On Friday, I posted what I thought to be a pretty innocuous link to really interesting looking online magazine that did a fairly expansive profile on Mayoral candidate James Perry. I posted it mostly because I thought the presentation was really interesting, the platform itself.
But a couple of people took a look at the content, which I thought to be mostly harmless and mostly accurate, and wrote some comments that really depressed me.
First and foremost, was an objection to a couple of sentences that a commenter flagged and discussed:
"They saw white ... leaders oppose the rebuilding of the most damaged parts of the city, which had been predominantly poor and African American."
Not true; monetary losses among the races were approximately equal, as has been established for some time. The poor were less able to return (because they were poor; it's a truism), not disproportionately damaged. What we have here is a repetition of the discredited TV Guide version of the history of Katrina: un-nuanced, misleading, and factually wrong.
This really ticked me off. It actually is true that African Americans perceived the BNOB green dot plan as an attempt to codify the closure of many predominantly poor and African American parts of the city. If you take a look at a map of the green dot plan, it's pretty hard not to deny that the plan was in fact attempting to shutter African American communities. In fact, the whole notion that neighborhoods would have to "prove" their "viability" before being granted the supposed privilege to rebuild is pretty indicative of the general attitude of the folks empowered to make decisions on everybody else's behalf.
That monetary losses amongst the races were equal may or may not be true, I don't know where that number comes from. But it's irrelevant either way because African Americans, as a result of decades and decades of personal and institutionalized racism, were systematically barred from accumulating the same kind of wealth as their white neighbors.
What percentage of those that died during the storm were African American? Was it 50/50?
No. Storm casualties were overwhelmingly African American.
Of the 150,000 residents that remain displaced from New Orleans, what percentage are African American? Is it 50/50?
No. Displaced New Orleanians are overwhelmingly African American.
The two sections of the city that sustained the most devastation, the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, are those generally 50/50 communities?
No. They are overwhelmingly African American communities.
Were these communities also poor? Well they certainly weren't rich but I think a good argument could be made that they're mostly middle class communities. When you think of the types of jobs that middle class African Americans had access to over the last couple of decades, you think about nursing, education, and civil service bureaucracy. Well, after the storm, the major hospitals were kept closed, the entire public school teaching core was fired, and the civil service was cut in half.
Which community bore the brunt of those moves? Was it 50/50?
No. It was overwhelmingly the African American community of New Orleans that had to eat these damages.
And when you look at where the city is today, which neighborhoods are struggling the most and why?
Now that same commenter made a few more additional points that were more salient but I couldn't really read them to be honest. When someone denies the racial injustice of the storm and of rebuilding policy, listening further becomes difficult and meaningful conversation becomes almost impossible.
White New Orleanians simply cannot remain in denial about the racism in their midst if they hope to form positive coalitions for change with their African American neighbors.
That said, the same commenter went on to add significant nuance to his personal views after a regular anonymous commenter flagged them.
That same anonymous commenter chimes in often here at WCBF and I think generally makes too many flippant toxic points that conflate all white criticism of municipal corruption with every single racist policy ever created in the city of New Orleans.
This is also a totally counterproductive stance to take, one that erodes efforts to create coalitions around the plentiful common ground that exists between black and white in New Orleans.
I talk a lot about this coalition and this common ground. I don't think these are things that I'm just daydreaming about or romanticizing. Rather, it's real.
When white people recognize, amplify, and work to reverse the racism that exists in our midst, their critiques of certain corrupt African American municipal politicians become more credible and less susceptible to insidious arguments that the accusers are just being racist.
But on the flip side, when others say that all white people are racist, that all white people are responsible for the green dot plan, and that white people shouldn't call out the Mayor and others for corrupt practices, well that's also a non-starter when it comes to meaningful discussion of what we need to do to move forward.
Certainly this city's dynamics are much too complicated for any general discussion of race to be 100% accurate but I was quite shocked by the negative reaction to that article. I don't think it's wrong or inaccurate at all when writing an overview piece about the dynamics of recovery to generally couch the dynamics in terms a concerted effort to re-engineer the racial dynamics of the city through rebuilding policy or lack thereof. The problem comes when every white New Orleanian is put on that bus when in reality certain aspects of the African American power structure were way more complicit in this indecent recovery policy than some powerless white waitress or bartender.
Meanwhile, you have an article... and I know it was quite fluffy... but you have an article about a guy, James Perry, who has fought real institutionalized racism in recovery policy across the entire region, AND who has called out African American politicians for insidious defensive use of the race card to deflect from serious allegations of corruption, and all people did was complain.
That's flippin' pathetic. It ruined my weekend.
So I hope I was able to synthesize these thoughts in a manner that was reasonably civil. I really didn't feel like being polite.