"First they came…" is a poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. wikipedia
It is my belief that what is happening in New Orleans is about "purging" and "ethnic cleansing". I have been writing and photographing the many ways in which this presents itself on the ground in New Orleans since my arrival February 2, 2007. It is so blatant that a newcomer such as myself to New Orleans, can spot it within the first month of coming to this very beautiful and very troubled city.
Here's the thing, being a member of the Caucasian race by default, (due to my genetic composition at birth), most Caucasian New Orleanians whom I have spoken with on this issue are not shy in telling me "how they wish the people who once lived in public housing 'good riddance'. Their hard heartedness and hate are intense. When I meet people who speak like this I will spend time in dialogue with them to find out where this level of hate for their fellow brothers and sisters comes from. I was talking to my (nationally owned company) delivery man, the other day after he gave me my package and we began a conversation about the city of New Orleans. He is from Metairie, a suburb of the city and for the most part racially composed of more white than black Americans. I guess you could safely classify the suburb as conservative and free market oriented.
When we first began discussing the merits of living in the city versus living in the suburbs, he actually looked at the back of my neighbor who was across the street, who had just driven up and had gotten out of his car to enter his house and said to me, "I wouldn't trust them people as far as I could throw em." Mentally and emotionally I staggered back at the emotional content of this statement as well as the statement itself. I replied, "I live in a very safe neighborhood considering this is a city. That is my neighbor and he is a nice man." "I don't care," he says, "I wouldn't trust him."
In that moment, he was basing this decision on as to whether to trust a man whom he has never met or not - by the color of his skin. I spent some time speaking with this man to understand where he comes from and what informs his thoughts. I found out he feels he is an 'average guy' with a $250k house he built himself, with a family and a baby on the way. A child who will be ironically brought into the world on December 10th, HUMAN RIGHTS DAY.
I am getting the sense that 'average' folks in the South, and elsewhere in the United States at the time of the civil rights movements, who didn't agree with integration and civil rights for Black Americans - who were not a part of groups that were openly racist - for all intents and purposes; "just shut up." For many, not all, (as I am generalizing), not talking about it was the PC (and culturally acceptable) way to be in relationship to what was happening to them at the time. And something did 'happen to them", via the civil rights movements and ensuing changes in legislation. Now these 'individuals' were being told by the government how to act and speak by their government and community regarding racism.
The civil rights movements didn't 'enlighten' a majority of these folks, nor did open their hearts to the plight of the Black American (nor the Native American who is still treated in my opinion as 'invisible' and 'with scorn'). And as my opinion, I believe that their children, my peers, carry the same cultural gene for racial discrimination and hate. It is a cultural disease that they are not aware that they have; whose symptoms seem to be socially and culturally acceptable within their own race and in some cases, these very same symptoms are encouraged pathocratically to proliferate.
In this neo-conservative political climate - brought about by a President who claimed he would "unite the country" as a "compassionate" politician - many Americans are freely espousing their particular 'hate' or 'contempt' for certain groups in this country as their right to free speech - especially fundamentalist religionist's who claim it is their 'right' to hate homosexuals as a religious freedom - these very same people and their children, are now freely exercising their First Amendment Rights to publicly verbalize their hate and despisement towards a group of people based solely on the color of their skin. And no law can change this. Only a paradigm shift can bring about the changes needed in the 'hearts' of those who hate.
I am shocked by vitriolic responses I have received in response to posts I have made on the Right to Return for New Orleans public housing residents. Their venomous hate is numbing and disturbing.
I have found in my informal studies of history and of people, that those who are not able to contain and reflect before acting on intense emotional energies, which sway in the direction of hate and intolerance; are the most easily manipulated by governments who seek complete control and dominance of their nations through subversive propaganda and blatant acts of government intolerance.
These individuals are the most easily manipulated through propaganda and government policies which seem to them to re-enforce and validate their emotional pathologies. Falsely believing that their government is now in power and that they themselves, are being redeemed from their feelings of powerlessness, a general sigh of relief is expounded as thoughts of "I will no longer be powerless against the things I cannot tolerate around me", fill the mind. I believe that such individuals and like minded groups, are under the illusion that they have a 'defender' in the current administration and that they can relax publicly and 'be themselves' again. No longer will they have to hide their racism and intolerance from others as the social stigma of such behaviors has been alleviated, (or is in the process of becoming alleviated), by those who are 'leading' the country.
There is another group of individuals who I have come to know as racist, who are racist within their race. In my naivete I never understood how one "could" be racist within their own race. I continue to learn and see how this form of racism manifests in New Orleans. Oddly my last confirmation of this behaviour and thinking came as I watched the WDSU news footage of civil rights lawyers Bill Quigley being arrested by a Black New Orleanian police officer. I could almost read the officers thoughts as I watched him literally have a emotional meltdown as he arrested Bill Quigley. And I perceived that for all intents and purposes, he felt that Bill Quigley was trying to bring back an element of his race that he did not want back in his city. It seemed to me as I watched the news footage that in that moment, this man could no longer contain himself emotionally. And I wondered if it came at the meeting of the past and the possiblities of a different future after a long history of witnessing the suffering and crime (via public housing), and the "opportunity" that was being promised by the removal of what he has come to believe to be the "problem."
I believe that there are the Black Americans in New Orleans who have successfully achieved the "American Dream" using the gifts of the best their abilities within a society that had to be forced through legislation and protests, to allow them to participate in a free nation. I also believe that their success (the American Dream) continues to be confined to the definition of what a successful Black American should look and be like, based on the conceptions of the race in power. I believe that many of these Black Americans have also realized that no matter what they do, their sons and daughters will still be at the mercy of a political system and power structure that enforces policies of random searches and pull overs on the highways for no more evidence of criminal wrongdoing then "driving while black".
Yet it seems to in this instance concerning the Right to Return and the demolition of Public Housing, that these very people are also being swayed by the false promises of free market capitalism and the "privatization", concerning the welfare of those less fortunate in achieving social standing and prosperity then themselves. And this is what free market capitalism does to communities and peoples - it divides them, then conquers them, plunders and makes off with the profits, leaving the communities it feeds off of for profit, in ruins. It achieves this by creating an illusion that what is had by the "few" can be gained by the "many" even though the opportunities and privileges of one class make it nearly impossible for the other class to rise to such heights without the same. Nor does free market capitalism take into account cultural identity and the right to place greater importance on community and the family over that of profit and 'financial prosperity'. In the long run I believe that these individuals will come to understand that they too will be betrayed. That they are being used to serve the interests of capitalism, which destroys communities for the sake of profit. Like the red tide, the sprawl of capitalism destroys in the end, everything meaningful to a community and it's cultural heritage, in its wake.
I don't have the answers to policies concerning Public Housing and how to manage them. Obviously the way public housing was managed and mismanaged by the government and "We the People", has led led to much of the fear, contempt, and disdain of the people who once lived in public housing.
Yet this I know, through no fault of their own, the people who once inhabited public housing were displaced by a natural disaster and the subsequent flooding of their homes. And that the United States Government:
"DID DECIDE AND HAS DECIDED, TO NOT ALLOW POST KATRINA NEW ORLEANIANS BACK INTO THEIR HOMES. THESE BUILDING ARE STURDY, BEAUTIFUL, WELL BUILT COMPLEXES WHICH SUFFERED MINIMAL DAMAGE FROM KATRINA AND RITA. AND THAT THE HOMES OF THESE NEW ORLEANIANS ARE NOW GOING TO BE DEMOLISHED FOR THE PROFITABLE REAL ESTATE WHICH THESE HOUSING UNITS STAND ON WHICH IS CLOSE TO THE SUPERDOME AND CITY TOURISM HOT SPOTS.
A prescient reporter from the UK wrote about what is now unfolding on August 29, 2006 :
From the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia:
In several essays, author David Neiwert has explored the rise of what he calls “pseudo-fascism”. Neiwert concedes that “American democracy has not yet reached the genuine stage of crisis required for full-blown fascism to take root” and thus “the current phenomenon cannot properly be labeled ‘fascism’.” He warns:
But what is so deeply disturbing about the current state of the conservative movement [in the United States] is that it has otherwise plainly adopted not only many of the cosmetic traits of fascism, its larger architecture — derived from its core impulses — now almost exactly replicates that by which fascists came to power in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s.
"My fellow Americans," you have been warned. The question is - can you, will you - heed these words?
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent; I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.