Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We're Back On Top Again!

And it's the last place we want to be.

It's getting rough down here in New Orleans. Once again we've regained our title as the nation's "murder capital" and it doesn't look like things will improve any time soon. Seems like Hurricane Katrina only made things worse.

I don't write about New Orleans much. It's not that I don't have a lot to say, it's just that given my day job I'm trying to keep my conflicts of interest to a minimum. Plus, I'm always aware of the fact that some of y'all might not care that much about intensely local news.

But, just because I'm not writing, doesn't mean I'm not thinking about my city. My home. I grew up here, have lived here most of my life and while I'm not as fanatical as some of the city's residents, I still love my city.

Unfortunately, my city is dying.

Like most people watching a terminal illness run its course in a loved one, I've gone through the five stages of grief. My city was infected long ago as blue collar jobs dried up and the racial strife doomed the public school system. The symptoms are common in inner cities around this nation, but they seem to be more severe here. Honestly, there is still hope that my city may recover, but it is slim. So, I thought I'd share some thoughts.


Everybody in New Orleans must come to grip with the violence. It's impossible to completely ignore the daily murder count, the constant threat of armed robberies or the casual violence that seems to be woven into the fabric of the city. (When I was a kid, people looked forward to Mardi Gras season for the parades and partying, but also because you were guaranteed to see some great fights between roving bands of young men from different "wards.")

But, as I told a friend the other day, to truly be happy in New Orleans you have to convince yourself that the violence exists in a world outside of your own. That while young men are gunned down daily, they aren't young men like you or your sons. It's a personal hypnosis New Orleanians perform, a mental trickery that allows us to believe that despite the swirling violence, we're safe. It's a denial of the true extent of the sickness.


Ah, but when we come to grips with reality, then comes the anger. Here we rail against the twin evils of violence and corruption that are as much a part of this city's traditions as red beans and rice. In fact, like that delicious concoction, corruption and violence achieve their full flavor when left to simmer for an extended period of time with only minimum attention.

New Orleans residents rail against their politicians, they rail against their police and their bureaucrats. We shake our heads at the single mothers pushing strollers and giving their infants sips of grape "cold drinks." We stiffen at the approach of young men whose hair is a clump of disheveled locs. Resentment bubbles inside of us at these people we feel have ruined our city, the ones who make things so bad for the rest of us.

Why can't they get jobs? Why can't they go to school? Why won't they keep their legs closed? We ask ourselves these questions and revel in our righteous anger, content to direct its destructive force outward lest we be called upon to examine our own hearts. Then we'd be forced to ask ourselves if we helped them find jobs, if we helped them learn to read and if it's our morality, or our contraception, that is better than that of those teen parents.


When our anger wanes we want a deal. We'll spend more money if it means our city won't die. We're willing to pay slightly higher property taxes if it means that our police will be competent and honest. We're willing to do more, if only we can be guaranteed we can get more for our money.

Quid pro quo.

The only problem is that life doesn't work that way. The government cannot guarantee all of our money will be spent wisely and honestly, but it can guarantee that nothing will get done unless we spend more money. Of course, it would be ludicrous to write a blank check, but the truth is that what our city really needs is for us to have faith in a political system that has never given us a reason to trust. So, all of our deals are doomed from the start and the city continues to rot.


And that's when it sets in. When we realize that we are trapped inside the maw of a dying beast where it may soon become impossible for any responsible parent to justify raising children. We wonder how long our jobs will last in an economy famously built on cheap t-shirts and large, frozen hurricanes.

The Big D. It's a tricky bastard. Sneaking into our minds on little worries about bills and relationships, and then turning into a mind-numbing obsession that saps us of our will to think or act. At times, our will to live. In a city where death and poverty are kissing cousins it is almost impossible to avoid depression. Who can avoid its clutches while watching one more child travel the well-worn path from schoolyard to graveyard before they are 30? When our city's problems seem so massive, so entrenched, what is there to lighten the mood, to provide hope?


For me, in part, it's God. It's also that sense that things have to get better, that trouble don't last always. Things have to improve because so many people want them to improve and hopefully that collective desire will be transformed into a collective commitment to action.

I accept the reality of my city's slow death, I've come to grips with that pain, but, thankfully, I haven't become fully resigned to its inevitability. I retain hope that eventually, the people of this city who love their home will figure out a way to help it reach its potential. We will discover how to overcome the past racial hurts and the current economic woes and we will make New Orleans live again.

After all, as a Christian, I've been trained to in believe in happy endings.



the uppity negro said...

I dont normally do this, and it it really goes against my christology which I generally try to keep as low as possible, but....

The book of Hebrews has an unknown author and is lumped into the general epistles of the New Testament. Because of the persecutions that they were facing, many of those at the time expected to see the "end times" during their times (such as in the writings to 1 Thessalonians) even some Pauline texts, scholars believe that Paul expected to get "caught up."

But Hebrews was written after all of that. in fact some scholars believe that Hebrews was written to a people who had missed the end times and were left behind, so to speak.

I planned on being cynical as usual asking "well what if you dont get you typical Sunday morning happy ending?" but i guess its in faith and hope that we all expect to see a brighter day.

Big Man said...


I understand your feelings, I've struggled with similar thoughts throughout my life.

I understand that my city could continue to die and eventually it might be unfit for most people. I'm just hoping it doesn't and I plan to begin taking some concrete steps to help that process very soon.

Air-Cooled Head said...

Big Man, I hear and feel ya. My home town (Chicago) has claimed the Murder Capital title for most of the year. Has NO passed us, or is it just crime in general?
And what are the steps you plan to take? I started volenteering at a mentoring program, locally. But that only reaches those that come to the program. But what about those who are on the streets, with no direction or influence, other than their peers. How do we reach those that are terrorizing our community? How do we make them see that they are hurting themselves? The "I'll give up mine when they give up theirs" attitude is prevalent, and a pretty tough argument.
Something HAS to be done; But what? How?

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hello there!

I understand what you are feeling.

Perhaps, the New Orleans of yesterday can be memorialized while the new city can be celebrated...the world saw that the government and the nation did not care about New Orleans' most vulnerable.

Those low-income blacks were treated with LESS compassion than dogs....the world took note...

But New Orleans is still as alive as THOSE who choose to be part of New Orleans...it's people who will make a city COME alive and remain alive.

On an unrelated note....

We need all trumpets blaring in cyberspace to protest the racist disparagement of Princeton scholar, Dr. Yolanda Pierce, by seminary students who have not been disciplined.


Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Very well done, Big Man, the way you connected the Kubler-Ross five stages of grieving to your feelings about New Orleans.

I hope that N.O. isn't the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. I have concerns that in 15 or 20 years, large swaths of our cities will be like the favelas in Brazil.

From Wiki: Long before the first settlement called "favela" [shantytown]came into being, poor blacks were pushed away from downtown into the far suburbs. Favelas were handy for them because they allowed them to be close to work, while keeping away from where they were not welcome.

If you want to rent an movie about life there, Pixote (1981) is unforgettable. I can see that potential here if this new Great Depression and the new war on the horizon leaves us as an utterly bankrupt country devoid of a real middle class.

Enough bleak thoughts! Happy Thanksgiving! Feast!

Raving Black Lunatic