Don’t Be Mad at the Mirror

Oct 18 2005

1 Reply

During the 1980s, Vladimir Posner explained the policies, actions, and culture of the Soviet Union to the American Public. He was the spokesperson for Russia and Americans loved him; he spoke flawless American English and was charming and funny. Nevertheless, he admitted in a recent interview, he failed to convince anyone that the actions and policies of the Soviet Union were sound or just. The reason for this, he explained, is that the actions of his country were neither sound nor just—and that people understand the difference between actions and words. No amount of talking—or propaganda—will obscure the reality of the intentions and actions of a community. In Russia they have a saying: Don’t be mad at the mirror if you have an ugly face.

As a community, New Orleans takes a certain amount of pride in dancing the line between reality and illusion. Masking for carnival, our tacit complicity in political corruption, the myth of our racially harmonious gumbo: like a hustler in Jackson Square, each of these winks at the outsider and says, “Just trust us on this, don’t look to close.”

But the now the stakes are higher than they have ever been. We can continue to wink. We can allow the same politicians to divert contracts to their friends. We can permit our business and political leaders to think small. We can reestablish the same factions and continue squabbling over the same crumbs.

Or, we can come together as a community and demand that the residents of New Orleans have a voice in setting priorities, in the strategic planning process, in budget priorities, and in managing the performance of our elected officials. We can establish and adhere to evidence-based quality standards for implementation, budget, and accountability to ensure that our input is translated into truly beneficial programs.

We have an historic opportunity to create communities that are vibrant, sustainable, and equitable. We can retool our economy to take advantage of emerging trends. We can be a leader in the creative application of sustainable building and energy efficient technologies. We can incorporate affordable housing and locally owned and managed businesses into our planning so that everyone benefits from the rebuilding of our communities. We can create a functioning public school system. We can ensure that the environment is clean and safe for our children.

If we are to make these dreams a reality, we will need help. We will need Federal, State, and private funding. We will need expertise from across the country and across the globe. And we won’t get this if people believe that it is politics as usual in the Big Easy: questionable contracts, poverty-based economy, failing schools, corrupt law enforcement, a degenerating environment. Don’t be mad at the mirror if you have an ugly face.

Let’s change the reality. The rest will take care of itself.

Filed under: Editorials | Katrina | Rebuilding New Orleans


David Crais said:

True, the revisionist history, and over romanticsm of pre-Katrina New Orleans is abundant. For those of us who are natives, and have been residents of the city or the greater region over the past twenty years we have seen the gritty degradation of what used to be a great city. We never had the racial harmony spoken of post-K. If we did,why were there “colored” water fountains and bathrooms in public areas until the 60’s? Why weren’t blacks allowed to freely shop or eat where they chose? Why did you have Lincoln Beach? Fraud! The city was a powder for the last twenty to thirty years; and as the economy got worse (no, we where not always a poor city)and more of the educated and middle class -both black and white - left it got worse. Hurricane Katrina was just the spark that ignited it. And we don’t really have diversity in this “gumbo” of a city. Compared to most metropolitan areas in the country we have a binary racial mix…blacks and whites. The Hispanic presence was miniscule before Katrina, and what about Asians or other ethnic groups? Non-existent. Art Neville of The Neville Brothers was right when he said, ” most of what’s said about the New Orleans music scene is a myth. I don’t know of anyone who makes a living there”. And if he’s wrong, then why do Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John, and Wynton Marsalis not even live here. Sure they’d leave to go on tour but they are barely in New Orleans at all. They are also guilty, in my view, of expoiting our culture and using it for personal gain more than supporting or enhancing it. I know one thing, there are many more individuals in this city who know more about the ‘real’ New Orleans than they do. People say they don’t want New Orleans to be “Disney-fied”. Well, the ‘Disney-fication’ of New Orleans in terms of the discussion of culture in already evident in the media and went into overdrive post Katrina. Most of what has been discussed about the cultural, architectual, and demographic state of New Orleans pre-K is myth, hyperbole, and puffery. If a ‘Rebirth’ is needed it is in spite of Katrina, not because of it. I was born in New Orleans, I was raised and educated here, and I live here. New Orleans must change in order to survive and the rose-colored, blue sky imagery of it’s recent history (70’s, 80’s, 90’s) is more harm than help.

Feb 14 2006

7:19 PM