Sunday, January 10, 2010

What the HELL are you THINKING?

I get asked that question a lot. By a lot of folks, under a lot of circumstances. I decided to oblige them and answer it. Some of what I'm thinking is just plain silly. Some not so silly. These are some of the things I've been thinking about in that time between wakefulness and sleep, when my mind is wheeling around, sorting through all the data input from that day.

1. I dislike Stacy Head, one of our councilwomen. A lot of people really like her, and I should add, she's not the representative from my district. At first I didn't pay much attention to her, but then once during some Fest (no, I can't remember which one but I sure remember her!) I was standing with my daughter and grandson when she and her family arrived. She haughtily pushed my grandson and me aside without so much as an excuse me. At that point I thought she was just some rude woman, then the person to my right leaned over and told me who she was. So as a person I'm not crazy about her. When she put her emails online I thought it was brave but also a tad reckless as some of her comments within the emails were a bit over the line, IMO. Some of it was the kind of thing that one might blurt to a friend over beer at the bar, but talking about some of her colleagues the way she did bothered me. She has also said some things (no, I don't have all the damn links!) that lead me to think she might want to remake New Orleans in San Diego's image. Not crazy about her. Can ya tell?

2. I dislike Police Chief Warren Riley. I was at a meeting in the Marigny a few months back. He had a lot to say about crime statistics, lack of funds, lack of personnel. He discussed cops sitting in cars with a/c rather than walking through the streets they patrol, getting to know the people in the area. All of it sounded good. He had his talking points down. (And yes, I DO have all the notes from that meeting should you want them.) Brian Denzer, a local activist, asked him about the statistics: why couldn't they be posted in real time. Riley's answer was lack of personnel. Last week he said his department really didn't have anything to do with all that. Which answer was correct? NOPD has something to do with posting the stats and doesn't have enough people OR NOPD has nothing to do with it and it's done by an outside entity? Which statement is BS? Not crazy about him. Can ya tell?

3. Now Head and Riley are evidently at loggerheads. In this article Riley claims Head used a racial slur in an email regarding him. If she did, and that email can be produced, she needs to go, resign, skedaddle, and that right quick. On the other hand, This could be Riley muckraking. I was particularly taken by his comment that a shadow government is trying to ignore all the positive things that he and Ray Nagin have done. Huh? How does Nagin figure into this? I was also intrigued by his comments regarding his future prospects being "profound and lucrative," saving his best comment for last, "I'm not just a Police Chief." Maybe therein lies the problem, Chief Riley. "Just" a police chief? Makes me think you consider your job a bit beneath you, protectin' and servin' all these folks here in New Orleans. Can't remember, but wasn't it you who said a while back that we needed a "better class of citizen" here? Contempt for the people you are supposed to serve doesn't serve at all. As for Ms. Head, there is no way to prove a negative so it will be hard to provide proof that she did NOT use a racial slur in an email regarding Riley. However, if the caller referred to in this article has that email, I'd sure like to see it. Then Head's head should be on a platter and Riley will be gone to his profound and lucrative la la land, at which point maybe we can get some people in those positions who are not busily race baiting while kids are shooting each other in the streets. Just my two cents, which ain't worth a lot.

4. I was sitting in the St. Roch Tavern one night. A bunch of us were eating, drinking and talking over near the pool table. A man struck up a conversation with me as the guy he came in with was playing pool with the guy I'd come in with. Some kids were playing guitar and displaying their ink over to our right. St. Roch Tavern is one of those places where everyone is welcome. Race, age, economic status--these things aren't important there as long as your economic status allows you to buy a beer now and then. The man is a janitor in a building somewhere downtown, can't remember which one. He went to Mac35, which is how our conversation started. We were talking about the band at Mac35 and he said he was in the band years ago. We talked cheese fries, football, kids. We laughed at the smack talking happening at the pool table. We ordered a couple more beers. He mentioned his mother's ill health, and somehow the topic wound up being the Iberville Housing project. Lord knows how we got there. It certainly wasn't planned. We talked about the possibility of it being torn down one day. We talked about the idea of housing projects in general. We talked about the kids growing up in them. We talked about what kinds of solutions there were to economic and educational deficits. I then told him that a friend (and I guess I have to say to anyone who would wonder about the source that this friend was a native New Orleanian, black male, about my age) who had lived with us for some months a year ago had warned me to never, ever set foot in Iberville. "You'll get shot," said my friend. "Just don't ever go there, you'll never make it out." The man at St. Roch started laughing and laughing and laughing. Once he composed himself he said, "You could walk right on through there. No one's gonna shoot you. They'd all be too scared of you." HUH? That was a new one. Scared? Of ME? Grey haired lady on a bicycle and they'd be scared? He said, "Hell yeah. They'd be pretty sure you were a parole officer or a probation officer or a social worker. They wouldn't fuck with you cuz YOU would scare THEM to death."

Mind you I'm not necessarily going to head off to Iberville to try his theory, although me being me I am sorely tempted. I spent the rest of that night horrified that anyone would be afraid of me. Afraid. I hated that. It keeps popping up as I go to sleep. Afraid. Of ME. Bothers me a lot. A quiet little bit of a race issue. Not riots in Watts in the 60's. Uh uh. Little grey haired white lady assumed to be a parole officer. Oh my god.

Then I noticed a comment on a friend's Facebook page. Something to the effect that it's always open season on tourists at Iberville. Bothers me. A lot. Black people in projects assumed to be criminals. Oh my god.

I'm not naive. I know racism exists. I am baffled by it. I grew up with it, but never understood it. Still don't. I also know that criminals exist and that there are some people out there who just don't give a shit, would shoot me standing without a bit of conscience. One of those people might be black. Another might be white. Either way I'm just as dead. Don't understand that killing choice either. Never have. I also can't go around being scared of everyone I see or there's just no point in going on.

So I see an article in the paper today, Riley and Head, did she or didn't she? Possible race baiting all around, then I think about the assumptions made by regular people, little, tiny, quiet assumptions building brick by brick a wall between neighborhoods and people. The walls whispered behind, hidden behind, giggled behind in a joke unchecked by the watercooler or an email meme blasted out willy nilly. No one takes issue with the meme's sender, they just quietly hit the delete button, either giggling or vomiting depending on their bent.

I am naive in this: I want the world to be like the St. Roch Tavern, where everyone's talking with each other not at or about each other, at least on a good day. I want our officials to talk about what needs to be done, not try to divide and conquer. In the doing of that they only manage the divide part, and ya know, we seem to manage that all by our bigoted little selves. We don't need their help.

For today, that's what the hell I'm thinking.

EDIT 1/12/2010: In this article at Riley appears to retract his statement: "Off-camera, Riley told WDSU that he doesn't believe the e-mail is a big deal, that he's never seen the message and he doesn't have proof that Head actually sent it."

Makes the entire thing even more disgusting IMO.


mf said...

Remember this? I'm sure I'll be getting hits on it. I do every time Heads in the news.

I do get racism, sort of. It's like an accent, drilled into us from birth. Remember how freaked out E.J. was when I introduced myself in the middle of a conversation, "Hi, I Mark, and I'm a racist." For folks raised down here its a burden and a disease like alcoholism you have to make a decision to overcome, and try to live that decision every day.

My children weren't raised here and have none of it, which is one of the good things about my exile.

Sam said...

Wow. That is so totally like what happened to us with her. And I think I remembered where it happened. Not a Fest. My daughter knew a local cop and he saw us along the parade route for Orpheus. He offered to let us sit on the police riser. We thanked him and went there. I believe that is where the altercation happened. I'm gonna check with my daughter. She'll probably remember. What you posted is beyond the pale, completely outrageous.

Maitri said...

"I want the world to be like the St. Roch Tavern, where everyone's talking with each other not at or about each other, at least on a good day."

I do, too. So unbearably much. Unfortunately, the only places I have not experienced or witnessed racism are Madison, WI and Columbus, OH because they are large-university towns and there are way too many international teachers, students and workers in these communities and in the far north, where Folse lived, because it is just not like a good Lutheran to judge someone based on the color of their skin. But, leave these towns and go into the suburbs and farmland and America resumes. Leave these towns and enter the urban jungle, you will see marginalization from an economic angle.

This is what I think is happening. In most small towns, racism is the product of pure ignorance and fear - not enough exposure to realize that lily-white America is a fantasy and doesn't have to be maintained at all costs. In large industrial cities (like Milwaukee, Cincinatti and Cleveland, the most segregated cities in America), racism is a direct product of classism and distrust. White blue collar workers, Democrats or Republicans, don't want black or ethnic blue collar workers taking their jobs. The white and black power structure make sure this animosity is maintained for their political gain. It's the same with the economic caste systems of Asia, Africa and South America. Wealthy black or brown people will be marginalized by ignorant white folks, but the worst rejection is that of poor, black/brownest folks. They bear the brunt of bigotry AND greed.

When my parents tell me that New Orleans - the environs and politics - reminds them of Chennai (formerly Madras), they are not kidding. The wonderful, irreplaceable old architecture and culture alongside murderous greed, administrative dysfunction & brutal bigotry of half a world away.

But, you knew all this.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts, because your insights are powerful. I would love to find a bar like what you are describing, where it would be easy to strike up conversations with so many different types of people.
An association triggered by your entry - this is "anecdotal" but I think it is worth pondering: at my last job, one of our black co-workers got caught up in a horrific situation in which one of her female friends was murdered by a couple of guys who knew she had some cash and wanted to use it to buy drugs. A few months before that, this same co-worker heard that another friend of hers was shot dead in a robbery in his apartment - and he had nothing to do with drugs, apparently, they just targeted him in a robbery.
My supervisor (a black woman in her late 40s), in commenting about the aforementioned events, talked about how these days, young people have to be very careful who they hang out with, and make sure that they are people who are focused on studying and having a future for themselves - because if you are very open and have a lot of friends you meet out in the clubs these days, you don't know who you could run into.
She said, when she was younger, things were a lot different - you could go out to clubs and meet all kinds of people, without having to worry about meeting people who are involved in a dangerous lifestyle. (She probably used a phrase more like "involved in that kind of nonsense.")
Again, I'd like to stress that this was a black woman speaking these words - and she is by no means wealthy, she came up from a poor background. And while I hate to talk "about" someone rather than "with" her, that is dictated by the blog format; I didn't invite her to sit down and write a blog entry with me. (In fact, we are for a variety of reasons not in touch these days.)

I think her cautionary words shed an interesting light on the goal of meeting and be-friending people from all walks of life - and I think it may relate to the kind of city one lives in. I'm betting that on a scale of 1 to 10 for "friendliness" of a city, New Orleans is at "11." Therefore even the introverts in New Orleans may have massive social networks compared to the average person in another city. It must be much easier to find a safe place like that bar where people of different backgrounds in their 30s or older all meet and mingle, without having to resort to hanging out with all these crazy kids in their 20s who are always going out "clubbing"...?