Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by Isaiah, Jan 2, 2006.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    More Than a Party in New Orleans: the Big Sleazy, made manifest

    The Party-town of Cultural Contradictions
    The city of New Orleans is a seeming contradiction. On the one hand, people from the Big Easy prefer to view their city as a “party town”, of which the Mardi Gras festival is its zenith, with excesses of everything: food, drink, sex, music and dance. Such debauchery is not confined to the carnival season, however; people in New Orleans generally look for excuses to “party” all year round, and they prefer to see themselves as “cool”, “easygoing”, “laid back”, etc. In apparent contradiction to the party image, the culture of this region has an opposing current within it of profound, but typical American conservatism. Plagued by racism, this easygoing party city is really not so easygoing, upon examination. A closer look at this cultural cesspool is warranted, especially in light of the hurricane-floods of 2005.

    According to Marx, "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness"(1). This definition of historical materialism implies matter over mind, rather than mind over matter. When New Orleans is regarded from such a materialist perspective, then its flamboyant excesses, both chemical and ideological, don’t seem so contradictory. In particular, its stagnant economy, based on an oversized portion of tourism, makes its citizens highly vulnerable to economic recession, and obviously, unemployment. Within the city, service industry jobs are the most prevalent kind available, for skilled and unskilled workers, alike. It is hard to convince businesses to invest in the city. With such a weak industry presence, New Orleans has no choice but to appeal to tourists, prostituting its history and culture to generate income.

    Through having such a “seasonal” (or weak and unreliable) source of income, the city has generally had fewer funds available for education, housing and other living amenities that get taken for granted in more prosperous cities.

    Physically, the city is below sea-level, and built upon soft mud, necessitating periodic “support therapy” for houses and other large structures that sink into the ground at uneven rates. For this reason, there will never be any skyscrapers in New Orleans. Through having such a weak physical foundation on which the city is built, and through being in a permanent state of economic depression, New Orleans was destined to be demolished by a hurricane some day. Despite all of the damage and loss of life, the city is still supremely lucky to have avoided a direct hit from such a dangerous hurricane like Katrina.

    The White Problem in New Orleans
    New Orleans in no way deviates from the hypothesis that a culture of misery directly results from an economy of misery. In a town where jobs and resources are scarce, people are at each others’ throats. In particular, socio-economic class and racial antagonism are highly pronounced. In other parts of the United States of North America, racism often appears in more subtle shades, but in New Orleans, the racial antagonism is highly visible. One shocking, fairly recent example is the wide show of political support given to David Duke, an ex-KKK member and outspoken white supremacist, who has served as a Louisiana state representative and who also ran unsuccessfully for the Louisiana senate and governor (2).

    The passage of hurricane Katrina through New Orleans quickly and unexpectedly exposed the racism of the Deep South, as well as that of the rest of the country. Most of the harm to human life occurred not directly from the hurricane or floods themselves, but through the failure of government at all levels, local and federal, to intervene in a timely fashion. When the world learned that the majority of people stranded in the city were African-Americans, it was then that the racism became visible. If anything, it shows how well the United States government usually does a great job at concealing its ugly, racist tendencies during times of status quo normalignancy. The true colors of American society shine through during these unexpected moments of paralysis, such as after a natural disaster.

    The media contributed to this whirlwind exposé of racism through their coverage of the events as they unfolded: disproportionately reporting the property damage (private property, no less) of businesses and casinos over the loss of human life, and the differential treatment of stranded residents: the black “looters” of grocery stores versus the whites who “found” items of survival. In many of the photos that accompanied the news-stories, the skin color of the victim was the primary determinant in describing whether the individual was “looting” versus “finding” items from abandoned businesses and stores. It took the media several days to make the captions in their photo-essays “politically correct”.

    The media (ultimately in the service of the government) also distorted events as they were reported: many of the rumors of gunfights, looting, raping, murders, assaults, etc. have been widely unsubstantiated so far, perhaps serving as ways to justify the government’s own brutalities, which will go unreported until long after the fact. These manufactured, overblown, and thoroughly “edited” reports of urban chaos also might be interpreted as unconscious expressions of the white society’s fears of black insurrection and of African-American power. A common tactic used by white power to justify its use of violence has been to invent and/or inflate the purported misdeeds of non-whites, by way of the media. Either way, the media’s display of racism during the coverage of events after the storm was an eyesore, and a totally obvious one.

    All along, the journalists and TV talking heads reinforced the unspoken assumption that the looting and lack of capitalist law ‘n order were somehow intensely undesirable outcomes. But given the circumstances, especially in light of the government FEMA “cavalry” that took an insultingly long time to show up, to provide assistance, it is to be expected that stranded New Orleans residents would take food and other such items from abandoned stores. Since the people of New Orleans had been under the thumb of American, capitalist control for all of their lives, it should not be so surprising that poor people would respond by taking clothes and televisions as soon as they saw their city descend into anarchy. The news-reporters were quick to point out the financial losses to business owners whose stores had been robbed, but they failed to address the ways in which minimum-wage workers had been robbed all of their lives by their employers, and by the American capitalist system, in general. These events only illustrate the fact that a capitalist regime values businesses over individual people. Therefore it’s reassuring to know that some people actually did get up the nerve to help themselves to the material luxuries which are usually inaccessible due to their financially restrictive socio-economic status. Despite the fact that African-Americans were usually the ones labeled by the media as “looters”, it’s very safe to say that people of Caucasian backgrounds were not afraid to take part in enjoying the pricey merchandise, too.

    Generally, the specter of racism appears in many observable guises, whether one considers the salient ones, such as the abandoned people in the New Orleans Superdome, or the more subtle manifestations, such as the exploitation of black artists or the racist clichés of mass entertainment (3). While anti-racist legislation can be drafted by governments, leading to changes like affirmative action and the desegregation of schools and other institutions, such surface attempts at dealing with the problem lose their effectiveness quickly due to their inability to confront racism at its psychological roots, in particular, to address the psychopathological issue of “whiteness”, something which intellectuals of the establishment haven’t managed to accomplish yet. While many well-meaning sociologists and other academics have made valiant efforts to address racism, their efforts to confront whiteness have only just begun. The surrealists in Chicago expressed these ideas very clearly:

    “As surrealists, we are especially interested in how the “white problem” turns up in language, images, myth, symbols, popular culture, science, everyday life, the whole field of human expression. However, our goal at all times is to attack and abolish whiteness and its institutions – to attack and abolish the whole miserabilist social/political/economic/cultural system that has made whiteness the hideous emblem of the worst oppression the world has ever had to endure.”(4)

    New Orleans is a true cradle of whiteness, a hive of racist tendencies, and it seems that almost every piece of establishment-sanctioned culture from this part of the world carries the imprint of white malevolence in all of its various degrees of subtlety.