In the comments to “Café Istanbul at Risk,” I got a chiding from one reader for NOLAscape’s not fitting his expectation of “journalism.” Something to do with the separation of reporting and editorial. That is a newspaper tradition, not a rule for all writing.
Tell you what, though: if the NYT or even the Times-Pic want to pay me some money to try to follow the print news style guide, I could have a go. But I think I might fail at another current MSM rule: don’t offend anyone. Reporters’ drafts are combed for anything that might rub anyone the wrong way. Politically correct, they still call it, but it is much worse than that. The text has to sit on top of a foam of bubbles without making a dent. Who knows whose uncle might be an advertiser?
If nobody is offended by this article, I didn’t do it right. If nobody sees themselves in the cracked mirror, has anything happened?
Read this first: http://gu.com/p/4ca48?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other.
A social group of ten middle-aged Black ladies, prosperous enough to buy a $124.00 ticket each for a day trip wine tasting tour, are enjoying themselves, laughing loudly enough to discomfit other passengers and to worry the train company’s employees. The white passengers and train staff feel justified, they actually think it is okay, to ask the ladies to leave the train. Not in Alabama or Mississippi; in California.
The quotation marks are just there to get you to look at the words in a receptive frame of mind.
MaCCNO linked “Café Istanbul at Risk” to their Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/113893188774696/permalink/501290833368261/ It stimulated some comments which you can read there, starting with angry outbursts by a fellow called David Lord.
We know that Lisa Suarez, President of FMIA, and some of its directors, principal instigators of the attack on Café Istanbul, are comfortable with the racial codes. I’m not sure if they would be at ease with George Wallace, but Paula Deen would be okay.
This is Suarez commenting on the Nextdoor web site about an elevator temporarily out of order, though you might not spot that from the text:
Gi Neworleans from Marigny
Hahahahahaha. Of course they are. And there won’t be money to fix them until evil-doer Sean Cummings has his high-rises on the River where only rich people can live (except for the 10 % of his staff at “affordable rents.”) Wonder when he will be called “Massa,” like they do his Plantation- owning Dad
De-code: Gi Neworleans is a user name for Lisa Suarez, President of FMIA, probably the only alias on the neighborhood site. “Fix them” refers to the elevator. She seems to be saying that Sean Cummings is holding the city hostage by causing delay in elevator maintenance at the Crescent Park Mandeville entrance until some buildings are built. “Plantation-owning.” John Cummings restored the Whitney Plantation. He made it into a museum of the history of slavery and the tragedy of the ante-bellum plantations. Is Suarez crazy or just can’t understand? Not for me to say – maybe we’ll come back to it. Oh yes – the elevator was fixed in a few hours, and this comment was deleted the next day.
I’m not seeing much difference between FMIA’s Café Istanbul campaign, with its pictures and videos, and David Lord and Lisa Suarez, and the train passengers and staff in Napa Valley. The same unspoken, possibly unaware, unconscious declaration: this is White Space. Keep quiet. Don’t laugh. Don’t scare us. Go away.
People that know him tell me David Lord is not racist, not at all, not possible. Suarez and Del Vecchio, maybe, they say, but not David Lord.
Me, I can’t read minds. I don’t know what people think or intend. I know these people only by what they do and say in public. Or sometimes what they omit, like what Del Vecchio edited out of his videos, what David Lord does not want to say about the words and actions that came before his “death threat.” (In case you are concerned: he is still alive.) I don’t know what the ABO board and prosecutor/staff intend to accomplish.
I just listen to the words and look at the pictures and call what I see. (Unlike a real journalist, who would make sure to say nothing that might offend.)
What I see is all of them silently saying: This is White Space. Especially after 10.00 o’clock. Any Black stuff, we will take notes, we will make videos, we will tell the sheriff. No being Black in Marigny after 10.00 PM, unless you find a very silent way to do it. It’s okay to be Black. We are not racist. Oh no, of course not. But after 10.00 PM, you walk and talk White. Or we will try to shut down that place you just left.
In White Space you don’t have to be racist to defend its rules and customs. At least not openly, and for most people, you don’t even have to see it in your own mirror. It’s just the rule of law. It’s just normal. It’s just . . . us. It’s Quality of Life.
We heard something like it from the blessed Sarah Palin recently, who never remembers to close the curtain right. She said Mexicans should “talk American.” She doesn’t want to hear Spanish in White Space.
Now some interpretation and a 30 second history.
Black people may tell me I have this all wrong. They may say I am intruding, that I don’t know, that it is not in my experience, so I should shut up. They may be right. I hope they will tell me if I screw this up. I’m just a white guy, didn’t even live in America most of my life, trying to figure it out.
The Africans that have now become African Americans were brought here by violence and treated as less or other than properly human for generations. When slavery was the law, they were subject to judgment or abuse at the whim of an “owner.” If there was a rule of law, in most territories they were exempted from its protection.
When slavery was broken, the freed people were not welcomed into White society. White power wanted dominance, not one nation. They built a Trump-wall of laws and sheriffs and violence to isolate the Black population.
A culture grew up inside that wall. It intersects the White culture. Most Black Americans can speak a dialect of English that we understand. The Black culture created musical forms that we all like, sometimes after a bit of whiting up. Now the map is complex. Black culture owns some lucrative territories, like hip hop and some parts of the fashion industry. But White separatists don’t give up. They have voter ID and de facto segregation and the War on Drugs with privatized prisons and prejudice in employment and Donald Trump in their tool kit. It doesn’t work 100% any more, but it’s better than nothing.
Many Black people speak perfect White when they want to. They make us feel good. They confirm that White is the real culture. Bill Cosby, Vernon Jordan, Barrack Obama, Ben Carson.
The patchwork of society is increasingly more complex than the old binary formula. There are Black cultures just as there are various Hispanics and others. The shifting demographics are now scaring the hell out of the people that think White culture is the real one that everybody has to imitate. See Ann Coulter for details.
If they want to even pass as decent, White Americans should live with the Black cultures gracefully. Not spluttering and accusing as David Lord and Del Vecchio and Lisa Suarez are doing; not threatening retribution, as the ABO court does on their behalf. With grace and style and acceptance. White people made the Jim Crow, apartheid, segregation, discriminatory laws and all the little details of our history that prevented forming an inclusive society, and even felt validated as the divergent Black cultures developed. “See,” our White citizen could say to her friends, “they are different.” Black Americans created their culture in an isolated space that White America built for them. Time to be cool with the consequences of that. Political and social discrimination have been an embarrassment and a shame of America for years. When something has been that great a failure, isn’t it time to try something else?
Once a neighbor, a Black guy that I didn’t know, rang my bell at night. He had a problem and was pretty agitated. He was very anxious to show me that he was not armed, not violent, intended no harm. He expected me to be afraid of him. On my porch, he was in White space, out of hours. It had not occurred to me to be afraid or annoyed yet – I guess I have not been here long enough. Later I thought: am I not playing my social role correctly? Should I have shown more anxiety, to validate his experience of cross-cultural communication? Did I embarrass him by not playing to expectation?
White Space is a creepy idea, an infection. Ghettos used to be normal. The Jews in Warsaw and earlier in Venice had to be in the ghetto by a certain time. After dark, the city was Christian Space. Not long ago in the South, you had to be on your side of the tracks after dark. Is that acceptable now? Or just obscene? We have ethnic islands everywhere, from gangs to neighborhoods to schools to TV shows. FMIA, the police, the ABO board seem to be enforcing a new, coded version of the Ghetto.
I think Americans all have to get something, if they don’t want to keep on being as grotesque as some of the behavior I am seeing around me: history is here. It keeps coming home to roost.
Americans don’t like history much. They don’t like the process. They prefer still photos, like “historic districts.” They think New Orleans is historical for some double shotguns and birthday cake mansions uptown. They don’t see history pulling their strings in their local political games.
Will they ever get it?
The middle or professional class American, like the White people on the wine excursion train, or the respectable folk of FMIA calling in the ABO on Istanbul for fear and anger at the sounds of Black people at night, or Del Vecchio shooting videos he believes to be incriminating, with not a White face in the frame – they don’t get it, and they won’t. It amazes me, but they won’t.
White Space allows them to see themselves as good people, standing up for their neighborhood, their Quality of Life – another code phrase. I don’t think they will ever see what I see: respectably dressed rearguard fighters of a hopefully dying tribe, who can call laughter a crime. Who with a straight face can call Black laughter late or in a train a crime. They can look in a mirror or at each other around their club meeting tables and tell themselves they are the good guys, the virtuous, the caretakers. They can see people locked up or businesses shut down by the application of the petty laws of prejudice and social injustice and think, Well, it’s on them. Can’t just go around laughing at midnight, not in this neighborhood.
Our scarred social history will even ensure that a lot of people agree with them, and the “justice” system will support them. See what the ABO board thinks of it. You can get validation. There are lots of Americans ready to agree with any injustice. See how they still come out to defend the murder of Michael Brown or even the brutal treatment of Sandra Bland. They know any cop, especially a Black one, that manhandled a middle class White woman like that in Texas would be out on his ass in a few hours, but they still find a way inside themselves to think it is okay.
We are the victims of Jim Crow too. Even the dominant victim is a victim. It’s just harder not to be too blind to see it.
Look at those videos again. If you felt some resentment or indignation or anxiety the first time, think about why. Think about every person accusing Café Istanbul, from neighbors to the truculent David Lord to FMIA and its directors, right through to the ABO prosecutor himself – being very, very White, while all the people in the videos are Black. And so is one of the owners of Café Istanbul.
Are you comfortable with all this? I’m not.
I am not exempt. Maybe no one over 50 born in the United States is, and if the rise of Nazi and anti-immigration parties in Europe is evidence, maybe just nobody.. Maybe the best you can do is locate that urge in yourself to declare some White Space around you when it is still small, and lock it down.
FMIA, with the ABO board – they are charging Café Istanbul with the crime of not stopping some audiences on some infrequent occasions from violating White Space.
The exploitation of law to violate common decency.
Bob Freilich, 16 September 2015