Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
quan·da·ry Pronunciation [kwon-duh-ree, -dree]
–noun, plural -ries. a state of perplexity or uncertainty, esp. as to what to do; dilemma
To get a visual orientation of where Metairie, LA, USA is in comparison with the city which is to the East and other areas I speak of in this blog, here's the link to a map: http://www.google.com/maps?q=Metairie,+La+70001&sa=X&oi=map&ct=title )
Twice now when I was in the town of Metairie LA, I have had a similar reactions concerning volunteering in New Orleans, from 2 different residents who are relatively (income related) well off, that concerns me. What concerns me? First, I feel what they are saying to me, others may also be feeling. I will have to wait and see what my experiences prove about this intuition. Secondly, I perceive racism. I perceive it to be very old and very ingrained in the local culture. I do not judge, I am only sharing what I perceive, see and hear. And I feel I must speak out and share what I am seeing.
The tombs in the pictures on my home page are from Metairie Lawn Cemetery. Now it may have been the custom for the wealthier New Orleanians of the past to bury their dead outside of the city, or this may have always been a wealthy area. There is "Old Metairie and Metairie." Whatever the history, just by driving through Metairie and then driving through the city of New Orleans especially Orleans Parish, you eyes will help your mind to note the very visible difference in income levels and opportunities for prosperity.
The first person I speak of owns 2 houses in Metairie, a house in Aspen CO, and drives a Porsche. The second, I have no idea of his living situation and so may only surmise. What I have observed is that he is familiar with the staff at the library, so I assume (dangerous ground! I will proceed with caution!) he is a local, he owns a house in the area (he told me), and whenever I have seen him he has his brief case with him.
The first person said to me when I shared about wanting to spend most of my time volunteering in the more visibly ravaged areas of New Orleans - "but I need help too!" The second person said to me "well my house was flooded are you going to come and help me?" Even though he was joking I felt the kernel of truth in what he was saying, I felt he was saying "why them and not me?" And I felt the first person, angrily saying the same thing. Why are "they" getting all the help? "I had to pull my self up and make something of my life…"
Note: (3/16/2007) It happened again. This time with someone I thought would have a deeper understanding and more compassion because of the suffering he has endured. He is from Palestine, lived in Jerusalem. He understands what it is like to be racially profiled. He shared with me his experiences of standing in checkpoints and what it was like to be singled out especially because "he was a Muslim man and his name was Mohammed." And he had started off the conversation sharing how he feels it is his moral duty to help the less fortunate than him.
But as I began to speak of the poor who were still suffering in many New Orleans Parishes (I was having breakfast/lunch whilst working on the pictures for the slideshow on this blog and he mentioned he saw the pictures and it was what prompted him to speak with me. He wanted to find out what I did for a living.) In response to what I said, he replied to to the best of my shocked recollection, "well the poor, well - I had to earn everything I have, I came here and I had nothing, I married a good woman and look at how successful my life is now". I could tell he was a good man, a well-intentioned man, yet it seemed to me that he too had succumbed to the racism that is like an unseen virus in the air here.
And this at the core of what troubles my heart. The 'they/them" of these conversations.
Who lives in the most visibly ravaged areas of New Orleans? For the most part, African American New Orleanians. And who are the ones who lived in the now abandoned projects? Primarily, African American New Orleanians.
And this is what profoundly bothers me.
Forgive me, even before I begin, for I have never been to New Orleans before this February and can only share my perceptions as an outsider. My only claim that may give me a "right" to speak about what I perceive to be witnessing, is a heart which is so fully engaged and open to New Orleans and its inhabitants.
Whatever I write on this blog are my perceptions and they are very difficult subjects to speak on. I don't know what is "P.C." "Politically Correct" - I only know what my heart sees and hears, and can only speak from this uneducated, and perhaps to some, politically and/or incorrect place.
Here are the concerns of my heart relating to these conversations and the sites I have seen in the city:
1. The implication that the "poor" "the African American New Orleanians" not said, but implied - are lazy, didn't earn the help they get, didn't work as hard as these people have and that is why they are poor. And as such, in some way, "they" do not deserve all the "help" that is flooding in.
Here is the dilemma. I can understand that everyone here has been affected by Katrina. But there is a difference between losing a source of income, having trouble with getting your insurance claim fulfilled and having to dip into your 401k or even the only savings you have, or having to take on a second job or a loan to de-mold and gut your house. It is a valid hardship that I can only surmise on.
Yet there is a difference, and here is a 'quandary' as the pictures will show, between a change in your financial position, standing or equity in your house, and losing everything, especially, when you may have had so little before. There is a difference between living in Metairie or Kenner or even the nicer neighborhoods in the city of New Orleans and living in the midst of abandoned houses on streets - on whole blocks - where the houses are destroyed. Some not repaired at all, some have been bulldozed, some are being repaired. The difference is perceived in the unconscious and sometimes conscious, mind and the heart.
The schools are abandoned; the hospitals and infrastructures that supported the community are no longer or just recently coming into service. The National Guard is patrolling your neighborhood. Their is a significant difference between the lifestyles of the lower income families and the poor living in Post Katrina New Orleans and neighboring Parishes, and the mid to upper income families living in Post Katrina New Orleans. I think the exception to what I have seen is the Lakeview area where I have learned that many retired folks lived.
Yet I am inclined to wonder whether further analysis may prove once again a segregation of communities mostly based on income levels and/or racial makeup.
2. Shockingly, the implication that it is somehow unfair that the peoples in the Lower 9th Ward, Orleans Parish, the projects, the community of Desire, St. Bernard Parish and the list could go on with other Parishes and neighborhoods, are somehow "getting all this help".
My mind has difficulty grasping this concept.
Is it that many native New Orleanians have not really or recently driven outside of their normal environs in some time and have forgotten what it looks like in the still ravaged parts of the New Orleans area? I show the pictures I have taken in the coffee house and recognize the surprised looks in some of the faces of the people I am speaking with.
I feel that there is a level of disconnect in some ways, and I understand, everyone suffered from the effects of Katrina, many of their wounds are psychological if not physical, yet my soul cries out at the living conditions of many African American New Orleanians and the suffering they continue to endure.
And somehow, even though I was not here before Katrina, I know in my heart that the suffering of these communities has been ongoing for many generations and the storm "blew the cover" off of the hidden-insight-truth.
I look at many of these homes now, mere shells, destroyed, ravaged, and I perceive before the Katrina - stories of generations of families living together - making it, just making it, falling through the cracks. I see pride and despair. I see those trying to rise out of the grinding poverty and the "opportunity" how oddly put, brought forth by the ravages of the storm to get out, to start a new life, with new opportunities. I also see strong communities put asunder, I see generations of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents and parents, living together in community and now many of these communities have been destroyed.
What is the hardest to witness (and yet it is nothing compared to the level of suffering of having to live it) is how those who had to stay or wanted to stay or have come back to rebuild, live in communities where all is lost. Daily, what they see around them is destruction. The schools, the clinics, the stores – opportunities to buy to meet your needs and to have a job – are all gone in many of these communities, football fields and basketball courts in disarray, abandoned churches and community centers. One of the only tangible signs of hope for many is the single sounds of hammers at work.
Here now reader, is the crux of what I want to share with you most of all...
This is what I perceive as I travel through the lower income communities and the abandoned projects recording what I see and hear with a camera and my heart:
When I talk with the people I have met on the streets, when I drive through blocks and miles of ongoing suffering and destruction something so horrible comes to my heart and my consciousness, that it has taken me days to begin to even verbalize it, and first only to those I know and trust in the safety of our friendship – I believe some level of 'racial cleansing' is occurring here.
How can I say this horrible thing? How can I accuse I know not who - I don't believe their is a "master plan" - for I perceive it to be more of an underlying (shall I venture to say, 'political in nature' ) consciousness of "well the storm cleared out a previous problem for us and for now, we will just leave these buildings empty." I don't claim to understand the political public housing policies here or the political past concerning affordable and public housing. I can only wonder why so many buildings that offered affordable housing to the lowest income earners in the area "the working poor", have been left abandoned - blocks, miles - of affordable housing.
How can I say that I perceive at some level, some degree of social engineering may be taking place; perhaps a change in the makeup of the population of New Orleans? I don't have a college degree or the education to know this to be true.
All I have are my eyes and my heart. And my eyes - see the projects empty, see abandoned blocks and neighborhoods of homes - where I surmise the previous tenants were renters or their house was paid off (but they could not afford insurance, or were just making it, or had just bought their houses and had plans for the future, or they can not afford to rebuild), as well as those who were in poverty, undereducated with few opportunities for the future and perhaps they fell deeper into their despair by aligning with (or being genetically predisposed to) drug use, alcohol use, mental illness and/or getting into trouble with the law or solving their problems with gun use.
I see the majority of low income housing and housing for the income-less pretty much still in a state of devastation (except for the rebuilding projects of Habitat for Humanity, Common Ground, church, secular groups and some government projects). Yet, with all their noble efforts, there is still so much to do. So many homes and buildings that are untouched.
Dear reader, it is only when you drive around each of the areas can you fully comprehend who is really suffering and who had been suffering. And I have to ask, if most of the affordable housing isn't being rebuilt, and the projects haven't been gutted and repaired, then where are all the people who previously lived there? And what was the percentage of the population of African Americans who lived in these areas? I have been told by a social worker that it was @ 80%. So where are they?
And here is my other question – if you don't rebuild low income affordable and public housing, then "these" people – this is where I believe the core of racism is implied, won't come back, "because they can't afford to come back". They can't afford the hikes in housing due to the lack of available housing for all. And they cannot afford to come back to communities where the schols are still closed, the supermarkets - empty shells, the churches empty, and the playgrounds, full of rubble and weeds.
This is the quandary. I do understand, and have been told by those who were born and raised here that the projects especially, were dangerous places to live. And that the storm for some seem to provide a way out for them. I do understand that living there was hard on many families. I also understand that I am talking about people's homes, lives, and communities. And these homes and communities still stand torn and ravaged. And even if the people who once lived in these communities wanted to come back, public housing is limited at best, and affordable housing is even more limited – so isn't the implied message especially for the people who were the working poor or Section 8 recipients "you aren't welcome back?"
Again, I apologize to those whom I may offend in my writings upon speaking on matters as an uneducated, 'outsider'.
My only retort to them is that I speak from my heart. My soul knows only brotherhood and sisterhood with all who share this planet with me.
Peace and love.