Friday, April 13, 2007

Race

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.

6 comments:

G Bitch said...

Can my kid go to your school?

LatinTeacher said...

How cool would that be? You wanna move to New Jersey? Although I think I am resigning on Monday. It will still be a great school when I am gone - doesn't have much to do with me personally. I just lucked out.

G Bitch said...

We are thisclose to moving to any place that's not TOO cold and can educate The Girl with some dignity.

Good luck post-resignation. Another school? State?

LatinTeacher said...

It is the absolute weirdest thing in the world to be resigning from this job that I love. I also have absolutely had my best year ever (I even coordinated some community service for the 6th grade and we raised over $2000 for children with cancer. But I commute close to 50 miles one way. I am exhausted when I get up and I am exhausted when I get home. My wife had two miscarriages this year, and we want to start a family. Before the second, I had planned on taking next year off. I guess I couldn't get that out of my head. She makes the money so I thought I would see what elsee I can do nearby. I applied for a job at a local college to be a "Technology Integrationist" and help professors use technology with their teaching. It's really close and seems right up my alley. If I don't get it, well, I get paid through August. Then I really start worrying.

Brian Bordelon said...

This is what I discovered when moving to New Orleans and meeting the families in the city: White people spend an inordinate amount of their income to make sure their kids go to a private school, to stay away from African-Americans. It is convenient to say the schools are not up to par, and yes, in this day and age in New Orleans they are not, but what do you expect when the money leaves the school? Do you think New Orleans Public Schools would be as horrible as they are if every white New Orleans resident was forced to go to public school? No, the money would pour in and problems would be solved.

It is the same with daily interaction. White folk will go to a dive on Rampart Street for lunch, surrounded by blacks, but won't look in the kitchen, or go behind the dumpster in the back and smoke one with the cook.

I was fortunate to grow up in Central Louisiana, and get a public education in high school that rivals any private school in New Orleans. Wish you could have enjoyed the same, you wouldn't have made this realization at age 36, but at 18. Oh well, stay warm. bb

LatinTeacher said...

I realized this long ago. Do you remember who my friends were from the school I taught at in New Orleans? It was the maintenance guys. There was a reason for that - they were nice and not stuck up New Orleans "blue blood" snobs. I have told you before, and I am proud to say it now, the best thing that ever happened to me was moving away from New Orleans. That doesn't mean I don't miss it, but I definitely have a better life here than I ever did there.
Here's my question, B: If you had kids, would you send them to the public schools in New Orleans?

Oh, yeah, don't forget the Homestead Exemption. That keeps a lot of money out of the schools, too.
I think we could easily identify a lot of the problems in New Orleans Public Schools. What can we (and are we willing to) do to help solve them?