new orleans Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Damage after Hurricane Katrina, School Bus

Let me make it plain: conversations in too many sectors have this strange relationship with race these days, and by strange, I mean covertly racist. This sentiment is best exemplified by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s latest quote about New Orleans (thanks, Fred Klonsky):

“I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better.’”

Classy move there, Secretary. (Your apology’s a little late, which is right on time.) I have so many problems with this statement, I’d be here until tomorrow discussing its implications. However, let me just highlight a few:

1) As I mentioned in the same blog I borrowed this from, the cataclysmic events of the day and the thousands of lives lost and ruined by this disaster only seem to mean one thing to Arne: a rise in test scores. If we get rid of the lowest-performing students through collateral damage and natural disaster, who are we to disparage that as scores rise? The districts with higher performing students didn’t get affected nearly as much. Plus, if we can destroy the public sector of education and replace it with privately funded institutions who only accept certain types of children, then those students who don’t get to go to those schools, in effect, don’t count. They’re on the bottom end of the “outliers.”

Which brings me to …

2) If those voices are silenced, then how does some people’s “color-blindness” affect how this conversation proceeds? Well, his defenders will most likely say, “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” “His boss is a Black president!” and “Look at the second part of that statement. Black people DO have to do better!” These statements and others like it already denote a racial tone because it suggests that color is to be ignored in a system that places values on race as is or that the retorts aren’t substantiated because there’s a Black person involved within a 5-mile radius. It also suggests that, when in conversation with a diverse group of people, since there “is no color,” then the dominant peoples’ voice (cultural values, speech patterns, stereotypes, etc.) should be used, and thus nullifying the conversation since everyone’s supposedly on the same plane, even when they’re not.

and …

3) It makes it easier to ignore participants whose experience is different from the dominant populace, and this doesn’t just apply to race, but sex, age, etc. Rather than addressing these issues, too many educators rather run away from these topics because of their limited experience with race or they don’t want to deal with that part of themselves. At the end of the day, it doesn’t just hurt participants of color, but Whites as well, since their opinions hinder true dialogue and embed further intellectual segregation, even when they think they mean well.

I bring all this up because I ran into a conversation online where the chatroom was mostly of one dominant culture, and a few others observed that they couldn’t get into the conversation because it’s mostly ed-tech crap. (Yes, I said crap.) When someone tried to bring up the need for more discussion about pedagogy and / or achievement gaps, these parts were ignored, and that’s the worst part.

Ignorance doesn’t just take the form of hatred (ignorance of fact), but also when one actually ignores the other (ignorance of being).

Unlike my blogger colleagues who discuss race, I won’t seek to validate my opinion by speaking of the myriad of friends I have and who understand this discussion, no matter what race. Rather, I extend this phrase: color-consciousness. It means that true diversity exists outside of the flavors that exist in your spice rack, or the flavor of liquids you used today.

And more to the point, it means people aren’t simply collateral.

Mr. Vilson, who never drank Cristal, but them f***as racist …

p.s. – Dr. Beverly Tatum covered this extensively in Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? Pick it up if you haven’t.


And The Levee Was Gone …

by Jose Vilson on August 9, 2007

in Jose

ReNew Orleans TrumpetI just got back from New Orleans, after a delay with the airport shuttle (taxis are so indispensable), a delayed flight from NO to Charlotte, and then another from there to NYC-LaGuardiA. I won’t even tell you the airline’s name, but I’m wary about doing business with them again after all of that. Fortunately, one of my greatest qualities is my patience, so I just said “f*** it” throughout the day.

Anyways, New Orleans, Louisiana was good. I mostly stayed in the French Quarter, about 2 blocks or so from Bourbon St. It’s good in the sense that I had a really good time and all the touristy stuff was within walking distance (for a New Yorker, that’s about a 2-3 mile radius). Yet, I felt weird because I was contributing to a part of the city that was left mostly untouched through the Katrina and subsequent Rita hurricanes.

As I walked through Bourbon St. that first night, I got a glimpse of the revival efforts made within the city. We saw some beautiful bands playing everything from jazz and funk to rock and country. I had Hurricanes, Hand Grenades, margaritas, Who’s To Blames, and other assorted drinks I can’t quite remember for some reason. It definitely reminded me of Dominican Republic in the architecture, smell, and candor, but just this time around, everyone spoke English and there were more blanquitos. Many more.

My traveling partner then said something out of the blue that really hit home. Upon looking some of the T-Shirts (“FEMA: Fix Everything My @$$,” “Evacuation Plan: Run, B****, Run,” and “I’m Here About The BlowJob” were some of the more prominent messages), she said, “Yeah it’s funny, but the sadness is still there. It’s still very sarcastic.”

Time Magazine August 7th, 2007As we rode on the Steamboat Natchez, we saw the lasting effects of that fateful August disaster. The announcer-narrator tried to sound objective throughout the tour, but he found it really hard to. He announced how the levees were still not fixed near the 9th Ward (Time Magazine recently re-confirmed that), the businesses were shutting down left and right, and boats weren’t pulling into their shores the way they used to. For some of the natives, that famous Southern hospitality was replaced with a “Where you from?” a hint in the hood for “You’re not from around here. Get out.” We got a lot of that from some of our own “people,” (whatever that means).

It didn’t matter the color of the person either; the people who ran the swamp tour went from 55,000 customers before Katrina to 15,000 last year. Walking down Canal Street gave me a strong sense of what I’d suspected all along; all the trees knocked down by the storm were used for boarding up all the (working class owned) businesses up and down the street.

With that said, though, I still felt rather optimistic for N’Awlins. I still remember the 544 Funky Club playing “Candy” (Cameo) and “Electric Boogie (Slide)” (Marcia Griffiths) with so much vigor. The bar right across played a rather rousing rendition of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses. I ate some of the richest food I’ve ever had in the form of po’ boys, jumbalaya, gumbo, char grilled oysters, and hush puppies. My traveling partner didn’t have to do anything for her beads, and she even got a little trumpet rendition of “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder played for her. I still had a very positive experience in New Orleans.

For all the negativity that surrounds a catastrophic event like 9/11, Katrina, or a tsunami, the mark of a civilization’s death or life lies in the preservation (and not gentrification) of its culture.

Re Cover
Re Build
Re New Orleans …

jose, who got tired of wrestling alligators in the bayou …