Freaky Friday

I mean freaky in the good, fun, "oh yeah!" kind of way of course ;-)
Hello again. I'm back at the trusty Ogi computer, in my usual spot other than freezing in the LL room. I hope you are all enjoying your day, staying warm, and hyped that it is Friday. I know I am.
Thanks to all of you who have been reading. I appreciate it. I am glad to know that people are out there and I'm not writing in vain.
Today I want to share a little about a city I know well. I'm not looking to incite anyone today- I just want to share.
As I said on Tuesday, I went to university in New Orleans. I went to Tulane University, which is located in the uptown area of the city. New Orleans has always been well known, at least in the States, for its Mardi Gras festival. This festival, rooted in French Catholicism, usually lasts about 2 or 3 weeks. It ends on Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday (I think) and Pancake Day (I just learned). The point of Fat Tuesday is this- starting Ash Wednesday Catholics (and other Christians too) have to observe lent, which means they have to give up something. Originally it was a complete fast, but now people usually just give up something like soda or sweets or desserts... So Fat Tuesday is the last day that you can eat everything. This is how the festival began. Now Mardi Gras is 2 or 3 weeks of insane partying- there are all of these parades with giant floats, carrying people throwing beads to the massive crowds. Some even throw other things. I have caught masks, footballs, underwear (clean thank goodness), fake spears, cups, etc.etc. The parades are the best part of Mardi Gras. A lot of school marching bands perform. The population of the city triples around Mardi gras time. It is one of the biggest parties in the US if not the biggest.
So before this year's horrific flooding, New Orleans had been known as a party city, the home of jazz greats and creole cooking. Tourists flock to New Orleans for Bourbon Street, red beans and rice, and street musicians. They go home and tell their friends what an awesome city New Orleans is.
But if you are in New Orleans long enough and choose to escape the bubble of parties, university campuses, and the street you live on, you realize that New Orleans has some very deeply rooted problems. First of all, even on campus you realize that all the workers are black and all the managers are white. The majority of the university students are white, although the majority of the city is black.
Walking down the main streets that you see in tourist brochures, you see gorgeous million dollar mansions, many of them old plantation houses. The wealth in New Orleans is mostly old money, passed down through families for hundreds of years.
Walking down other streets in the same area, you see abandoned houses, housing projects that look like they are falling apart, bullet holes in windows, and bars on the doors.
You start to realize that all (with rare exceptions) of the black people who live in New Orleans live in extreme poverty, while all (also, with rare exceptions) of the white people are upper-middle to upper class. The middle class is non-existent in some areas. There are virtually no white children in the public school system- they can all afford to get out and go to private schools.
Why is this? And why is no one doing anything about it?
Over a hundred years ago slavery was abolished in the US. But to look at cities in the south, like New Orleans, it is hard to tell. Black people stay poor and white people keep getting richer.
Money talks. And all the money is in the hands of the extremely wealthy, aristocratic white community. Money runs the government, therefore no changes are every made. In New Orleans, the police are corrupt. The government is corrupt. The crime rate is one of the highest in the country. Nothing even remotely progressive is happening.
I had a strange experience one day in New Orleans that I think really illustrates the extremes of race and economics in the city. When I was in my last two years of university, I worked with an after school program in St. Thomas. St. Thomas was a housing project, but it had been torn down my freshman year. The people who lived there were displaced. Some ended up in poor housing in other places in the city where they knew no one. Others were staying with relatives so they could continue to live in their neighborhood. Others had to leave the city entirely and found housing in the outlying areas. And what happened to the area that was St. Thomas? Was it rebuilt and reopened to the community? NO. It is now a super Wal-Mart. I could write 20 more pages on this issue alone, but for now I will go back to the after school program.
Anyway, one Friday I was at the gym where we ran a sports program for the neighborhood kids. The gym was next to the empty lot where the projects used to stand. Due to the transcience of the area, we never knew how many kids would show up. Police would do raids on the apartments sometimes and kick out any family members who weren't on the lease. Kids who we had spent months getting to know would suddenly just be gone. The school where the kids went was one of the worst in the city. Many of the parents were my age or younger. Many of the kids didn't get enough to eat, didn't have clean clothes to wear, and lived in dilapidated housing packed with people. The projects where they had formerly lived had high rates of drug use and crime. They had grown up around all of this on a daily basis.
After I left the gym, I had to attend another charity event, only about 10 minutes away by car. I was volunteering at a fundraiser for the local humane society (where stray animals go). The fund raiser was at Anne Rice's guest house. She is the author of Interview with a Vampire and other books. As I pulled up to the house, I was in shock. The house, which, let me repeat, is her GUEST HOUSE, is a former orphanage. It is ENORMOUS. It has three stories, the third story being an entire chapel. Almost every room in the house is filled with extremely expensive dolls, some of which have been handmade to look like characters in Rice's books. Artwork adorns the walls. The elite of the elite attended this party in their finest formalwear. Women were dressed in ball dresses and glittering with diamonds. Men were in tuxes. The guests bid on different things in an auction, spending thousands of dollars. Musicians performed as the guests mulled around the house and dined on gourmet food. The only black faces in the house were those of the staff.
Visiting these two extremes of New Orleans in the same day was an eye-opening experience for me. I don't think I ever saw the city in quite the same light again. The wealthy were dining, drinking, and bidding to raise money for animals while down the street people were living worse than the animals they were raising money for. I would have loved to take all of those people, in their ball gowns, to St. Thomas, to the gym, to meet the kids and see up close and personal how the poor black majority of the city live. But I honestly don't know if that would do any good. It would just add to the stereotypes and ignorance that exists all too often.
I have no idea what happened to the St. Thomas community during the flooding. I hope that it was spared or that the people got away in time. I have no way of contacting any of them. I do know that thousands of poor black people did die in the city since they lacked the resources to get out in time. Others, 50,000 in fact, slept in the Superdome for days, and anger about what was happening and how they were being treated led to murders and suicides in those horrible conditions. The media made matters worse by referring to pictures of black people as "looting" and pictures of white people as "searching for supplies" even though they were doing the same thing.
New Orleans is now in a unique situation. Not many cities get a chance to start over, to rebuild to such a degree. There is so much potential. How can New Orleans rebuild in such a way as to alleviate some of the deep rooted problems? What can be done to make the new New Orleans an improved version of its old self, a place where white and black citizens can feel safe, physically and financially? Any ideas?
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Have a lovely weekend.