This post over at b. rox is such an indicator. I encourage everyone to read it because it is is such a pristine and well-written example of how cultures clash here in New Orleans.
Bart is a man who publicly admonished the mayor in font of a crowd of 5000 people back in January and has done, well, too much to list here to help the city to recover and this lady, who said she was looking to leave the city for good, took him to task for trying to make a difference and suggested that the only reason he was doing so was because he was from Indiana.
Now, to clarify, she suggested that if he was born and raised here, he wouldn’t have such a rosy attitude toward the recovery.
Some of them have MRGO-sized holes in their logic.
First, many of them have the attitude that if you aren’t “from” here then you have no business commenting on what occurs here. Neverminding their vastly different attitudes as to what constitutes being “from” here. But I wont address that, it’s difficult terrain to navigate.
I will say that I have found a direct correlation with being “from” here and “understanding how it is here” to a blanket acceptance of every fucked-up and ludicrous thing that goes down here. Those “from” here fall into two categories, those who are still fighting to fix it, and those who have resigned themselves to the fact that it won’t change. But almost all the people who have moved here from other cities or countries seem to have philosophies similar to the former.
The attitude of those “from” here is often “That’s the way it is and that’s how it will always be.” The reason people who move here become so disgusted with that is because it’s not tolerated in other places.
Part of the reason it hasn’t changed is because these locals who say that the out-of-towners don’t understand are so mired in their own ways that they are blinded towards real life and not the other way around.
And I’d hazard a guess that it is a culmination of these these ways that are to blame for the downward turn in progress the city has endured since 1960, including the events of August 2005 and after.
Is Varg blaming Katrina on the locals?
Well, I’m blaming it on the backwards political process whose responsibility it was to oversee those levees. And that process starts at the voters and moves on up through Washington. They are ALL to blame. And the longer you lived here and did nothing during the years leading up to Katrina, the more you are to blame for sitting back and lamenting that “things are never going to change” and not doing a enough to protect your homes from Lake Ponchartrain.
And if you by chance spoke to your local politicians, or wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper, or attended a meeting, or wrote a pamphlet, or did one minuscule thing other than complain to people at bars about the levees, then you are excused from any responsibility.
And in the end, every discussion I have had with one of these ignorant locals (by ignorant I mean to separate them from the many New Orleanians, like my neighbors, who have a clear vision of what is wrong with the city and are outraged by it) always ends with, “you just don’t understand how it is here.” That is always the one conclusion they come down to and it often gets repeated over and over as an all-encompassing argument regardless of what I am saying.
But it’s not hard to understand New Orleans, it’s not so complicated and it certainly doesn’t take more than a year or so of living here for a person of decent intellect to get at least a working knowledge of it. There are details sure, but you figure out the basics pretty quick. Many locals know intricacies so deep that newcomers can never catch up. But when that knowledge translates to apathy, there isn’t any catching up to do.
Here are some random things I have learned about the city in the last three years. Some have to do with race because it seems to be something Bart’s lady-in-question latched onto as a reason for the city’s condition.
- When the government is not corrupt it’s inefficient. Some politicians enter the system with the best intentions but are either driven out by those entrenched in the politics or end up becoming another part of the process and take their electorate with them.
- The city and its population contain many working (and in some cases, non-working) poor. Many of its citizens are on government assistance due to three factors 1.) poor schools 2.) low wages / no opportunities 3.) The ready availability of said assistance.
- Its two main industries (the port and tourism) come from abroad. Music, sugar and spices are three exports. Many of America’s vital resources spend some time here, but are shipped away accordingly.
- Racism exists on both sides of the fence and the integrated nature of workplaces and neighborhoods creates a dynamic that is different (though not necessarily better or worse) than the racism that is prevalent in cities like Los Angeles (home to race riots in 1992 and 1965), Philadelphia (home to race riots in 1964) or Cincinnati (home to race riots in 2001). The racism here is overt and not dealt with. Racism in other cities is covert and not dealt with.
- A lot of blame goes around between the blacks and whites in town and neither side accepts any of it very often.
- The city was built on an influx of immigrants from European countries France, Spain, Germany and Ireland. Slavery and trade routes in the Caribbean also had a profound effect on the city’s culture in the 19th century. In more modern years, Central Americans and Asians have also made significant contributions to the population.
And I didn’t even use Wikipedia.
So when when folks say, “you just don’t understand how it is here” when engaged in a disagreement with someone like Bart, what they really mean is “if you were raised here, you would have accepted that you are helpless to change it.”
And that’s why it hasn’t changed.
No great American city, including this one, became great because of a refusal to accept newcomers and their ideas. But somewhere along the way here in New Orleans, probably in recent decades, some locals chose to disregard the new folks’ opinions. And they did it out of pride more than anything else.
The city is worth defending. I know because I have to do it a lot (often to my father, but other times to total strangers). But the shitty parts of it aren’t worth any sort of defense. Explanation maybe, but not defense.
I think perhaps these locals are so defensive of their buffoonery here because they view it as an indictment of themselves. I myself said as much earlier in this post. I’d try and do something to downplay that sentiment if it wasn’t so damn true.
And then, of course, there are those that are leaving. Yes, those folks who lived here their whole lives and, because of the flood and its aftermath are fed up and moving on. We all know someone. And if you are like me you know quite a few. One’s leaving the city is dependent on their expectation of things to change. As I have heard many of them say, “It’s not going to change.”
“If you get the fuck out perhaps it might,” I think to myself.
Oh, and I hope you are treated nicely by the locals when you arrive in Little Rock, Galveston, Montgomery or whatever nice city you have chosen as your new home.