Tuesday, May 16, 2006

diaspora and disillusionment

Y'all 'member I was talking about Cyril Neville's band that played at LEAF last weekend? Funny how things work out sometimes. Here's an article from a guy who went to the latest New Orleans JazzFest, called "The Real Jazzfest: Anger and Sorrow." Tom D'Antoni gives us a look at the local musicians and performers who showed at the festival - and at some of the musicians who didn't.

Cyril Neville refused to go back. He played at LEAF, but he wouldn't play in his home city.

I remember watching his band groove out those massive funk tunes Saturday night and I remember feeling a strange, uncomfortable feeling of shame, embarrassment, and sadness. (This before the groove hit.) Because if it wasn't for Katrina, the Nevilles would have been home in NOLA. If it wasn't for the unbelievable greed and incompetence involved in the "restoration" of New Orleans, they wouldn't have been playing in Black Mountain last weekend at all. I felt like I was dancing at someone's funeral.

'cause, you know, damn it, I do feel responsible. I don't know how you can be an American citizen and be all about the whole melting pot thing and not mourn the death of a cultural and musical homeland.

From D'Antoni:


A story in the Austin Chronicle quoted Neville as saying,

"What happened during Katrina was not an evacuation as much as a roundup and a forced displacement," insists Neville. "It was the height of arrogance, greed, conceit, and disdain for a people who you think are less human than you. As that wind blew through New Orleans and that forced migration took place, that was the end, or at least a lot of people want it to be the end, of African-American political power in New Orleans.

"Why it's considered such a stretch for anyone to connect the dots between a boldfaced legacy of oppression and gentrification of black neighborhoods in New Orleans and the marginalization of poor blacks post-Katrina defies common sense. Life in the Big Easy has always been dictated by barriers between white and black. It's no secret that the economic disparity between the two communities serve as a study in violent inequality. Of course, rich whites have been eagerly debilitating poor blacks in New Orleans like a favored pastime. Ku Klux Klan sympathizer David Duke almost became governor of Louisiana only 16 years ago. To anyone paying any attention, no degree of racism in New Orleans should be considered surprising under any circumstance.

"The carving of New Orleans wards for political and economic gain is something that goes back at least to the Forties," says Neville. "At one point, Claiborne Avenue was one of the richest African-American thoroughfares in the United States. So they put the Claiborne overpass through it. There were two rows of oak trees where you could walk in the rain and not get wet on Claiborne Avenue. People picnicked there, people had birthday parties, christening parties. Every carnival, that's where the Mardi Gras Indians would make a straight shoot from uptown all the way downtown and back. Naturally, they tore down all the trees, put an overpass through there, and killed that entrepreneurial area of the city.

"That's the other point that a lot of people missed in what I was saying. It's hard to put into words what it was like on a day-to-day basis living in New Orleans as an African-American, because it's a proven fact in this country that no matter how high you climb up the social ladder or how many degrees and how many letters you have behind your name, if you're black, you're black, and regardless of what you think of yourself, you can get broke down right quick. You could be on your way home from a great meeting - you just did a great thing for your company and everybody is happy. You're in your Porsche on top of the world and then you get pulled over and called the big N and brought back to reality of where you are and who you are to the society that you're coming up in.

"A lot of those people that we saw in the Dome and at the Convention Center had been written off a long time before Katrina. A couple weeks before the storm hit, the oldest masking Mardi Gras Indian, Big Chief Tootie Montana, died at a meeting at the New Orleans City Council protesting how the chief of police and the city itself had been treating our culture, which since 1841 had been happening out in the streets from neighborhood to neighborhood.

"The powers-that-be only want a certain element back as far as black people are concerned," maintains Neville. "But the spirit of New Orleans is African and it ain't going anywhere. I guarantee any convention they have in that Convention Center and anything they have in that Dome will be haunted. People already don't understand that the Dome was built on top of a whole neighborhood. They've got a whole African-American cemetery underneath that Dome. Louis Armstrong's house was taken to the dump, chopped into pieces, and set on fire and a new parish prison was built on where he grew up."


There's another post I've been meaning to share, from Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies. Back around Mardi Gras, they published their own report from their Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch program. They're just, kinda, y'know, keepin' track of what's happening - or not happening, as the case may be. Here's what I found morbidly fascinating:


The Institute report looks at over 130 indicators, and finds that, despite a few hopeful signs, progress has largely stalled on the key issues that will shape the city's future. For example:

* Lack of HOUSING is preventing many from returning to New Orleans. No action is being taken to help renters, two-thirds of those displaced by the storm; many home-owners remain in limbo; and 11,000 FEMA trailers sit empty in Hope, Arkansas.

* HEALTH AND SAFETY concerns are keeping residents away -- from rampant mold, to pollution "hot spots" such as four city neighborhoods with 100 times accepted safe levels of arsenic. Regulators have offered no clean-up plan -- creating a public health threat compounded by the city's gutted health care system.

* A dearth of SCHOOLS --only 17 percent of the city's public schools have re-opened -- will stop many families from returning.

* The absence of progress in HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS is troubling. With just three months remaining until the 2006 hurricane season, there is no funding for full- scale wetland restoration or levees that could survive a hurricane the strength of Katrina (Category 3) or more.


Right about the same time, Homeland Security (at the White House's request) came out with their own report on Katrina - it's called "Lessons Learned." Seems like a pretty well-put-together document - they got the spin thing down pat. Do what the President tells us to do, make a lot of really good recommendations to improve the federal response, and especially, don't talk about what's happening now. Not our job.

So the Lessons Learned file is about the past. And I'm tempted to print out all couple hundred pages and go through it with a highlighter, then do some basic checking around to see which recommendations have been implemented. Even that, however, is off-topic, isn't it? So easy to get turned around.

Yeah, it's really important to think about how we're going to not screw up in the future. Sure.

But it's also pretty critical, in my humble opinion, to restore what got drowned and deported in the first place. And I just don't see it happening.

Hey maybe this is like Iraq, though - doncha think? You know, like the MSM is choosing not to report good stuff. You think?

Nah. Me neither.

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