December 14, 2006

Racism and specialness in New Orleans

Something is really special about New Orleans. I'm sitting in the community meeting, hearing people talk about their experiences here and their intention to come back, and this is not just the same old same old. What is it? How many cities have so many songs written about them? How many cities have so many people fighting so hard to live in such a marginal location?

I have one thought about the communitarian nature of NOLA: racism here is right out there in the open. White racists are quite unafraid to say so; which means that if you see a white person mixing in with black people, it's not just a closet racist seeking approval. The right-out-there aspect of racism here makes the city much more racist in some ways, but much less racist in another. Maybe I'm just misreading it, but here in New Orleans, when I've been in black neighbourhoods (which was most of the time), I've not felt as glared-at as I might in some northern cities. Because white people can easily avoid these areas, and because white people have nothing to prove on this front, the fact that I'm even there signifies to the residents that I'm on their side.

So that may be something that is speaking to a lot of these (mostly white) volunteers who drove or flew in some considerable distance to help out here. Or maybe I'm just crazy, but I myself have certainly felt something different here; Chicagoland and Providence and Galesburg have all been nice places to live, but New Orleans is a Place, a personality unto itself, and the easy adoption into its community seems like it must be a reason why.

UPDATE: In his post "Nigger, nigger on the wall", Geoff Pullum makes a very similar point to mine above about racism:

I want you to, because there are things I need to know about you. Whether you refer to African Americans as niggers is relevant to whether you and I are ever going to have lunch together or be drinking buddies, for example. I don't want to know you have been cowed by some ban or convention; I want to know how you think it is appropriate to talk. Knowing how Michael Richards used the word nigger is highly relevant to my decisions about whether I will ever put my money down to see his act in a comedy club. Useful information.

Posted by blahedo at 6:59pm on 14 Dec 2006
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