Tuesday, January 17, 2006

We ought to be Neapolitan

Wherein I drop Morris Day, The Time, Ray Nagin, James Lileks, and Poppy. Z. Brite

Sounding like Morris Day and The Time, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, calls for a "chocolate city":
Speaking to a fraction of the crowd typically drawn to a holiday parade honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday predicted that displaced African-American residents will return to the rebuilt city and it "will be chocolate at the end of the day."

"This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be," Nagin said. "You can't have it no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

But the speech wasn't meant to be divisive. And then he channeled Pat Robertson:
In his speech, Nagin also said "God is mad at America," in part because he does not approve "of us being in Iraq under false pretenses."

"He is sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it is destroying and putting stress on this country," Nagin said.

He said God is "upset at black America also."

"We are not taking care of ourselves. We are not taking care of our women, and we are not taking care of our children when you have a community where 70 percent of its children are being born to one parent."

But the speech wasn't meant to be divisive. Not everyone agreed with Nagin:
"Everybody's jaws are dropping right now," said City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who is black. "Even if you believe some of that crazy stuff, that is not the type of image we need to present to the nation."

Thomas, who has been friendly to the Nagin administration but is now viewed as a potential mayoral contender, said the mayor was indulging in "equal-opportunity slamming."

Instead of the city being chocolate, Thomas said, "we ought to be Neapolitan, fudge ripple, all the flavors together. Who really cares what the racial makeup of the city is as long as it works for everybody?"

James Lileks recall Grand Forks:
Remember Grand Forks? It was a town that had the unusual distinction of flooding, then catching on fire. I’m imagining the mayor, were he gripped with the same sort of impolitic idiocy that seized Mayor Nagin, insisting that Grand Forks was “a lefse city, and it would be a lefse city against, because that’s how God wants it.” I’m trying to imagine it, but I can’t. Ah well. Failure of imagination; happens. I also cannot imagine how a desire for monoculturalism will be explained away as an expression of multiculturalism, but I expect that will follow quickly. I need to spend more time in Room 101, perhaps.

Let's turn to New Orleans writer and resident, Poppy Z. Brite. She isn't particularly bother by the Chocolate City comment; however:
I'm somewhat more dismayed by his comment that he doesn't care "what they think Uptown"; neighborhoods blaming each other for their woes is something of a New Orleans tradition, but Nagin has apparently forgotten that he's meant to be mayor of the whole city. The God stuff, though ... now, while I'm all in favor of the separation of church and state, I'm not inherently opposed to politicians being guided in part by their faith as long as they don't try to force it on their constituents. However, when they presume to know what God is thinking and whether he's sending hurricanes to spank us, then we're edging into AIDS-is-God's-punishment-for-fags territory; Nagin just has different priorities than those people (though I've always wondered how different, given that he endorsed the rabidly anti-gay Bobby Jindal for governor).

Still bothered by Nagin's comment's, she has more to say:
... but at a time when I don't know if I'll ever again be able to live in my house and a commission is talking about turning my neighborhood into green space, it still gives me a damn funny feeling to hear the mayor say, "I don't care what they say Uptown ... "

You know, I'm not sure I've ever been as committed to anything else as I am to this city. I'm not claiming I do a lot for it or anything. I've just never doubted it. My relationship with Chris, my role as a cat rescuer, my writing -- I've had doubts about all those, and probably will again. But I've never seriously doubted that New Orleans was my home and the place I needed to be, and despite the difficulty and sorrow that always lurk in the background and sometimes flail their drunken way right up to the front row of post-K life here, this has felt like an essential, occasionally even magical time to be here. Every possibility is open to the city now. We could fix so many of the things that were wrong. We could have public schools that make kids smart and teach them that they matter. We don't treat each other with kid gloves, and that's kind of nice after being pitied so often in exile; no one here feels sorry for each other. We've been treating each other well, though. Now people out trying to have a good time are getting shot at second-lines again, and thanks to a seven-minute speech by a damn politician, New Orleanians are squabbling and feeling the old, ugly tensions. White people didn't like hearing about a "chocolate city," because they heard the mayor saying there were too many whites here. Black people feel that this white response means they aren't welcome here. People of other races probably feel completely ignored, and quite a few Uptowners feel as gutpunched as I do by the mayor's disregard. And I suspect most everybody fears that this will be yet another rip in the decaying fabric of our chances to be taken seriously, remembered, and helped by the rest of the country and world. Suddenly it's harder to use the word we, because there are a bunch of different wes again. Of course I am generalizing wildly, but these are my impressions at the end of a very trying day for the city.

But the speech wasn't meant to be divisive.


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