Money is the crop.

Is the plantation owner
Money is the crop

My wise friend Peter’s daily haiku is the perfect way to start off a post about a recent opinion piece posted on The Lens that I link below. The writer is leaving after 5 years here and gives us his opinion on us before he hightails it to higher ground. So many people are like the opinion writer Sam and don’t even see themselves as wage slaves or ever sharecroppers living on the scraps allowed by their owner. And maybe they do know this but won’t admit to it- that they’d throw everything of real value over the side of the boat if they could paddle faster to the gold they seek.

Following that link is my response that I wrote to young Sam, who I have taken to task before (poor Sam). It’s on the site but comment section sometimes get lengthy and the newest are most easily found, so I stuck it here too.


And my response to it:

Entertaining as usual, but I not surprised that this writer once again lays the core impulse of his youth on external issues. He did it in his job seeking column and does it again here. Sam, you write well, yet with a great deal of self-importance and either a lack of understanding about systems or for self-preservation’s sake, using a disingenuous style of discovery, neither of which is gonna fly here. Here is the thing Sam; The truth is that young white Northerners like yourself are searching for something that small Southern port towns cannot give you and have never promised to give you. Full disclosure: I was once one of you; yes I have a New Orleanian parent and generations of family here and can join in the high school naming game but I had an out. Being partially raised up North in a small suburb that was (back then) lily-white and clean as hell meant I had experienced another life. And so at one point, I bolted from here, telling my family and friends a whole bunch of reasons why I left, but the truth was, I needed more than New Orleans could offer. Simply that I needed more and knew that in places with industry and middle-class comforts, I could get them. The difference is I knew I would come back to live among family and that the pull of the diverse culture for me would be to much to block out after some years; I was right about that (after a dozen years away), I came back to stay. So i get the impulse, but own up to your decision that is being done for reasons that are not to do with New Orleans really but to do with your ambition for things not offered in towns like ours, a restlessness of youth, and discomfort with the way a colony operates – all fine by the way. To talk (on a news site read by locals) about festivals, and wild partying shows the visitor in you even after your five years. Those things never keep anyone here. You didn’t talk about the families lining the parade routes and the multi-generational celebrations within neighborhoods and the blue-shirted men who are the heart and soul of their workplace and the St. Joseph altars and the purple light at night in the sky…
I can see that both of us romanticize the place and so I’m no better, but do us one a favor – tell the complete story when you go and not just tales of your “exploits” of staying up all night, of drive-thru daiquiris and “knowing” Kermit. New Orleans bides in a state with a misanthropic governor, a non-existent regional system and has to withstand waves of new people that come to extract value and comment on our pitiful existence and, somehow, rises above it still with a great deal of grace. It has a problem with race as does every American city (including the one I grew up next to in my suburb and yours too) and it does have widespread corruption and commodity industries that do not support creativity or informality, also like other cities. Some of them have “solved” some of that by pushing out those without enough resources rather than offering a hand or by criminalizing things like homelessness. Other cities focus on attracting virtual industries that allow their workers to live in a bubble, high above the mean streets, without the regular interaction necessary when you have a physical job to go to and work at among neighbors. What has to happen to fix these systems is embedding yourself in it, fixing it by being present and by being open to the new and the old and finding what works best from either and both and talking openly about all of it. I’m not saying we have accomplished any of it, but the opportunity remains for it to come to fruition as long as we commit to being here.
I wonder if you ever really meant to stay, ever really committed yourself to the place where people like you (and me) are minorities and our talents are not that useful. Because that is what I suspect is true among your peers; you were always meant to go and so you cannot blame us for knowing that and not offering you the golden ring you seek. Good luck in your search and thank you for your kind words for us during your stay. Tell the rest that we’ll stay as long as the water can be contained, because we can’t go anywhere else.

A site devoted to tracking the goodbyes:

About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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