Sunday, May 21, 2006

Long Live the Chocolate City

Was this election about race? Did Nagin receive an estimated 80% of the black vote because he is black?

Tough questions. It is very convenient if you were a Landrieu supporter to blame race for his loss. But no one can know that with certainty.

However, if it was about race, it wasn’t about individual racism. The majority African-American precincts did not vote against Landrieu because they don’t like white people. They didn’t vote against an *individual* who they thought could not represent them. They voted against an *institution* – symbolized by a white face – that has never represented them.

Seventy-five percent of the African-American residents in New Orleans was affected by Katrina’s floods while only half of New Orleans’ white residents was affected. With a population breakdown of 67% African-American and 27% white in pre-Katrina New Orleans, that means more than 240,000 African-Americans were effected compared to around 64,000 whites. Therefore, while there are 2.5 times more black than white residents in New Orleans, 3.75 times more black residents were affected by the storm. [EDIT - thanks to Jim in comments]

No, a hurricane is not racist. But the institutional policies that led to the segregation we see in New Orleans were racist. And the segregation we see in New Orleans led to the disparate numbers of blacks affected by the storm.

Remember how New Orleans became a Chocolate City. Chocolate wasn’t added. The Vanilla left. And African-Americans do not share the same majority in the surrounding parishes:

Jefferson – 23% black
St. Bernard – 8% black
Plaquemines – 23% black
St. Tammany – 10% black
After the floods, almost all of Chocolate City’s residents were forced to leave. New Orleans’ population percentages today are a result of the Chocolate leaving and only the Vanilla coming back.

If this election was about race, it was about racial preservation. The existence of an African-American culture in New Orleans is endangered. Not just African-American political power.

I felt Landrieu was the better administrator of the two candidates, better suited to control the everyday activities of a municipal government. But, if we really want all New Orleanians to return, then reelecting Nagin sends that message.

What’s the message? At the end of the day, New Orleans will be a Chocolate City. And that’s a good thing.

At least, it’s a good thing if a bigger piece of the democratic pie is divided amongst all residents. Greater numbers in a democracy should translate into greater advantages. Instead, as we see in this comparison of the 90% majority African-American Lower 9th Ward with the rest of the city, state, and country, neither advantages nor equality exist in various social categories for many of our black residents.

This is Nagin’s charge. The residents will return. But to what?

I don’t like Nagin’s style. I didn’t like his victory speech. I don’t like his visibly cavalier nature as he performs his duties as mayor. Behind closed doors, he might act differently. But I do not have x-ray vision and therefore can not see that. And I have not seen the results of a talented behind-closed-doors negotiator. I do look around and see a lot that hasn’t been done, however.

Despite my dislikes, I think Nagin’s reelection at the very least sends a positive message to displaced black New Orleanians that they are welcomed back. And we need everyone back to bring New Orleans back. It is the residents who will rebuild the neighborhoods, not the mayor.

Long live the Chocolate City. Long live New Orleans.

11 comments:

Patrick Armstrong said...

Well, now that the decision has been made, and the Nagin victory put in the books, everyone at least knows who to put pressure on to get stuff done. I have long been a believer that politicians only do their jobs when the public is very, very involved.

While it does matter who is in the mayor's office, it matters much more that the people of New Orleans continue to make consistent and intelligent demands of the mayor's office (and other elected officials) to acheive real and substantive goals.

And, when those goals are acheived, no matter how small, y'all are going to have to loudly celebrate each one, so that all America knows and can see the progress.

jeffrey said...

I'm pretty sure Nagin's reelection actually seals the fate of the displaced and indicates quite clearly that they will not be welcomed back. Nagin and his developer cronies will starve their neighborhoods of support and services.. take their land and shut them out forever. They could have voted for someone who was actually interested in helping them... but they couldn't see past his skin color. That's pretty sad.

Editor B said...

Man, what you said, Schroeder. This is what I was thinking and feeling but unable to articulate. Jeffrey may be right as to Nagin's actual performance, but it's not all about what the mayor actually does, and on a symbolic level, Nagin's victory may communicate a lot to the displaced black majority.

Editor B said...

Oh. Um, wait, this isn't People Get Ready. It's da po' blog. I meant to say "what you said po' boy" not Schroeder. I guess I got my blogs confused. How embarrassing. Apologies.

Mr. Clio said...

Nice work, bra!!! I give you a shout-out on my unworthy blog.

Keep woikin!

Peace and ersters.

slate said...

Thank you for this. You're already linked on my blog (I think!) if not you will be immediately. I've been quietly reading you for a while now and after some of the conversations I had this weekend, I want those people to read your Chocolate City post. They seem to forget "white flight".

I posted a comment somewhere else, that we now need to hold Nagin's feet to the fire to make sure things get done. I think they can get done. But some folks are just gonna have to get over their election disappointment and quit griping about it. I didn't vote for him either, but I'm not leaving because he was re-elected.

Sorry for the rant.

Loki said...

Thank you for that! Everyone looks at these events as though they exist in a vacuum. Context is desperately needed, and your post provides it.

The more of your work I read the more I like it.

(BTW, my link has changed- Humid City is now at http://humidcity.com )

SooziLi said...

Maybe I'm confused, but I fail to see how Nagin's re-election is a sign to the displaced to return home, since he hasn't exactly been effective in enabling people to return over the past 9 months. I don't think the evacuees in Houston, Atlanta, and elsewhere have just been sitting around waiting for a "sign" that it's time to return. How do you return when you have no assurance of being able to find a house or a job?

Having said that, I hope things change, and that somehow he will morph into an effective leader who can get the city back on its feet. Stranger things have happened.

jim said...

Lets take a second look at these statistics about how the races fared in flooding. Take another look at the base population percentage by race. The blacks were 67% of the population and 75% effected by the flood. But the whitese were only 27% of the population but half of them were affected. So whites were affected by an almost 2 to 1 margin, while the blacks were affected by a little over a 1 to 1 margin. So by percentage of population, whites were twice as likely to be affected by flooding than blacks... Now if you included Placquemines & St. Bernard Parishes, don't you think whites would even be more heavily affected by flooding? Of course more blacks than whites were affected since they made up a larger number of the population. I think these statistics show that both races suffered terribly. I'm not a statistician but I think my reasoning is sound.

da po' boy said...

Jim,

I have edited “black residents were 3.75 times more likely to be affected by the storm” to “3.75 times more black residents were affected by the storm” because, well, that’s what I meant to say. The edit doesn’t really change the point.

If you include Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes, you are missing my point about segregation. Yes, both races were affected because hurricanes are not racist. If the levees had not broken, a much larger percentage of the white population would have been affected than the black population. This result, too, would have been the result of policies that led to segregation.

This post was not as much about who was affected by the hurricane, but rather to highlite the divide among where the whites live and where the blacks live in southeastern Louisiana and why that leaves New Orleans a Chocolate City.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

You write: Greater numbers in a democracy should translate into greater advantages.

What does this mean? I thought in our society, those who work harder, who are better educated and who make smart choices in their lives are more likely to have material and economic advantages.
Are you saying that all poor people need to do is constitute themselves as a majority somewhere and their lot will immediately improve?
Please name a place where this has happened...