Larry Blumenfeld on New Orleans’ Refusal to Vanish
[ All politics is local, Tip O’Neill famously said. Hell, every single thing is local in New Orleans—the city that author Ned Sublette calls “an alternative American history all in itself.” Big Chief Harrison figures in the coda to Sublette’s new book, “The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.” “They refused to cooperate in their own erasure,” Sublette writes of Harrison and his fellow chiefs in their elaborate beaded and feathered suits during the first Mardi Gras following Hurricane Katrina. “They were still men, and these were still their streets.”
Make no mistake, what’s happening in New Orleans today—often by virtue of what’s not happening or despite what mustn’t—is an erasure, growing increasingly willful-seeming as the disaster grows more manmade and less natural. If things go as HUD has ordered and as the New Orleans City Council approved late last year, most public housing units in the city will be bulldozed away. Gone, at least for now. Among the striking images in my two years of post-Katrina reporting from New Orleans was the black Ninth Ward family I came upon during the second anniversary of the storm who stood by and watched as a TV anchorwoman held her microphone in front of their devastated home. “The producer said he doesn’t want us in the picture,” the father told me, holding his baby in his arms. Most Americans can’t see what’s actually in the frame in New Orleans anyway, and how could they without a working knowledge of local culture steeped in history? Where is the outrage down there, the resistance? Listen to Mardi Gras Indians chant “We won’t bow down!” Or fall in behind a brass band as part of a Sunday second-line parade. These are the protests, assertions of future and past in a present barely there at all. New Orleans is two cities now—one inching toward renewal, the other still caught in what, shortly after Katrina, David Winkler-Schmidt of the local Gambit Weekly called “the horrible unending of not knowing.” ]
There's a great deal more of this 2500 word TruthDig article about what is currently happening in New Orleans, prompted by jazz writer, Larry Blumefeld's reading of the book, The World That Made New Orleans.