Monday, February 16, 2009


The Gamblog has just pointed out that the New York Times has been especially attentive to New Orleans over the past few days. Kevin Allman links this article by Adam Nossiter about day laborers as victims of crime.

I'm glad he did because the article sucks. I see it as an example of Mr. Nossiter's often incendiary and anecdotal perspective on race in New Orleans.

But on the street, these laborers are known as “walking A.T.M.’s.”

Their pockets stuffed with bills, the laborers are vulnerable because of language problems and their status as illegal immigrants. And as Hispanics have become the prey of choice in crumbling neighborhoods here in one of America’s most crime-ridden cities, racial friction between the newcomers and longtime black residents has moved close to the surface.


Many bluntly assigned a racial component, saying that it was “los morenos” — their colloquial term for blacks — who were after them. “When we are leaving here after work, we have to go on foot,” Mr. Billado said, speaking through an interpreter. “The blacks are waiting for us. They’ll beat you up. They’ll take your money.”

I don't want to dismiss the tragedy that is the victimization of hardworking New Orleans residents and the plight of undocumented workers in general. Nor do I want to dismiss the notion that there is tension between Latino and African American communities.

But Nossiter seems to cherry-pick quotes and structures his narrative to suit the needs of a predetermined meme - that racial tension has resulted in African Americans preying upon Hispanics.

The anecdotal quotes from victims of crime are given the lede but the causal factors - the high rate of crime generally, African American joblessness and underemployment, the overall vulnerability of undocumented workers, and the fact that African Americans are so often victims of crime themselves - are buried on page 2 or left out entirely.

Furthermore, this article could have been written at any point over the last three years and the issue of the vulnerability of immigrant laborers to robbery in New Orleans has been covered by local and national media.

Nossiter does not break a new item anywhere in the article so I question the choice of subject.

If he wanted to take the pulse of the city, he might want to examine the backlash bubbling up against the NOPD that has been separately emanating from black, white, and brown quarters.

He includes a line about this:

The police, the men said, either ignore their calls, admonish them for being in the country illegally or arrive too late at a crime scene to do any good.

But what could have been useful in another context becomes a throwaway within this article in particular.


Did anybody else get a little queasy reading this Nossiter piece? Or am I being a cherry-picker too?


jeffrey said...

I am particularly amused at the "Walking ATMs" term Nossiter cites. In quotation marks. With no particular person quoted. He just says that's what they're "known as" on "the street"

The NYT pays good money to get Adam Nossiter's astute reporting from "the street" I'm very happy for him.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was revealing that he chose the visual metaphor of "hard working" Latinos on MLK avenue next to "drinking blacks." This is classic Nossiter--using a visual metaphor to represent what the reader assumes to be accurate generalizations. Of course, it is not his observation, but Rev. Raphael's--another classic propagandist's device of deflectng criticism by finding a character to express your own sentiments.

Think for moment. How could Nossiter stand at MLK and Claiborne and not also see thousands of blacks on their way to work, working at corner stores and gas stations, walking to schools a few hundred feet away--all within his field of vision? But that vision narrows so that the reader sees only what Nossiter wants them to see. His articles are case studies in metaphors replacing accepted journalistic evidentiary standards. This trully is fiction and not reportage in the sense that his reality is constructed based on his own biases. He sees everyone's bigotry except his own.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Everything he reported is pretty much exactly what goes on in the city in a general sense. Newspaper articles too short to allow for much else beyond generalities anyway. If you want the truest analysis, read a dissertation. That being said, anyone who works with the Hispanic community knows that day laborers are known as "walking ATMs." No argument there.

As for his description of Elysian Fields... there is nothing he is "revealing" here except the truth, in the general way that newspaper articles can. There are Hispanic men lined up to start the days work. On MLK, there are African-American men who sit there and drink. Granted, we know all the reasons why they are sitting there--crappy education system, crappy housing, crappy poverty, crappy crappiness, etc. And we also know that not all Hispanics here are kindhearted, hard-workers, but for the most part, they are. And "for the most part," is all a short article can do. Nossiter is simply giving a small voice to the thousands of men who were hypnotized by the myth of the American Dream; left their family, friends, culture, and language behind to find it; busted their asses to try to make it; and have realized that life is incredibly unjust no matter where you are.

Besides, mostly liberals read the NYT, so you don't have to worry about people judging African- Americans for environmental circumstances beyond their control.

In the case of Downtrodden vs. Downtrodden, everyone loses, regardless of semantics.

Anonymous said...

ooh and one more thought, if I want to be "controversial"... perhaps the reason that you are so sensitive to the comparison of hard-working Hispanics vs. African-American drunkards is because when you look at the two groups, it is hard not to wonder... if Hispanics can do it, why can't African-Americans? And by "do it," I mean, in a very general sense, be a contributing member of society (not receiving state-aid or in the criminal justice system). Because the constraints placed upon Hispanics are even more difficult- language barrier, no family support, sending money back home, no access to banks, constant fear of deportation, etc. Just stirring something up...

Jeffrey said...

The article definitely sucked "for the most part."

It seemed more sensationalistic than is typical--I feel shitty just saying this, but this is the city we live in right now: six murders of Latino workers in 42 months does not constitute a pattern that appreciably deviates from any norm, but Nossiter writes this (actually writing 'half dozen') as if it is a newly-emerging epidemic. The racial component was also completely overplayed--as a simple numbers matter, murder in this city is largely committed by African-American males who have been utterly failed by federal, state, and local policies and institutions; it's not that there is a new wellspring of racially-charged hatred bubbling up, but that's exactly what this story on the front page of the NYTimes site insinuates.

I just don't see what's newsworthy about this in a city facing such structural problems. Why this story, why now?

I kinda just feel like someone took a cheap shot at us.

Jeffrey said...

Anonymous #2, if you are going to write stupid, provocative, essentialist bullshit, at least have the balls to put your name to your words.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2 from Anonymous 1
I don't agree you should put your name to your ideas. I post anonymously because, like many people, I work for people who would fire me for what I say.

Having said that, I think your views represent the majority of whites, including ones who don't think they are racists. You say in private--hidden behind the keyboard--what the Nossiters of the world long to say in public, but he finds a way to convey stereotypes with genteel words and clever literary devices.

The artists and negrophile hipsters who moved here in the last several years "because they love black culture" and live in black neighborhoods are convinced they can't be racist.

This sense of moral superiority to white bigots makes them much more dangerous because everything they do is in the name of helping blacks, so unlike "anonymous one", who knows he is espousing stereotypes and feels guilty enough that he qualifies his remarks as "contoversial" would not say the same thing at a city council meeting, the hipster bigots have no guilt.

Nossiter's ideas are more isidious than yours, because they are an elaborate maze that offers a sense of progress but ends up at the same place.

Either way, I think the ideas as such should be engaged because you speak for the majority of whites who hate black majority rule. The subtextual debate in New Orleans since Katrina has alwyays been over democracy: should blacks govern even if they make mistakes and elect thieves and fools? The hatred of Ray Nagin has led a whole generation of local white hipsters into the ranks of the anti-democratic thinking of Rex and the Carnival elite such they join ranks with the secret membership Business Council and pander to the Stacy Heads of the world.

I moved to a black majority city, the poorest city in North America, fully accpeting that it would be governed by blacks. That's no longer true, given that whites took advantage of the displacement to elect a white majority council and school board, but it will be true on February 6, 2010 when the black majority re-asserts its will. Then whites will go back to learning to live as a minority which is right and just. If you want to live where white people rule, move to St. Bernard.

Dambala said...

- I disagree. Everything he reported is pretty much exactly what goes on in the city in a general sense. Newspaper articles too short to allow for much else beyond generalities anyway. If you want the truest analysis, read a dissertation. That being said, anyone who works with the Hispanic community knows that day laborers are known as "walking ATMs." No argument there.

I think the point is....there's a whole lot that goes on in this city...just like any other city. Nossiter has a track record of cherry picking racially motivated subjects. In all fairness, it's probably selling papers for the NYT so they're telling him to find those stories.

The guy is stuck in the 60's South....he still thinks there is some great underlying white conspiracy down here....and I guess now we have a black conspiracy against Latinos....perfect. I'd just like to see him write about Common Ground, Karen Gadbois's efforts, or something positive for once....but I guess that doesn't sell papers.

Either that, or I wish they would assign him to Darfur where he could actually find what he's looking for.

Overall....even his slants are uninspiring. It's like he's wrestling with his journalistic integrity for writing racially contentious stories all the time. He's pretty pathetic overall...he should just move and find what he's looking for.

bullet said...

"I kinda just feel like someone took a cheap shot at us."

Thanks, Jeffrey. I felt that, too, but couldn't put words to it.


leroy jones said...

"cheep shot at us".

Who is "us" exactly?

Tchoup said...

Nossiter is first and foremost a muckracker who believes that he understands the "South" and has appointed himself to describe the region to the rest of the world. His narrow portrayal of New Orleans as a cesspool of racism for his New York audience is getting tiresome. He casts his shadow of negativism over even positive events in the city. He recently reported on waste management in the Quarter right at the beginning of the Carnival season, but did he report on the subsequent resolution of the problem? Of course not. Classic Nossiter.

E said...

New Orleans IS a cesspool of racism.

The problem is that Nossiter doesn't ever seem to get at the institutional and systemic racism underlying the politics of the region.

It's only the resentment amongst and between black, white, and brown on the street level that he takes the time to right about.

Mr. Clio said...

Nossiter is a tourist.

And he is so much smarter than you or I or your neighbor.

Please don't challenge him. We dare not do so.

Anonymous said...

I posed an interesting question. It wasn't an attack on "us." "Controversial" was in quotation marks too. It was maybe "provocative," but it wasn't bullshit. And maybe it was racist in the sense that I was comparing two groups of people based on the sole criteria of race. But then again, isn't everyone here racist in that way? You cannot take everyone on a case by case basis when you are trying to analyze and summarize information.

I posed a simple question because I was curious, so why are you so quick to attack without even trying to answer the question? We should ask those kinds of questions honestly and in plain writing (being anonymous makes me completely honest). We shouldn't hide them into newspaper articles.

Anyway, I decided that having children is such an enormous burden when it comes to getting and maintaining a job. Obviously the majority of working immigrants are childless or left their family behind. Therefore, they are free to move for any job and work any hours, without worrying about taking care of their children. They send money home when they can, but they don't have to pay for childcare in the city. Also, the men who come to the U.S. are the most-driven, hard-working people of their home countries. Immigration is a sort of self-selection of the most ambitious, or the most desperate. But that's another possible explanation. And these are in addition to obvious cultural differences.

I am not angry about "majority black rule." I am angry about the lack of transparency, the lack of ethical integrity, the lack of common-sense, but if you want to talk about how racist I am, go ahead. You and Nossiter might make a great team (alright, now that was a cheap shot).

-Anonymous #2

Clay said...

Out of all Nossiter's articles, I find this one the least objectionable. I agree with what Dambala wrote.

My biggest beef with Noss is his conviction that the only functional parts of the city are run by people that are from somewhere else and that all native New Orleanians are lazy, racist, worthless meatbags.