastly different. The school at which I taught did not encourage diversity in background or race or cultural heritage for the most part. But it was a good place, and it fulfilled its mission. But there were few faces that were a different color. I don't know if that was economic or blatant racism, but my guess was that it was economic.
Blakely recently made a comment about race in New Orleans. No matter what people say or think, in New Orleans race is an issue. He is correct.
I watched the American Experience on PBS recently, and their contention was that in its origins New Orleans was a diverse, forward thinking city until the Civil War when the Americans came in and made it their business to enforce their view of the world. For good or for bad, I believe that this is the view that continues to pervade the white community in New Orleans.
Once I was old enough to go on my own, I went to Mardi Gras in Metairie or, if in New Orleans, Endymion in Mid-City. (When I was a little kid, we always went to Canal St. for Mardi Gras Day) When I finally went to college and saw how New Orleans Mardi Gras was as an adult, Metairie seemed weird and foreign because everyone was the same. New Orleans had character and color. It was weird to be with everyone that was just like you. That's not how the world operates.
However, racism, as it exists in New Orleans, is subversive and evil. It's not open. It happens behind closed doors and hides where money is made. It's in old line, blue blood organizations and in social aid and pleasure clubs. It's in daily interactions and in upbringing. There is contention, no matter how well each side tries to disguise it.
Blakely is not trying to candy coat what he sees. He is trying to fix a broken city and not just from Katrina. To fix something, I think, it's important to acknowledge the things that are wrong. If he ignores the observable facts, he is not being honest, and, therefore, he can't possibly do an effective job. Maybe he was not hired to fix New Orleans brand racism, but he cannot ignore it if he is going to do what he was hired to.
It hurts when someone points out your flaws, especially if you were raised to think you are flawless. I love New Orleans. It is my hometown, if not my home in name right now. New Orleans is pretty much what I think about all the time. It has flaws, and it is currently broken for numerous reasons, Katrina being the major issue. Maybe acknowledging that racism is the cause of at least a few of the problems isn't such a bad start. Then we can get to work on rebuilding it the right way - with fewer race issues and more economic and educational equality.
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