| ,
| RSS | |



Arts · Politics · Crime
· Sports · Food ·
· Opinion · NOLA ·


Defender Picks


Promotin’ the General Welfare

Symbolic Gestures Are Not Enough

As different as we like to think we are here in New Orleans – one of the wonderful self-styled slogans we don’t deny is visiting here is like coming to another country – we are very very American. In fact, we may be the most quintessentially American of cities precisely because we flaunt our love of the provincial and quaint alongside our loyalty to larger tradition and culture. Patriotism is big here. We pretend we are so dangerously laissez-faire while strictly adhering to unofficial, but understood, codes of conduct that have been passed down through the generations. You can talk crazy all you want, but acting crazy is a whole ‘nother thing that might get you locked up, or worse, left out.


So, what we learned the day Mayor Mitch dared upset the apple cart and move us from a state of pretend to a state of pretense, at least in the minds of those folks who find removing the monuments an affront – to call the thing out for what it really is, the elephant at the center of the city’s cloaked quarters – well, who was he to decide it was time to bring us into the realm of the real? We were just behaving like true Americans:  mixing our love and loyalty to legend and lore in place of a serious understanding of our history and the shameful, hurtful deeds done to so many in the name of Manifest Destiny.


But, it had to be done. Someday, those symbols staining our landscape needed to be scrubbed from view. But now, we are faced with two dilemmas: for some folks, what do we replace those sordid statues with, statues whose visages vindicated the long legacy of White Supremacy riding just beneath the veneer of purported freedom? For others, what to do about the lone figure whose image smears the center of the beautiful Old Square, a statue commemorating a man who would eventually become President, but who also owned slaves and displaced Indigenous Peoples from their homes?


Regarding the former, nothing should replace the monuments once removed. Their absence should stand as statement enough. It should cause folks to wonder what once stood in this space, should bring about a dialog as to what place in American History should treasonous, Confederate heroes occupy, if not the lowest circles in traitorous hell? 


And in regards the latter, how can we begin to consider the removal of the chosen four monuments as testament to city’s newfound sense of diversity and inclusion when it is clear there will be no attempt to remove the disgraceful figure of Andrew Jackson from the heart of the original city? His was not a figure that occupied that culturally and spiritually sacred space originally. Why should that embodiment of blasphemy remain? Chronologically, Jackson’s sins were committed before those committed by the men of the Confederacy and the citizens of the White League. Shouldn’t his have been the first to go?


This is the trouble with this whole undertaking of taking down monuments. Beyond the symbolism, what goal does it serve if we are not committed to true, sincere, genuine remedies to ameliorate the wrongs that persist in our fair city?


I am done with symbolic, or moral, victories. They are too pyrrhic at best; at worst, they conveniently divert our attention from the real dilemmas facing our city and its citizenry: long-sagging and faulty infrastructure, maddeningly poor-performing students, a dearth of employment opportunities which limit the lower classes with respect to real advancement, and a pervasively flagging morale felt only in certain parts of the city by certain people who are being left out of the “new” New Orleans.


If Katrina was bad, this, pardon the expression, is surely worser!


There are too many folks who are not feeling the vibe of the “new” New Orleans. There are too many folks who are not seeing themselves as part of the progress in the “new” New Orleans. And with Jazz Fest time upon us, a time once celebrated so universally because even working people could afford to go, there is great discussion about how unaffordable it is to attend – even for one day!


Once you remove the opportunity for “real” New Orleanians – real by their sense of place, purpose and personal histories – to participate easily and openly in the culture, you remove their reason to care one whit about what’s going on here. And that is the dangerous precipice upon which we stand. Look no further than the ever-spiraling crime rate. That is neither an accident nor an aberration: it is an affront, and it will maintain if we do not take things seriously.


So, for those folks who feel as though the taking down of the monuments should appease the disaffected and disgruntled, please know that gesture is but a small step toward greater progress. 


If you could ask Homer Plessy what it means to be such a significant part of American History, a recognizable detail in the lore of the Supreme Court, a symbol of a people’s struggle to be treated as full citizens, I’m sure he would care not a whit about a school being named in his memory. Rather, he would care more that there are not enough chances for all of New Orleans’ kids to receive the excellent quality of education and preparation enjoyed by students enrolled at Homer Plessy Community School. He would probably sit right down on the steps of a nearby, failing school and proclaim that he would not move until true change came for each and every one of this city’s children. Sadly, he’d probably drop dead waiting.   


- - - - - 


The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.

Follow Us on Facebook
view counter
view counter
Advertise With Us Here
view counter
view counter
view counter
Follow Us on Twitter
view counter
Erin Rose
view counter
view counter
view counter


Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

Published Daily