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Monday, September 12, 2005

I tried not to take offense, I really did...

...and I wasn't going to blog it, but the churning in my stomach won't let me ignore my disappointment. Today I read an article in Slate by Jack Shafer offering reasons why it would be folly to rebuild New Orleans. He gave some salient points, and I am on the fence about the whole thing. The parts of the city shown only to the tourists, including the Garden District and the French Quarter were (maybe, still are) gems that should not be so casually disregarded, but one can't dispute that, in the wake of Katrina, those gems were surrounded by unfriendly topography and an overwhelming poverty. Mr. Shafer states, and maybe rightly so, that it makes no sense to reconstitute so much poverty in one place.

Yet, that's not why I had to blog. It was that among Mr. Shafer's list of debits, of minuses about New Orleans...well, I'll let you read the statement: "The city's romance is not the reality for most who live there. It's a poor place, with about 27 percent of the population of 484,000 living under the poverty line, and it's a black place, where 67 percent are African-American. In 65 percent of families living in poverty, no husband is present." (bold added by me)

Mr. Shafer may not have meant the implication - that an all-black metropolis is something deleterious in itself. After all, the racial make-up of a place does not make it any less "romantic" than a metropolis with an all-white populus. It is the poverty, not the race of the residents, that destroys a city, a town, a burg. Example, a lot of Appalachia is poverty-stricken, and leaves much to be desired as a place to settle. And a lot of the residents are white. So where is the equivalence?

And there are those predominantly African-American metropolises that are thriving hives of commerce and culture. Atlanta, Georgia comes to mind. Taking that to a microcosmic view, black neighborhoods tend to be lumped together in certain folks' minds as concentrations of poverty and crime. And yet, I have lived in black neighborhoods where people maintain their homes, where the streets are well-manicured and quiet, where children can play relatively safely. I have had cab drivers who have expressed astonishment when they parked in front of my home, which is modest but very attractive, remarking how nice the neighborhood is. Their surprise bespeaks of their pre-conceived notions of areas where there is a predominance of African-Americans.

No, I won't assume Mr. Shafer meant anything as racially unfair and stupid as assuming that New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt because the city was "a black place, where 67 percent are African-American." I'll assume he meant to say it was "a poor place, where at least 27 percent of the residents, some of whom just happened to be African-American, were at or below the poverty level." That makes more sense to me. Yet, in his sentence, the two seemed exclusive of each other, each factor, race and poverty, weighing in equally to Mr. Shafer's equation of why New Orleans should not be rebuilt.

On a side note, regarding Mr. Shafer's listing New Orleans overwhelming fatherless homes as another factor not to rebuild, I would point to Mr. Shafer that I came from a divorced home and turned out relatively OK. Even managed to get a law degree and pass the bar. I would also note that many illegitimate children, both black and white and other races, don't necessarily fall into the poverty trap. As the divorce rates go up, and fathers leave the homes, we should expect to see many female-headed homes. Will this make a city any more undesirable? It depends on the love and respect a child receives in his or her rearing, which goes a long way to creating law-abiding citizens.

I assume this particular point is more a factor of Mr. Shafer's probable conservative leanings (although I know nothing of Mr. Shafer's politics). Yes, I can agree that the two-parent home where both parents are available, mentally stable and loving is the preferred, but is a model becoming less the norm. I don't, however, believe it will lead to societal anarchy. It'll just refocus how we as a society will meet the needs of those children.

So, Mr. Shafer, I can give you the benefit of the doubt that your words didn't arise from some covert racism; and you can give me the benefit of the doubt, that where others like myself, of the same hue, but financially better off than others, concentrate in a neighborhood or city, will not somehow besmudge it's "romantic" appeal.

Addendum: Hmmm, another perspective by Nancy Lehman in Slate on the racial dynamic that made up pre-Katrina New Orleans: "People ask me about the city and its culture. What I have just described is its culture. There is a small strata of society possessed of privilege and dynamism. There is that vast downtrodden population. In some respects, the latter historically propped up the former. The heart and soul of New Orleans was always the black people. There is an elegance on that side of the coin equal to anything on the other."

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 9/12/2005 06:59:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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