Sunday, January 08, 2006

It is Sunday, lazy Sunday, and I am feeling particularly blues-y (in a sad, unromantic way) today. I thought I'd share a most unflattering photo of myself at my post-Katrina finest:
And really, yesterday was lovely and uplifting (I was out exploring the city with the director of the hurricane choir and co.) and I came home thinking, "well, DUH, it's just THAT EASY to feel better--LEAVE THE HOUSE!" but now I am back to the blues.

Maybe it's because I got my very first rejection letter:

"Dear Sarah,

We thank you for your submission. While the committee loved your piece and felt it is not only well written and strong, but also portrays such a vital pulse of New Orleans that deserves to be heard, we simply have been overwhelmed by that crisis of abundance I wrote to you about just last week. We received far more submissions than we could have hoped for, and our final decisions were very difficult as each piece resonates with such a unique voice of New Orleans. We wish we had room to include them all.

Your piece was particularly difficult for me to part with, as the 9th Ward Marching Band holds such sacred meaning for me.

We thank you for your support of our project – and for sharing your time and talent with us.

Sincerely,
Lee Barclay
49 Days to Mardi Gras Co-Coordinator
New Orleans Hope and Heritage Project "

So yeah. I'd written a piece about the Ninth Ward Marching Band, and it wasn't accepted. I can't help but feel that it could be because I live in Another Ninth Ward--the gentrified side--the part that is, well, FINE now. Why would one want to feature this segment of the population? Why would one want to glorify our whiteness, our classprivilegee? Shouldn'twelll feel bad about ourselves? Shouldn't we keep this segment--this surviving segment--of the Ninth Ward under wraps?

We survivors feel so much guilt that we want to hide ourselves, our privilege, our being "fine." If an audience were to hear about My Ninth Ward, what would they think? Would they shake their heads, knowingly? Would they realize that My Ninth Ward IS gentrified, IS white, IS privileged? What would that do to their perception of the New Orleans that now survives? Would they leave it up to us? ("It" being the rebuilding of our city.) Would they feel less sorry for us, less empathy, less of their own guilt (which, let's face it, is what generated morephilanthropicc money than was donated after September 11th in the first place: guilt over our neglect of the poor and underprotected, underprivileged underclasses.) It hurt me to know that My Ninth Ward is not one that the organizers of the 49 Days Project felt was worth telling. It hurts me to know, too, that I can't write about my neighborhood without addressing the complexities of gentrification as a contributing factor to the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower classes.

Every year that we (The Ninth Ward Marching Band) has marched, we've heard incredulous comments from spectators: "That's not the Ninth Ward!" or, "What part of the Ninth Ward are THEY from?" It was clear, always, that people couldn't believe that we were, in fact (that we ARE, in fact) from the Ninth Ward. And, truth be told, I feel like Our Ninth Ward is a separate entity, altogether.

Let me tell, you, this survivor's guilt is not simple. It is not just the grief--the loads and loads of grief that one cannot find a vessel for (no destroyed house to mourn, no loss of belongings, of life, of tangible things or people;) it is a doubling and then a doubling again of the guilt-of-privilege that one felt (one who has any sense of compassion--any understanding of empathy, of the lives of others) before Hurricane Katrina. Even though the flood "knew no racial boundaries" (as so many displaced Lakeview residents have been quick to point out,) that is a simplified, anddisingenuouss claim.

In fact, the Lakeview area was one whose renaissance grew out of white-flight. The homes there were more affordable than those of Uptown, and they were far away (if only a few miles) from the complex racial tensions and makeup of New Orleans proper. Like New Orleans East, which had a similar, though certainly not as affluent, economic makeup to Lakeview's, the Lakeview area was one that should not have been developed. In fact,this article explains how New Orleans East was once a white-flight neighborhood, itself, that fell on hard times, thus rendering it more affordable to New Orleans' black populationn, and therefore undesirable to the whites who'd planned to suburbanize it for themselves.

But I worry about bitching up a storm, about bemoaning my privilege, my guilt, my living here and living with such pain and then asking for help because I fear that you, dear reader, will soon grow tired of hearing it. You will get Empathy Fatigue. While we were in Atlanta for the holidays, I could sense, already, the glazed-over looks of listeners when I or Brandi would "go off" about the political neglect, the racial and class tensions that have contributed (and perhaps even led to) this disaster. I am afraid of losing you, and then, of losing hope.

Because it will take you, dear reader--it will take your giving a shit, even on a Sunday, lazy Sunday, to pull us through.

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