Sunday, July 1, 2007



New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has suggested that the slow recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina -- which has prevented many black former residents from returning -- is part of a plan to change the racial makeup and political leadership of his and other cities.

I have been wondering lately, "has my presence as a renter in the New Orleans neighborhood I am living in becoming part of the problem?"

The racial demographics pre-Katrina New Orleans clearly validates Mayor Ray Nagin's comment that New Orleans was a primarily "chocolate city" pre-Katrina. I wonder that New Orleans and its having one of the largest Black American cities in the United States, is not a celebrated fact, of our rich cultural history as a nation of diversity and multi-ethnicity.

(Note: I make this comment with the understanding that there is a negative side of this complex situation {and if I may comment further, as I have only been in New Orleans "a minute" by local standards}, I feel it would be that for many Black Americans, who have lived and live in New Orleans, this city has also been the source of the suffering of hundreds of thousands through generations, of failed social agendas coupled with covert political agendas, corruption, and racism.)

I love where I live. The neighborhood is called "The Black Pearl". I love it because of its heritage and that it is a primarily Black American neighborhood in an larger area where the population is primarily white and affluent. It feels "authentic" to me. 4 blocks up the street from me are outward signs of wealth beyond my comprehension. (No worries - I could not live with an easy conscience in such splendor when others around me are suffering in chronic poverty).

(Update: 7/10/07 - I was recently researching an article on the homicides in NOLA since the beginning of this year and came across the murder of Jealina Brown who was only 22 years old. She was murdered in the house across from my house on January 7 of this year. Recently people from the public defenders office have been investigating the facts of her death and asking the residents questions about the morning she was murdered. Unfortunately for the investigators, there has been a turnover since her murder in January and most of the new residents are Caucasian and not local).

The "authenticity" and "humanity" for me comes from my Black New Orleanian neighbors. Many have been here for years, I moved into their neighborhood and they have welcomed me with kindness. I understand that a few years ago this was a "bad" neighborhood with crack houses and crime. It seems to me that the neighborhood might be going through a gentrification - which I personally feel would be great as long as the neighborhood stays primarily a Black American neighborhood. (Hence my concern that I may inadvertently be part of the "problem").

(How did your Planetary Sister find an "affordable" studio in the $500-600 price range? Pure Cosmic Grace. After 2 months of stress-filled deadends in a tight rental market, I received guidance to place a "housing wanted" ad on Craigslist. My landlord to be answered my ad and I was able to stay in the area and continue my volunteer work).

When I drive and walk around, I see a pattern that seems to be prevalent throughout the city. As an area becomes gentrified and the population that was there gets pushed out, just a street away are many of the original neighbors who are either the working poor, elderly who have been there long before it was gentrified, or those living in chronic poverty. I know, you are probably thinking as you read this, "this happens everywhere, it is part of capitalism, part of 'forward movement'". And you are right, that is a true statement. AND what I see happening is that those people who have given New Orleans its "soul" (in this case I am not speaking of not Black American music), I am talking about a unique population of human beings whom seem to be of another place in time.

When I speak of "soul" I speak of a presentness, a showing up in the moment, a being with each other in community, that I have not witnessed in the many other places I have lived in the United States. And a "soul" which I feel is lacking in most middle class and especially affluent, White American neighborhoods, which I have had the privilege to live in or near, or spent time in, in my 48 years of existence on this planet.

(What do I mean by this? The Black American New Orleanians, I have met, for the most part (89%) lets say, are incredibly polite, generous, and kind people who I have ever had the pleasure to interact with. The Black American New Orleanians are are people who seem to me, to really care about the welfare of others. I often feel "privileged" to be in the predominately Black American neighborhoods and to witness the outward expressions of kindness and caring. After generations of being shut out by the wealthy predominately white population of New Orleans and those who sought to be racially segregated from the Black American population, (it used to be on deeds - "no selling of this house to colored people"), it would be easy for many to harbor resentments against White Americans in general and to want to keep them at arms length distance, at least when we who are visibly recognized as strangers, coming into their neighborhoods. I am aware of the crime problems here and am aware that at any moment, someone who has suffered far greater than I, might physically harm me when I am in the streets photographing and meeting residents. I am also aware there are others in the neighborhoods I go to, who are looking out for me. Sometimes it might be because they do not want to bring the police into their neighborhoods for their own nefarious reasons. For the most part, I would like to believe, and as I have witnessed, it is because the people of New Orleans really care.)

I look at the buildings I live in. My landlord owns 6 buildings on this block. This man, seems (I only have my intuition and a conversation to base this on) to have a genuine philanthropic interest in the peoples of New Orleans. And he has the right to decide how 6 of the homes in this neighborhood will be racially populated. 4 out of these homes (were) populated by white folks (I am one of them) 2 are black. (January of 08 the stats are now 5 white and 1 black). And it concerns me deeply. It may only be a projection but something in me feels like the racial makeup of the neighborhood is changing and I might be part of the problem. This was the racial composition of the Black Pearl area pre-Katrina.

Here is another thought, even if I am not part of a problem in this neighborhood, shouldn't there be a discussion on the greater problem occurring in New Orleans? The 'subtle' changing of the racial demographics - I can see it happening in real-time on the ground and it is disturbing.
(Reference: Welcome Back? and all of April 2007 postings). In my mind, when I drive by or have direct experience with this phenomenon, I find my mind dubbing it the "great social engineering experiment". The city of New Orleans is the lab and the residents, mostly those who are in the low-income, primarily Black American neighborhoods, are in the petri-dish.


Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta:

There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of america,

Stolen from africa, brought to america,

Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.

- Bob Marley

This area has a rich Black American cultural history. Just one of the many examples would be the The 9th Calvary "Buffalo Soldiers" who were activated in the 1800's up the street which was once called Greenville, LA and is now Audubon Park. The only remnant left of what was once a predominately Black American community. (The Black Pearl) (I am of course basing this on supposition and prejudices of the time. How else could an all Black American Calvary be called up in this area in 1866 unless it was a predominately Black American area? If I am wrong, please feel free to correct me on this point.) is a plaque dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Calvary. Otherwise this park is a beautiful and tranquil place for rest and exercise for a population that is predominately privileged, white, and affluent.

Here's the thing, I long for a reality that is not possible. As I walk around Audobon park yesterday for the first time, I thought of the people in the Upper and Lower 9th Wards, in the inner city, of Eastern Orleans, and a reoccurring thought kept coming to me, "why can't the people there also have an area like this?"

I know why. AND it can't stop my heart for longing for the impossible.


Interesting related articles I found whilst researching for this post:

History Archive of the Buffalo Soldiers

Buffalo Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes of the West

(Note: this article is one of the few articles I did find on the Buffalo Soldiers with any depth and poignancy. I would like to remark that for me, there is no glorious history of the West, there is only the slaughter and genocide of the Indian Americans).

Buffalo Soldier - Bob Marley (lyrics)

Community Planning Document

Honing in On Homes (Keep in mind when reading, that this article was written pre-Katrina)

Mayor Nagin suspects a plot to keep Blacks away

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