On my other blog, I try to show my appreciation for an essay that local poet Bill Lavender has written. In it, I mention the part about Roxy and the cracker. You are welcome.
photo of Bill by writer Louis Maistros
On August 20, 1619, a ship carrying about 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia.
If you have somehow missed the rollout of the New York Times 1619 project, I hope you will find time to get a printed copy, listen to the podcasts, or find another way to catch up. This project – groundbreaking, truth-telling, and comprehensive – is a tremendously collaborative endeavor, created and led by brilliant journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones that offers a wide base of knowledge about America’s entanglement with enslavement, and how our systems have been designed to subjugate people, using the construct of race. The other great point made across the essays, the photos, the podcasts, and more is how deeply felt the patriotism is among black Americans who continue to patiently reach out to their fellow compatriots to try to explain what must be fixed.
Excerpts from Nikole-Hannah Jones’ August 14, 2019 NYT essay that introduced her 1619 Project:
They say our people were born on the water.
When it occurred, no one can say for certain. Perhaps it was in the second week, or the third, but surely by the fourth, when they had not seen their land or any land for so many days that they lost count. It was after fear had turned to despair, and despair to resignation, and resignation to an abiding understanding. The teal eternity of the Atlantic Ocean had severed them so completely from what had once been their home that it was as if nothing had ever existed before, as if everything and everyone they cherished had simply vanished from the earth. They were no longer Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These men and women from many different nations, all shackled together in the suffocating hull of the ship, they were one people now.
What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?
..At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.
…what I’m arguing is that our founding ideals were great and powerful. Had we in fact built a country based on those founding ideals, then we would have the most amazing country the earth has ever seen. But black people took those ideals very literally, and have fought to make those ideals real. And because of that, I say that we are — as much as the white founders whom we recognize — that we are the founding fathers of this country. So yes, it is patriotism, but not that type of blind, performative patriotism that is simply about trying to camouflage the nation’s sins and not trying to fight for the true ideals. But the type of patriotism, I think, that says: If you love your country, you have to fight to make your country the country that it should be.
Does any particular piece of criticism or praise stick out to you?
The criticism has been all about the framing, because people can’t actually criticize the facts.There was some critique that I was centering black people and not spending time on Native and Indigenous people, and I understand it to a degree. I did not want to render Native people invisible, but this was a story about chattel slavery. But I think it also speaks to how little good, comprehensive, smart, empathetic coverage we have of the two most marginalized groups in America, which are Native people and black people.
I guess sticking a tagline with your name is good enough for people to think your business served a cross-section.
This is what every story led with: “Dryades Public Market … the grocery with a mission (italics added) in Central City is closing today.”
Maybe the name public market fooled some people; really there should be a way that they should have been stopped in using that. Unfortunately, there is not.
As someone long involved in local food systems, I watched this idea sited on the ever-valiant Oretha Castle Haley with hope but more trepidation, and even a little more skepticism. Here are 2 posts from my public market blog where I referred to this entity.
In the late stages of design, I had been contacted by the developer, but I pretty much ignored the emails. (1) I felt there were better minds likely in the fray already, (2) I didn’t trust the local partner to do right by farmers based on what was being reported to me by some of them, and (3) I had moved on to more national work and felt I couldn’t give as much local context as I once had. Still, they kept calling, so I went to meet with them.
In short, they strongly suggested to me that they knew their local partner was full of shit but felt they were too far along to stop. (I also remember that they kept telling me how many parking spaces this place would have-in exasperation, I finally said that in terms of what they wanted to happen and in knowing the area, parking wasn’t going to be the draw that it was for their projects in NYC. That they needed to let that go.)
What they wanted was some help in figuring out how to still make the idea work. We tossed around some ideas, but the lure of the food hub concept was too hard for them to resist (although my memory was my only suggestion was to dump the partner publicly and reach out to a cross-section of chefs/farmers/organizers to come up with something else. They were definitely not gonna do THAT at that stage.) So what New Orleans ended up with was 3 different plans in about the same number of years: the “food hub”concept, followed by the “food hall” concept (run by good people who brought in other good people but had to do it without the financials being figured out and without a rebranding kickoff), and the last which was a bit of a desperate dab of a high end specialty store and a hot food line. All in all, nothing worked, even with a lot of truly well-meaning people doing their best to make it work.
I see people on Twitter calling for this to be relocated or even revived because of the “food desert” issue, but it is hard for me to see how people think this idea can work for either of those issues. (Also see folks calling out for ALDI’s or Trader Joe’s to come in to the site. Umm, not only is the square footage not even CLOSE to their wheelhouse, but the characteristics of a successful site for either is not even close to being present in New Orleans proper. It sucks but that is what it is. Capitalism.)
Food desert as a term doesn’t adequately describe the problem and for most organizers across the U.S, has been replaced by food apartheid. This situation also is better served by that latter term, as OCH has long been one area well known for across-the-board disinvestment by the usual money for the 30 years before Katrina. Now of course, every developer is there using it to build more upscale apartments and eateries which serve only the new population. That is apartheid.
I also see people on social media responding to the news of this closing asking for the “culture to be saved” as if DPM had ANY relationship to our diverse, locally relevant food history or public market/corner store/Schweggie history. Let’s be clear: this blip on our screen is a result of the post-2010 culture designed almost entirely by our “cultural” (read NOT) mayor Landrieu, and the many developers who now have a complete hold on the city. That era was all about “white box delivery” as the goal, with the content being figured out later. Meaning so not New Orleans.
Situating this high end “market” (it hurts me to even write that word in relation to DPM) on OCH, in the midst of the incredible work done by long time activists to fight for equitable development was in in itself a mockery and so out of scale to the rest of the street it was doomed to fail because New Orleanians cannot be fooled. Because what is true of New Orleanians is that, in terms of good ideas, they don’t believe they start with buildings; they believe they start with relationships, and they could see that this one had few.
If you were going for some level of authenticity, you’d go to Cafe Reconcile, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, Roux Carre, Casa Borrega, Church Alley (before it moved), Zeitgeist (also before it moved), bank at Hope Credit Union and so on. If you did those things, I find it hard to believe you would also enter the clubhouse that was J&J/DPM and spend your money there. And many of those “unfooled” New Orleanians I talked to said exactly that.
And yes, I went. I tried. And I felt out of place, and manipulated by a few wicker basket of bananas and apples and fancy water and a jar or two of local honey being sold to me as a grocery store. I left angry and embarrassed as to what this neighborhood which has survived so much was being offered even as the money was falling all over New Orleans. A crappy clubhouse.
So let’s be real and call this what it was: a bad experiment unworthy of OCH and New Orleans, learn from it, and move on to better ideas.
From @AmandaSoprano. Nothing more to say.
“It’s August 29th. I feel ghosts. The ghosts of what New Orleans was. Ghosts of her lost souls. Ghosts of ppl still living who were prevented from coming home. Today is a whole fucked up All Saints Day unto itself.”
Thanks to MaCCNO for posting this today. An extremely important piece!
“I witnessed numerous instances of private patrols harassing French Quarter street sellers, so the French Market Corporation and other businesses that paid into these patrols could monopolize the historic neighborhood’s tourist market. Once, I heard that a New Orleans police officer issued a ticket to a street poet selling custom-written poems to tourists. I looked up the incident and indeed, the officer issued the ticket. When I searched for body-worn camera video, I discovered that none existed. Upon further investigation, I learned that the officer—who was in uniform, performing a police patrol duty and not guarding a business—was detailed to a private patrol. He was neither issued a camera, nor required to videotape the encounter.
I searched records for other officers similarly detailed to privately operated police patrols and found numerous instances of them issuing tickets for “quality of life” crimes such as blocking sidewalks. These were thinly veiled attempts to remove homeless people and artisanal sellers from the Quarter, so they did not disturb tourists or divert business from its shops and “street markets” such as the French Market, an open-air market near the banks of the Mississippi River.”
On Thursday August 9, I packed up my truck for my usual trip to Ohio. I started to pack it around 6:15 a.m. to try to beat the heat and the street parade of hustlers eyeing my stuff. Even with that, the sweat that ran down my back and arms from the humidity and baked in heat of the asphalt made it clear that there would be no relief. As for the guy who threw trash into my truck bed, I told him off and even though he ambled off the block with a finger raised over his head, I felt better. As Walt Whitman said, agitation is the most important factor of all.
That heat, the fact that I work from a laptop at home, and have a sister who has a generous nature and a comfortable home on the shores of one of the Great Lakes, means the pull to leave for a while is too great for me to resist.
But even though I am gone-pecan until the true fall arrives sometime in Mid-November with its wonderful slate of outdoor events and the arrival of citrus season, it doesn’t mean that New Orleans is ever far from my mind. I’ll continue to post about events and issues and have momentary pangs of homesickness too.
This is one event that I am sorry to miss:
Poppy is my dear friend but even if that weren’t true, I’d surely tell you to go to her talks, buy her books, and generally listen in on whatever is in her ever-so practical, generous, slightly dangerous New Orleans mind. She WILL make you feel better about the two-showers a day temps and help you once again love the diverse creativity of our place.
Her commitment to the LGBTQ community has been so steadfast for decades you can be sure that her book and the brunches are both celebratory and deeply insightful to why the drag community deserves to be lionized as true artists. As for me, their work to bring glamour back to everyday life, living ones personal life in line with the political, and their constant education on behalf of the LGBTQ community are some of why I’d say drag deserves the big table. I am sure Poppy will have more.
I’ll be writing at the site below while I am gone in case you are interested.