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A Year of Reckoning
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Thursday, 23 November 2006
The Louisiana Road Home Program
Topic: Road Home Program

Unblocking the Road Home

Can the state's major initiative to rebuild southern Louisiana actually succeed? Or will the money and efforts be wasted?

By J.B. Borders

"Leave it to Louisiana to mess up even the simplest things," an elderly black homeowner said recently in a tone that mixed resignation with disgust. We were discussing the Road Home Program. She didn't have much to say that was positive.

Like tens of thousands of other Orleanians, she has spent her own savings to gut her house. She's also joined a class action law suit to protest what she considers an insultingly low payment from her insurance company.

"I call it the Louisiana Unfair Plan," she says about her insurer, the state-operated Louisiana Fair Plan.

Last August, the homeowner -- who prefers to remain anonymous in order to avoid any future recriminations -- also applied to the Louisiana Road Home Program, a $7.5 billion federally-financed grant fund established as part of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. She hoped the Road Home would provide the supplemental funding she needs to continue rebuilding her home.

It hasn't. Not yet, at least. Instead, she claims to have become ensnared in a cumbersome and confusing process that shows no signs of ending any time soon.

Worse, the recent spate of negative publicity about the excruciatingly slow pace at which awards are being made and the relatively small size of the program's announced grants have caused her to despair that the Road Home will be of much help even if she eventually receives a check.

"The Road Home is a big disappointment," she says. "It's a joke, a joke on us."

That assessment is shared by a large number of other homeowners throughout the city and across the state.

The outcry over the program's ineffectiveness grew so strong in the past few weeks that Governor Kathleen Blanco was forced to call in the program s managers for a meeting to address the Road Home's problems. Several political pundits say Blanco's chances for reelection in 2008 will hinge on the perceived success of the program.

While the Road Home managers placed the blame on bottlenecks at private insurance companies and federal agencies, they promised nonetheless to turn the program around in the next few months and get money into the hands of applicants much more quickly.

Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. As of Thanksgiving, more than 80,000 individuals had applied to the Road Home for assistance but fewer than 50 had actually received any checks. Moreover, the average payout has been slightly less than $50,000. That s a third of the maximum amount available to eligible applicants.

Under the Road Home program, the largest grant a homeowner can receive is $150,000. All insurance payments, Federal Emergency Management Agency aid and Small Business Administration loans or grants must be subtracted from that maximum.

In addition, homeowners who were not insured before the storm are penalized as are those who intend to take their Road Home awards and rebuild outside Louisiana.

Blanco said Road Home officials told her they are having difficulty calculating what is owed to many applicants because the private insurance companies and federal agencies have not yet divulged what has been paid in claims to the homeowners.

The company managing the Road Home program is ICF Emergency Management Services. It's a subsidiary of ICF International, a publicly-traded Fairfax, Virginia-based consulting firm that is heavily dependent on government contracts. In June and October 2006, ICF signed a $756 million agreement with the state's Office of Community Development to run the Road Home Program. The contract is for a three-year term.

ICF officials describe the deal as possibly '"the largest non-construction contract ever awarded by the State of Louisiana." They also acknowledge that the Road Home undertaking is expected "to be our largest contract over the next several years."

"We are honored to be part of this noble effort," said Michael Byrne, a former FEMA official who is now an ICF senior vice president and chief program executive for the Road Home. "We intend to make the Road Home the national model for disaster recovery and community rebuilding."

Under the contract with the state, the ICF team is providing outreach to homeowners and assistance with the application and eligibility process, in accordance with state guidelines, for qualified homeowners and small rental unit landlords affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In addition, ICF officials say the contract funding will continue to provide for hiring and training; leasing, establishing, and maintaining housing assistance centers; building the information technology infrastructure for processing the applications and subsequent data verifications; staffing and maintaining a full-service call center; and funding the program's outreach.

ICF's efforts are augmented by a team of high-powered Louisiana-based subcontractors who are getting pieces of the $756 million in contract fees. The major subcontractors include Deltha Corporation; First American Title Insurance Company of Louisiana; Franklin Industries; Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrere & Denegre, LLP; Network Technology Group; Peter A. Mayer Advertising; Providence Engineering & Environmental Group; and Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure.

The Road Home Program has opened its headquarters in Baton Rouge and 10 new housing assistance centers throughout the state, including one on Poydras Street in New Orleans. A second housing assistance center is scheduled to open in New Orleans East by mid-December.

As part of its plan to speed up the delivery of grant awards, ICF officials say they plan to hire additional workers. The program has already proved to be a significant new employer in the city and state. More than 1900 people work for ICF in Louisiana, including 316 in metropolitan New Orleans. The New Orleans area work force is 49 percent black, which indicates that the company is not exactly hostile to the needs and interests of the city's majority.

"Many of our employees were displaced by hurricanes Katrina or Rita and are applicants themselves," Carol Hector-Harris, ICF public information officer, said.

ICF plans to hire an additional 230 workers by the end of January 2007. The company s recruiting efforts even included a career fair during this year's Bayou Classic in New Orleans.

An estimated 123,000 homeowners are expected to be eligible for support from The Road Home. Only two-thirds of them have applied to the program so far.

And despite the plans for ramping up the program's staffing, some critics of the program say it has structural flaws that make it virtually impossible for many homeowners to secure adequate funding from the program to rebuild their homes. The key problem, they explain, is that the program factors in the official pre-Katrina assessed value of homes in determining award amounts. A house that was assessed at $100,000 before the hurricane, for example, is eligible only for that amount as a maximum award. But it is not likely that the home could be rebuilt today for that amount.

As a result, critics say that what really matters is the estimated cost to rebuild in the post-Katrina environment, where construction costs are averaging $130 a square foot. They say that's what The Road Home funding policies should be based on. They say the program should be geared toward guaranteeing the total replacement of damaged homes.

Program leaders have yet to publicly respond to those recommendations though increasing numbers of program applicants have begun to express their dissatisfaction with the way grant awards are being calculated.

In the meantime, there is also growing momentum among displaced Louisianans to expand the Road Home Program to include support for renters in addition to homeowners and small landlords. Proponents of the measure say making payments directly to renters is the fastest way to repopulate the city and revitalize its economy. They say the program needs to focus on supporting the return of "residents," not just homeowners.

Program officials counter that the Small Rental portion of the program, which is designed to help landlords restore rental properties, is a key component of the effort to help renters get resettled.

Nevertheless, several grassroots organizations, including the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, have demanded that the governor do more. Specifically, they want the state to use the federal funds to provide renters "with resources to aid with moving costs, deposits, and rent assistance."

The grassroots organizations also want the state to stop rent gouging, to halt the planned demolition of public housing and to reopen as many public housing units as possible.

Instead of being a national model for "disaster recovery and community rebuilding," activists and observers from across the political spectrum say the program now has the very real potential to become a disaster itself and a prime tool in the destruction, not rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans. Good intentions, they say, are not enough. Good results are all that matter.

If the Road Home program continues to be "a joke," as my elderly homeowner acquaintance called it, the big question is who will get the last laugh -- the elected officials, the contractors or the people?

Posted by jamesbborders4 at 11:01 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:26 AM CDT
Thursday, 1 June 2006
Borderline 6.06: The Presence of Justice and the Greater Good

The Presence of Justice and the Greater Good

How to Make New Orleans Anew, Seriously


By J.B. Borders


Like hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, I had no clear idea where I was going when I left New Orleans. It didn’t matter that much at the time. I only expected to be gone from my Gentilly flat a day or two.


As it turned out, after hours of meandering along rural back roads leading north, I spent my first night away from home in the Mississippi Delta, at the fabled crossroads of highways 61 and 49 – the spot where the great blues man Robert Johnson sold his immortal soul to the devil in exchange for what has turned out to be enduring musical renown and an abbreviated life.


I wouldn’t realize until much later how apropos the “crossroads” motif and the notion of “making deals with the devil” would become to my own displacement or to the devastation and unfolding redevelopment of New Orleans.


I also had not grasped how pervasive “the blues” would become to our situation from that point forward – in both the literal and the figurative sense. I was merely seeking temporary shelter from an impending storm. And after several attempts, I found it at a decrepit motel in Clarksdale, Mississippi, called the Southern Inn. It was operated, and presumably owned, by an Indian family. Not Native Americans, mind you, but immigrants from South Asia.


I didn’t actually ride out the storm in the Delta, however. Clarksdale was in the hurricane’s projected inland path. Instead, I got up early the following morning, Monday, August 29, and headed northwest to Hot Springs, Arkansas, the boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton.


Hot Springs had once been a world-class resort city known for the healing powers of its bath waters. The wealthy and famous had flocked there religiously from all corners of the globe. And during the days of strictly enforced racial segregation, a black-owned tourism sector with hotels, public baths, night clubs and restaurants had developed and thrived by catering to African-America’s social elite.


Now, of course, Hot Springs is just a shell of what it had been in its heyday. No natural disaster devastated the town in one fell swoop, however. It has just slowly declined over the past several decades from a combination of social and economic forces. Maybe a lack of planning, leadership and balanced wealth distribution have played a part in the demise of Hot Springs, too. I can’t say for certain. I haven’t had the time to give it a good, hard look.


Bigger and Blacker


What I have been trying to look at and to think about lately is New Orleans, a city at its own crossroads. Like a lot of people, I have been trying to figure out what needs to happen to make New Orleans the kind of place we would crave to live in and for which we would kill to defend its right to exist.


I’m clear about the big picture. I want New Orleans to be bigger, blacker, wealthier, smarter, funkier, greener, cleaner, safer, more wired, more scientific, more spiritual, more ethical, more productive and more joyous than ever before.


The question is: How do we get to there from here? The short answer is: With continual organizing, planning, improvisation, integrity and a bit of collective enterprise.


I’m no Pollyanna and I know the odds are stacked against us. I realize that the only people who really want to see a blacker New Orleans are black people themselves – and maybe not even a majority of us. I recognize that many of the people who envision a wealthier, better educated, less crime-plagued city can only imagine it happening if the black populace is suppressed, reduced, eliminated even.


There are still 200,000 of us who are internally displaced persons. Many of us have no viable businesses or jobs to return to. Tens of thousands of health care, education, tourism and government jobs have been washed away. Construction-related employment may be booming, but the prospects of black folks getting a fair slice of the reconstruction dollars are still pretty slim unless we raise an incessant hue and cry.


Some observers say that only two percent of the more than $5 billion the federal government has invested to date in the redevelopment of New Orleans has been spent with African-American contractors and subcontractors. The situation may be slightly better in the private sector, but the bulk of the building jobs and contracts are still being awarded to Latino immigrants and white out-of-towners.


Now that the really big money is about to be unleashed in the city, it’s imperative that Afro-Orleanians get organized and stake our claims in the rebuilding process.


We have to start demanding equitable shares of the redevelopment pie and we have to insist on equitable outcomes for Afro-Orleanians.


We also have to accept responsibility for tracking, measuring and monitoring this progress. We can’t let that be anyone else’s duty, not even the so-called national civil rights organizations that claim to speak on our behalf. We have to do this for ourselves whether we are a thousand miles from town or just down the block.


The good news in this whole tragedy, however, is that race and class are front and center in the examination of post-Katrina New Orleans. From now on, no one from any part of the globe will be able to talk about the recovery of the Crescent City without mentioning the status of the black poor. And the only way the city can redeem its reputation in the eyes of the world community is to lift tens of thousands of people out of poverty. Denying them re-entry to the city or simply dispersing them from public housing projects will not suffice.


Those of us who are not as poor as some of our less fortunate brethren are obliged to play an active role in this struggle, too. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin King wrote to a bunch of critical clergymen back in 1963 while he was being held in the Birmingham City Jail. They had asked him to stop his direct action campaigns against segregation in Birmingham.


 “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King replied. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


My New Orleans


King also wrote something else in that famous letter that bears repeating. He noted the distinction between “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension” and “a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.” He preferred the latter. So do I. And as I have attempted in my own mind to formulate the kind of new New Orleans I envision, I have tried to filter it through two operative notions – “the presence of justice” and “the greater good”.


So when I imagine what the presence of justice would look like in New Orleans, I see every citizen having access to quality health care; decent housing in safe neighborhoods; employment and business opportunities that provide living wages in exchange for products and services that benefit the community at large; and great schools that prepare young and old alike to engage life on rewarding terms.


In my New Orleans, large numbers of people would not be living in public housing projects for generations. The New Orleans airport would be within the city limits so that the people of New Orleans could enjoy all the tax revenues generated by the activities there, even if that meant buying out the property owners in Little Woods or Eastover so that the airport could be sited there.


In my New Orleans, tax assessments and collections would be transparently uniform and fair; public school teachers and police officers would be honest and ethical; judges and other elected officials would be incorruptible; musicians would actually own local lodging establishments that sport names like Hotel Domino, Maison Toussaint, Neville House or the Satchmo Inn.


There would be no black boys killing themselves to be part of the illicit drug trade. People wouldn’t want or need to take or buy drugs, they’d be happy and productive. Every family would own its homestead and every worker in the private sector would have an ownership stake in her or his place of employment.


I could go on but you get the picture. The point I want to emphasize, however, is that my vision of utopia is attainable. More important, it is closer than we think.


Positive Social Epidemics


Like millions of other people, I have re-read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference in the past year. I picked up a used copy shortly after it became clear that Hurricane Katrina had radically altered my little corner of the world. I wanted to go back to it to see what clues it could offer me about rebuilding my life, my community. I wanted to see if there were any special secrets, clues or instructions for launching positive social epidemics.


There aren’t. Like negative epidemics, there are some general rules that apply but there is no magic button that can be pushed to make something good spread through a community and take hold.


Nevertheless, I am now convinced that there is enough money, will, vision and organization in place to build a better New Orleans. The federal funding commitments, the state involvement, the city and neighborhood planning initiatives, the private sector investments and the tenacity of individual citizens all have combined to tilt the momentum toward redeveloping an excitingly new New Orleans.


We just have to make sure the new city is infused with the presence of justice for black people and all others who must call it home.


We are at a crossroads. Some of us have been or will be tempted to make all sorts of deals with the devil. If we stay on the path of righteousness, however, we will find greater rewards.


The presence of justice can profit us all. That much is crystal clear. So let’s not tolerate anything less – unless we’d prefer to be just another beat-up, backwater, has-been southern town.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 2:30 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 5:44 PM CDT
Monday, 1 May 2006
Borderline 5.06: Power Plays and Useful Idiots

Power Plays and Useful Idiots


The mayor’s race is about the next four generations for black folks, not simply the next four years


By J.B. Borders


Even to the casual observer, it’s a ludicrous notion: a black political majority voluntarily surrenders its power and submits itself to white minority rule because it is dissatisfied with the commitment to black interests of its current chief black elected official.


And yet, that’s precisely the issue being contested in the New Orleans mayoral election in May 2006.


There are, of course, those who vehemently deny that race is a central factor in the contest. They say the election is about selecting a person with genuine leadership qualities, communications skills and the capability to rebuild New Orleans and protect its lives and property when the next storms come howling in our direction.


That’s all true, but it’s only part of the story. Mayors should be able to lead diverse constituencies and to inspire confidence in their followers. However, the main prize to be won or lost in this election has almost nothing to do with individuals and the next four years and practically everything to do with groups and the next four generations.


The overarching issue is which racial group will impose its will in this crucial contest – the city’s black majority or its white minority? And what implications does victory in this election have on the future of New Orleans?


The really nutty thing about all this is that in order for the white minority to have a shot at winning back political power (they have never even been remotely threatened economically), they have had to convince a sizable percentage of seemingly sane black folks to become useful idiots – unwitting traitors to their own group interests in the befuddled belief that they are serving some higher, greater good. And there has been no shortage of misguided, myopic, misanthropic Negroes willing to publicly side with the white supremacist agenda.


Race Rules


Initially, of course, the white community thought it could remain the numerical majority in post-Katrina New Orleans after the black population had been either evacuated, killed off or incarcerated. But as the poet-philosopher Bill Gex has explained, “Black folks are cockroaches in the kitchen of the universe. You can never get rid of them completely.”


And sure enough, after the flood waters receded, increasing numbers of African Americans began resurfacing in New Orleans neighborhoods. Gradually, the smiles started disappearing from white folks’ faces in the vanilla sections of the city. Grimly, their power brokers began to rethink their political strategies. They realized they couldn’t win by just aggregating their own votes, they also had to convince lots of black people to support their quest for control.


That’s when they started their campaign to convince black folks that we would be better off with a white man than with a white man’s Negro. Having a Ray Nagin in office made it an easier sell than it should have been. After all, he was the white electorate’s overwhelming choice four years ago. Moreover, the anti-corruption probes abetted by his administration during its first term struck at the heart of city’s alleged Creole Mafia. These probes and crackdowns further alienated a sector of the tiny but influential black middle class from Nagin while seemingly raising his stock in the white community.


But things changed quickly after the storm. Apparently, due to his supposed candor and alleged communications and leadership deficiencies, Nagin is now a pariah among most of his former white cronies.


The heart of the matter is much more basic, I believe. Now that there is an opportunity to loot some serious money – not just TV sets and tennis shoes – suddenly there is no black person qualified enough to lead the city, white folks have told us repeatedly in so many words since the extent of the damage to New Orleans has become clear.


Emboldened by what they perceive as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rid New Orleans of its Black Problem (and the city’s intolerable rates of poverty and crime), several of Nagin’s supposed white friends and acquaintances have publicly trashed him in recent weeks in political forums, in articles and books, in political ads and on talk shows.


You would think that most black folks would take this turnabout in sentiment as an object lesson, i.e., like they turned on him, they’ll turn on you. You would think we would take note of this development and realize that the majority of white folks think black folks are not the best qualified people for any of the jobs we hold unless we are athletes, minstrels or menial laborers.


So when our so-called white friends rook us into believing that the real issue in the mayoral campaign is about getting the best person for the job, we should recognize the implications for our own jobs, too, especially if we happen to be elected officials or small business owners or corporate executives or civil servants or doctors, lawyers or Mardi Gras Indian chiefs.


You would think we would see straight through this ruse. Instead we have bunches of simple-minded colored folks joining these crackerfied choruses shouting, “Yes, Lord, give us a solicitous, patronizing, grandstanding, glad-handing white man as our leader. We will gladly be subservient sidekicks if he promises us a little something-something on the side. What choice do we have? The black guy doesn’t play ball with us.”


New Orleans has long been known as the capital of sycophantic, handkerchief-head Negroes, but this latest round of public boot-licking is a new low for the post-Black Power Era.


Some observers say we brought this disgrace on ourselves four years ago when the machine-controlled black electorate positioned the semiliterate police chief to run against the white business community’s cable executive who happened to be colored and incorruptible. The choice was supposed to be obvious, wasn’t it?


This time around the contest has been fashioned into a choice between the privileged white guy with strong political connections and the bumbling black guy with no solid allies. Once again, the choice is supposed to be obvious.


And if a decisive number of black folks go for the okey-doke, what will it mean? Probably a majority white electorate within four years and an unbroken line of white political leadership for the rest of this century. And though it seems counterintuitive to some folks, white political leadership will spell the economic doom of New Orleans. Here’s why.


I agree that New Orleans has only one shot at greatness as a city and as an economic engine. That path to greatness begins by building on the Crescent City’s reputation as a culturally distinct place. The city’s major cultural assets are all closely identified with black creativity – jazz and gumbo. However, black cultural expression in the context of white political domination smacks of slavery and colonialism. This will make New Orleans seem an even more tainted, backward place in the eyes of the world. No amount of spin will change this basic fact.


Worse, the political subordination of black New Orleans will also provoke constant political agitation from local, national and international black and progressive non-black communities. The political liberation of New Orleans will become a global cause celebre that will derail the potentially explosive economic development the region could experience.


A Vision of Greatness

I generally sum up my vision of what New Orleans can become in the 21st century with the shorthand description, “In the bowl but off the grid.”


Since geography is destiny, we need to build up our levees and wetlands to provide greater protection to the city during hurricane season. We also need to be the most energy self-reliant and self-sufficient city in the world, using solar and lunar power technologies to light and cool our homes and buildings to an unprecedented degree. We should be selling energy to Entergy, not buying it from them.

We also need to be the “greenest city in the world,” using this opportunity to rebuild affordable homes and businesses with new energy-efficient, storm-resistant materials. In fact, given the volume of building that will be taking place here, we need to be the epicenter of the green building movement with the requisite factories to produce new building materials and energy systems for the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean and Latin America.

That also means we need to be committed to moving to a post-petroleum economy for the city and the Gulf – especially ceasing to be reliant on drilling activities in the Gulf that help to increase the warming of those waters in the summer months, not to mention helping to fuel global warming in general.

In order to be masters of our economic fate, New Orleans also needs to be the most literate city in the world. That means a major commitment to high-quality life-long education, especially the education of African-American men and boys. Getting there will require inexpensive universal access to the Internet for all Orleanians and the willingness to employ and adapt proven literacy programs that use local culture as a cornerstone of the learning process. It also means infusing more arts and culture in the education system and an increased focus on applied science and math, especially those applications related to the protection and survival of New Orleanians.


Of course, literacy must result in living-wage jobs for people who are literate. And we must encourage entrepreneurship and microenterprise development across the board and ensure that no one leaves prison without sufficient basic literacy and numeracy skills that can make them gainfully employed upon release.

I think we need to create man-made beaches to boost the leisure component of our tourism industry and to continue to emphasize music and food and a good-time culture as the competitive advantages of our tourism industry.


But I also think special efforts need to be made to make New Orleans a new world-city connected to the economies and cultures of Latin America, India, China, Africa, the Middle East, Japan and the Caribbean as well as the U.S. and Europe. That means it must be a town that is aggressive in courting and welcoming large numbers of entrepreneurial and highly capitalized people of color from across the globe who want to own a piece of the action in a new, larger world-class New Orleans.


Remember, people of color make up more than 80% of the world population and are seizing political and economic control all over the globe. The new international centers of the 21st century will possess these demographics and power dynamics or they'll become economically irrelevant.

I don't expect government to make all of this happen in New Orleans; I just don't expect it to prevent it or to slow it down. We have to leap-frog lots of other cities to become a desirable place to live and work and invest in.


The next four years are going to be tough any way you look at it, but reverting to white-minority rule is a step in the wrong direction. It sends the wrong signal to the rest of the world. It sends the wrong message to our psyches. It says the wrong thing about our capabilities as a people. It sets the wrong example for our young. It’s just plain wrong.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 2:36 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 5:47 PM CDT
Thursday, 1 September 2005
Borderline 9.05: Beating the Gas-Gouging Blues
Topic: Venezuela Connection

The Venezuela Connection: Beating the Gas-Gouging Blues



Could the recent outcry over a publicly aired death-wish directed at Venezuela’s progressive president result in relief at the gas pump for black Americans? Stay tuned.


By J.B. Borders


Pat Robertson is a fool, a total frigging idiot (TFI) on the scale of George “The Great Prevaricator” Bush.


But Robertson, the drawling neoconfederate preacher/politician/huckster, may have inadvertently saved the life of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recently and opened the door for lower gasoline prices in black America when he publicly called for Chávez’s assassination.


The 75-year-old Robertson, a television evangelist, said a couple of weeks ago on a broadcast of his “700 Club” program that Chavez is a “dangerous enemy.” He added that killing Chavez would be cheaper than going to war to remove him.

“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come to exercise that ability,” Robertson said.

His comments caused a firestorm of reaction from U.S. politicians and other public figures who termed Robertson’s act “inappropriate”, “irresponsible” and “incredibly stupid.”


For months, however, the Chávez government had been saying that its intelligences services had been intercepting information about assassination attempts. Back in February, Venezuela Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez even raised the issue at a meeting of the Organization of American States.


“The accusations levied against our government would not bother us in the least if a multitude of facts did not exist that prove that when such statements are made, it's because, sooner or later, the attack will follow,” Rodriguez said. “It is what happened with (Salvador) Allende (in Chile). It is what happened in the Dominican Republic. It is what happened in Guatemala and countless other cases. For the same reason, we cannot dismiss information from our intelligence services concerning the physical liquidation of our president.”


Robertson’s outburst was prompted by accusations Chávez made during an August visit to Cuba to meet with the irrepressible revolutionary Fidel Castro. Chávez reiterated his claim that the U.S. government was likely behind attempts to assassinate him. Castro has survived some 39 known CIA-supported attempts to rub him out. He is probably as good a person as any to give Chávez advice on survival tactics.


In 2002, the Bush administration endorsed an attempted coup against Chávez, but he was restored to power in two days. The Chávez government then triumphed in a 2004 referendum, consolidating the support Chávez first won in his 1998 election to the Venezuelan presidency.


Like most normal black people, I suspected that if a pea-brain right-winger like Robertson was so upset at Chávez that he would deliberately mischaracterize him as a “you know, small-time dictator” and urge the U.S. government to “take him out” on national TV, then Chávez must really be trying to do something good for oppressed and downtrodden people.


In most cases of this sort, standing up for the messed-over folks almost always means defying the existing power structure, too. If you’re effective a tiny bit, they call you crazy. If you’re moderately effective, however, they call you dangerous. And when it becomes clear that you can’t be bought off or otherwise stymied, the power structure seeks to eliminate you.


That’s what I suspected had happened in the Chávez case. So I did a little investigating.


It turns out my hunch was right. It also turns out the situation in Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the Western hemisphere and is the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, is potentially much more significant for African-American economic development than we have been led to believe.

The main reason people like Robertson want to get rid of Chávez is that he has openly declared that United States imperialism and manipulation are a threat to the world and that new ways need to be found to help the poor and move Venezuela toward socialism, under which more of the country’s resources will be equitably utilized.

Chávez has also pointed out that he wants to make his government less dependent on the United States, which his currently its largest customer for oil sales. At the end of August, the Chávez government signed a deal with China to jointly develop new oil fields in eastern Venezuela, a development that did not please the U.S.-based oil conglomerates.

Chávez has also been a leading force behind the development of the new South American Community of Nations, which has a goal of creating a free trade zone among its members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The group is also creating its own television network, Telesur, to broadcast news and information about Latin America from Latin America.

Venezuela and Cuba have also entered into an agreement to swap Cuban medical services for Venezuelan oil.

Among the other key items on Chávez’s agenda is selling gasoline and diesel directly to poor communities in the U.S., according to a report by the Associated Press. The Venezuelan president has already begun negotiations with Jamaica and other Caribbean nations about selling petroleum to them “under favorable terms.”


The state-owned oil company of Venezuela, Petroleos de Venezuela S. A. (PDVSA), already operates 14,000 Citgo gas stations in the U.S. It could very easily begin selling discount-price gasoline in predominantly black communities and, with a little more effort, could start selling some of these gas stations at reasonable prices to black entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations.


That would really make some of Chávez’s enemies even redder around the collar.


On the other hand, if the Chávez government and black leaders from the U.S. got together to make these relationships come to fruition, it would provide yet another interesting link between Venezuela and Africans in the Americas.


An Early Blow for Black Freedom


As fate would have it, Venezuela is the site of what might have been the first black kingdom in the New World. In 1552, 30 years after Spanish colonizers had asserted their control over the territory, a rebellion led by an African known as “El Negro Miguel” resulted in him proclaiming himself king of thousands of enslaved black folk who fled their European masters’ plantations and mines and established dozens of free communities on defensible terrain.


El Negro Miguel’s kingdom was eventually conquered, of course, and it wasn’t until 1854 that slavery was officially abolished in Venezuela. Since then, Venezuela has promoted itself as a place of racial harmony, though 47 percent of its 25 million people live in poverty and most of them are people of color.


Venezuela sits at the southern end of the Caribbean Sea. Roughly two-thirds of its population is mixed with Indian and European blood. Another 10 percent is of African extraction; 3 percent are various Indian groups; and the remaining 20 percent consider themselves to be pure Euro.


Chávez comes from the mestizo majority, but guess who was running the country and guess who was getting the shaft until he came along? Apparently, providing education and health care and instituting land reform that gives acreage to people of color rather than snatching it away from them is cause for alarm in some quarters.


But as Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez has pointed out, his government emphasizes “social justice as a fundamental component of democracy.” He also explains that “democracy in a country like Venezuela, whose concrete reality is one of poverty, depends on giving the large majority of the country the opportunity to participate, that is, the overcoming of poverty becomes the government's first reason for being.”

That kind of real-Christian philosophy won’t win the Chávez government any friends among Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, however. And perhaps more troubling to some of the knee-jerk anti-communists in the United States is the fact that, under Chávez, Venezuela has increased its trade with Cuba and begun forming stronger ties to progressive governments throughout Latin America.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, aka The Devil’s Handmaiden, toured Latin America at the beginning of the year in a deliberate attempt to smear Chávez’s reputation and to induce (bribe) other Latin American leaders to condemn and vilify him.


Her motivations appear to have both professional and personal dimensions. It turns out that the distinguished Dr. Rice has a direct interest in Venezuelan oil through the ChevronTexaco Corporation, which signed an agreement in 1995 to develop Venezuela’s major oil field for a 20 to 30-year period. Rice served on the Chevron board from 1991 to 1993 and a lot of her $10 million personal fortune was made through Chevron stock.


In 1995, Chevron even named its largest oil tanker in her honor, though it renamed the vessel after Rice became National Security Advisor in 2001. Nevertheless, anybody rocking her boat can expect to have a fight on their hands.


Fortunately, Rice’s ploy to destroy Chávez in the eyes of his Latin American peers went nowhere.


So Robertson, aka El Loco Gringo Who Failed in His Bid to Become POTUS (President of the United States), apparently stepped into the breach and called for God-knows-who to take out the democratically-elected Chávez, aka El Indio – not The One, You Know, Small-Time Dictator.


But by calling international attention to this desire on the part of the American establishment to rid itself of Chávez, Robertson may have thwarted any U.S.-instigated assassination attempts planned for the near future.


In the meantime, Venezuela and black America have a window of opportunity in which we can marry our interests and strengthen our respective positions.


Imagine buying cheaper gasoline from black-owned service stations. That would be revolutionary indeed.


Carpe diem, negritos, carpe diem.

Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:02 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:38 AM CDT
Monday, 1 August 2005
Borderline 8.05: Building the Black Agenda for New Orleans

Building the Black Agenda for New Orleans


The time may finally be right to launch a mass movement to fix our city. But the window of opportunity won’t be open for long


By J.B. Borders


Every now and then, things align themselves perfectly – the fates, the stars, the hand of God, the will of the people, the confluence of sociopolitical conditions and the tide of larger economic forces.


Every now and then, revolutionary change is not only possible, it is inevitable, inescapable. Such a moment may now be about to happen in New Orleans. In fact, it may be already underway.


It has been abundantly clear for some time that a growing number of New Orleanians are burdened with enormous amounts of suppressed rage. And this rage is becoming more and more difficult to contain. Right now, much of it is spilling out in ways that harm those closest to the enraged individuals – family members, friends, neighbors, kinsmen. But that pattern of depraved behavior is not permanent. It can be broken.


Many people have not yet recognized that the source of their anger is rooted in financial stresses that are not entirely within their control. Slowly, though, growing numbers of people have begun to figure out what is happening to them and their loved ones – that they are tiny parts of a larger system that keeps them under financial duress in order to provide a handful of others with obscene levels of financial security and comfort.


But when this realization finally sinks in, it produces a new level of outrage in individuals that can either become more self-destructive or more highly motivating in a positive manner. And when enough people say, “I am not going to let this stuff get me down. I am going to change things for the better,” they begin to seek out other like-minded people and to convert still others to their points of view. And then before you can chant, “The people united can never be defeated,” mass movements are born and they begin to shake up the harmful status quo.


That’s what’s happening in New Orleans now. Black folks are finally starting to come to their senses.


From the underclass to the upperclass, Afro-Orleanians have begun to publicly acknowledge that the forces of white supremacy are still actively at work enriching themselves at black folks’ expense, regardless of our levels of educational attainment, professional accomplishment or wealth accumulation. From the razzooing of black party goers in the French Quarter to the ripoffs of black-owned businesses in the chambers of the City Council, it is clear that the assaults on African-American economic development are back at segregation-era levels.


The challenge for us now is to beat back these assaults and to fight for our own interests. That’s the pressing issue of the day – defining our vision for ourselves and implementing our plan for empowerment. In short, it’s time to develop an Agenda for Black New Orleans.


The momentum for the Black Agenda has been building for some time. Four years ago, Liberation Zone Ministries, led by Rev. Kojo Livingston, began convening a series of Gatherings to develop a grassroots-driven plan to rescue the black community. Two years ago, the African-American Leadership Project (AALP), managed by Mtangulizi Sanyika, also joined the effort to develop a Black Agenda for New Orleans.


Earlier this summer, City Councilman Oliver Thomas and State Senator Edwin Murray convened a Crime Summit and a Poverty Reduction Summit. Speakers in those forums stressed the need for a holistic approach to solving the city’s problems, which disproportionately impact poor black people.


In addition, new coalitions of community organizations led by such groups as the Urban League, the NAACP, the Links and various ministerial alliances formed this summer to beat back attempts to rescind the residency rule for New Orleans police officers and to protest the blatant racism practiced by many French Quarter businesses.


In a meeting I had with Mayor Nagin a few days ago, he twice acknowledged the need for the New Orleans African-American community to come together and develop a common agenda for self-defense and progress.


By October, the AALP will do just that – release a draft Black Agenda that will lay out a plan of action for empowerment in New Orleans. According to Sanyika, the agenda will include both public- and private-sector strategies that are deemed crucial to black advancement in the city.


A number of groups and individuals have already provided input for this draft of the New Orleans Black Agenda. Additional support for the plan will be developed through a series of discussions and presentations with community-based organizations, business groups, elected officials and political candidates.


“We can all recite the litany of our problems,” the veteran organizer said. “We all know about our lack of wealth accumulation, the disparities in health care, education, housing, employment, business ownership, criminal justice, family stability, and environmental poisoning. And we all know there is no magic bullet, no single approach to cure all our ills. But by the same token, we should all recognize that, if we are to solve our problems, we will have to act in a unified manner and we must be committed to changing the paradigms under which we operate.”


Changing the Paradigm

In 1905, a small group of 29 individuals convened by scholar/activist W.E. B. DuBois and journalist William Monroe Trotter met in Canada across the border from Niagara, New York, to develop a plan to fight for racial justice for Negro Americans. They called their group the Niagara Movement. A couple of years later, the Niagara Movement merged with other anti-racist forces to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which went on to become the largest organization in the African-American struggle for the next half century and the leading catalyst in the defeat of legalized racial segregation in the United States.


Interestingly enough, 30 years before the founding of the Niagara Movement, a group known as the New Orleans Organizing Committee sponsored a national convention in the Crescent City in 1875 to develop a plan of action to overcome the challenges facing African Americans, particularly in the South. Sensing that Reconstruction was collapsing around them, these activists, led by Henry Adams, called upon the federal government to actively protect the rights and privileges of black people.

“And if that failed,” Adams wrote, “our idea was then to ask them to set apart a territory in the United States for us, somewhere we could go and live with our families. When that failed then our idea was to appeal to other governments outside of the United States to help us to get away from the United States and go there and live under their flag.”

By 1877, the federal government had formally abandoned black people and turned the South back over to the forces of white supremacy. By that time, too, the New Orleans Organizing Committee had signed up 69,000 people who agreed to migrate to Liberia rather than live under the control of the South’s former slave masters. Of course, they didn’t all make it to Liberia but beginning in 1879, tens of thousands of these men, women and children began their exodus from the South to settle in Kansas and other parts of the Midwest and Western territories. Over the next 100 years, millions of black folks would follow these pioneers and migrate out of the South in search of better living conditions in other sections of America.

The point of these anecdotes about the New Orleans Convention and the Niagara Movement is that a handful of black folk who are not afraid to change the conditions under which they live can generate changes in the whole paradigm under which all black folks live.

The challenges facing us in New Orleans in 2005 are manifold but they can also be distilled down to a single overriding issue: the lack of wealth. Seen from this perspective, then, our needs are simple. We have to acquire vast sums of wealth as quickly as possible. We have to do this by growing new assets in the black community, managing the assets we currently have more effectively, and redirecting and redistributing existing assets that others now control but which they managed to acquire by taking undue advantage of our people.

Then once we get more assets under our control, we have to use them to cure our illnesses, broaden our intellects, develop our skills, increase our self-determination, protect our families and provide for our future generations.

The solutions are simple. They will not be easy not achieve, however. Our enemies are working overtime to consolidate their control of our communities, our minds, our markets, and our leaders.

What is certain, though, is that we have no hope of prevailing unless we come together now and develop a plan of action, an agenda we can rally behind and run with until we reach our goal, until we are all relatively prosperous and unequivocally free.

The struggle continues. But victory is definitely in the air. Press on, everybody, press on.

Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:25 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 5:52 PM CDT
Friday, 1 July 2005
Borderline 7.05: Three Stooges and a Residency Rule
Topic: Police Residency Ruse

Three Stooges and a Residency Rule


Miscues by local clergy and an outspoken sheriff from a neighboring parish help illustrate why New Orleans dare not abandon a residency requirement for police officers


By J.B. Borders


“You know what they say about New Orleans,” a David Duke-type politician tells an Uptown aristocrat in The White League, an unsparing contemporary novel about the secretive racist organization that fought for decades to maintain white supremacy in the Crescent City. “The Catholics built it, the Jews own it, and the niggers enjoy it.”


I thought about that line when a local priest and a rabbi joined forces recently to denounce Superintendent Compass’s proposed sensitivity training program for both the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the citizens they are charged to protect.


The priest, a white missionary working in a poor, crime-ridden black parish, and the rabbi, leader of a wealthy St. Charles Avenue synagogue, had been urged by someone to voice their opposition to the training program because the company that created the service is owned by Dennis Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam.


The rabbi had likened the Nation to the KKK. Scores of cops reportedly objected to the trainers, too. A couple of days later, the superintendent cancelled the contract with Mr. Muhammad.



Talk about cheek. Catholics and Jews – the protectors of pedophiles and the oppressors of Palestine – casting stones at Black Muslims after all the damage followers of the other two branches of the Abrahamic religious tradition have caused in our community for decades.


And then Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee’s stumblebum deputies demonstrated all too graphically why this sensitivity training should be mandatory for law enforcement officials and wanna-be ganstas throughout the metro area. Members of Lee’s force became unapologetic child killers one evening after some 15- and 16-year-old ebony boys got car fever and started joy riding in a stolen pickup truck and would not stop until the Jefferson lawmen chased them down and fired scores of rounds into the vehicle and its driver, blasting the life out of both.


Shortly afterward, a group of Orleans community leaders got together to protest efforts by the New Orleans Police Foundation, the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) and other folks to have the residency rule for New Orleans police officers rescinded by the City Council. In the process of laying out their arguments for keeping the residency rule in place, one of the local Protestant ministers stated that it appeared the JP Deputies had taken target practice on the car-crazed youth – or else they really hated the appearance of that red F150. Harry Lee, TFI (Total Frigging Idiot) that he is, replied in no uncertain terms that the reverend could kiss his wide flat bottom.


Clearly, Lee was not going to be upstaged by a rabbi and a priest. Thank the gods for that.


Like Ronnie Lamarque when he apparently stayed out in the sun too much last summer and, seemingly out of the blue, came up with the bright idea to offer himself as the Savior of the City, Lee, looking a tad too well-tanned for this early in the sweating season, volunteered to be the lightning rod for a frank discussion of the growing intellectual and moral divide between proper city dwellers and those who rest their heads at night in the subdivisions and apartment complexes of St. Bernard, Jefferson and St. Tammany. Presumably, that frank discussion would include the more than 300 members of the NOPD who call “Not-New Orleans” home.


Who knows? Maybe that was precisely what certain members of the white business community had in mind when they leaned on Superintendent Compass to support a suspension of the residency rule. Since this provision was enacted 30+ years ago, most observers say it has become a primary factor in increasing the numbers of black folk on the NOPD and a contributing force in the growing exodus of whites.


Like Harry Lee, I suppose this cabal of leaders just wanted a forum in which they could put all the issues on the table, out in the open, not just inside the Boston Club or in their other exclusive warrens.


That might even have been what some of those same scrappy power brokers had in mind when they button-holed a few key local politicians and suggested to them that campaign contributions would be in short supply this fall if New Orleans City Council members didn’t introduce and vote for the ordinance to legally allow NOPD members live outside the city.


I guess the hypocrisy of breaking the laws they are sworn to protect had been eating into someone’s consciousness.


Stupidity Seals the Deal


After all, recruits are coming into the force at a near-capacity clip, the rescinders acknowledge. The problem is that so many experienced officers with families have to leave town to take jobs in communities where they can afford their mortgages and can send their kids to free schools that provide decent educations. Since providing raises and improving the public schools in New Orleans is a long-term fix, the rescinders say that the one change that can be made immediately is to permit those officers who want to live outside the city limits – and not lie about it – to do so. If we don’t make this change, say these folks, the NOPD’s retention problems will only grow worse and the force won’t be large enough to effectively do its job.


However, since many folks in the city suspect that most of the folk in the outlying parishes who would want to be members of the NOPD are likely to be like Harry Lee, TFIs, having these people policing our communities would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. Lee’s recent antics (and those of the white clergy who opposed the sensitivity training for the police) underscore this point.


In fact, an analysis of the NOPD residency requirement commissioned by the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce concludes that it is not a good idea to eliminate the residency rule either from an economic or a public safety rationale.


The release of this study, prepared by Early Howell & Associates of Detroit, caused a minor firestorm when it was released a few weeks ago. For the past 18 months, the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), the New Orleans Police Foundation and its stable of researchers and pollsters had been building a case for scrapping the residency rule.


George Bush recently fooled the American people into believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had to be invaded before they harmed others and that the proposed invasion would be decisive and brief. Likewise, the forces angling to keep the numbers and influence of white officers in the NOPD high sought to sway public opinion to their point of view and to convince the public of the urgency to do something NOW!


You have to hand it to them, the campaign nearly worked, even after PANO’s leader David Benelli melted down in public briefly and flashed glimpses of the stereotypical Southern cop mindset New Orleans needs to put to pasture.


But along came Harry. Sheriff Lee showed out so badly that even C. Ray, Mr. Optimism, was forced to put The Talking Panda in check. The mayor had to tell Dizzy Harry to stop making stupid statements implying that all the criminal activity in the area is caused by “New Orleanians from the housing projects” – another code phrase for black.


Lee’s antics should have sealed the deal. If the City Council dares to roll back the residency requirement in this environment – in the face of all this negative evidence provided by wacky cops and kooky clergy, not to mention the growing number of assaults to the integrity of local black professionals and entrepreneurs – if they dare to try to sell us out on this issue, then we need to petition for early elections and send these enemies packing ASAP, many community leaders are now saying publicly.


The Intrinsic Part of the Package


“The Negroes enjoy it.” That’s what the outliers and old-liners Uptown and on the Lakefront hate about the state of the city. The Negroes have overrun it, have ruined everything, they swear, and are enjoying themselves in the process. Of course, no one is having as much fun as the city’s low-wage paying, high-rate charging, profit-gouging hotel operators, but I digress.


Harry Lee says he will tell us the truth. We should level with him, too. He and his slicker, more crafty cohorts should know that, actually, we are not happy. And that we won’t be satisfied until we own this sucker – the land, the homes, the businesses and the future, not just the partying and the prison garb or even a couple of hundred more police uniforms.


For our part, of course, we have to stop surrendering our wealth for minimum wages, high rates of unemployment, low levels of education and miniscule rates of entrepreneurship. And unless an army of occupation aids our cause for peace and prosperity, it will only add to our problems and make things worse for everyone.


Those who wish to assume the role of the White League in modern-day New Orleans can’t drug, incarcerate, kill, intimidate, relocate or marginalize enough of us, not matter how much they try. This is not Darfur, Rwanda or the American West. We won’t play Indian to their Cowboy. That kind of social engineering will not work in New Orleans, not now.


We are an intrinsic part of the package. We are the City. Progress has to come through us, not around us or in spite of us.


That should be perfectly clear to any Total Frigging Idiot, including those in Jefferson Parish and Washington, DC.

Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:28 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:41 AM CDT
Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Borderline 6.05: The Long, Hot Summer Ahead

The Long, Hot Summer Ahead


As the weather has heated up to record-setting levels this spring, so too has the political climate. Will tensions finally boil over this summer? Will black people find their nerve and come to their senses? Or will the white supremacists back down before buckets of blood get spilled? It depends on what black men decide to do. And it won’t be long before the answers come pouring in.


By J.B. Borders


The police. The schools. The French Quarter. The real estate squeeze. The prisons.


The economy: the vanishing jobs and wages. The rising gas prices and utility bills.


The hysteria-prone mamas. And the children with guns. Don’t forget the children with guns. Or the foolishness on TV.


Those are givens. Like the stalwart, righteous, steadfast sisters.


The unpredictable ingredients are the grown-ass men, that vanishing breed of Negroid males who are neither addicts, dealers, show-offs, full-time charlatans or effetes.


They can be 18 or 80, tall or short, buff or obese, alabaster-colored or indigo, peppy or extra cold. They might be ex-cons. They might be non-cons. They might be buppies. They might be grumpies and slobs or ex-marines with discipline to match their determination. Most will not be dependent on white paychecks and a few will be spooks sitting by the door.


But make no mistake, they will be the deciding force, the critical mass that brings conditions to a tipping point. They will make all the difference. They always have, for better and for worse.


The Man Thing


Like it or not, what black men are willing to tolerate has generally set the tone for the entire race. And in New Orleans there is now a convergence of economic, political and social conditions that will test our pride, dignity and humanity once again. The outcome of this current challenge will determine the fate and fortune of our people for the next twenty years.


There are hopeful signs, of course. But there are troubling omens, too. For every Kofi Annan who withstands an attack on his credibility and effectiveness, there is a Colin Powell who acquiesces – against his better judgment – to the powers that be and slips quietly into oblivion.


Though fewer black men and women are enlisting in the American military now that the folly of the Bush-led war in Iraq has been exposed, there are still far too many black folks being used as fodder in this brazen act of theft.


Black men around the globe have been pushed around for so long and backed into so many corners, we are now on the verge of total powerlessness and extinction, despite the emergence of a handful of black male billionaires and stable heads of state.


If the modern sports, prison and military industries didn’t require our bodies and brawn, we probably would have been wiped out years ago. And as Mexico’s President Vicente Fox pointed out, since his countrymen and women are willing to work for punier wages and to take jobs “that not even blacks want,” I guess we should be grateful to still be allowed to stay in this nation our labor built.

This coming October, Minister Louis Farrakhan and others will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, DC. As Farrakhan observed recently, that event was staged to allow black men “to atone to God for our shortcomings as men, husbands and fathers.”

The massive gathering brought together men from all over the country and “demonstrated our willingness to reconcile differences at home, school, church, organizations and in the society in general. It demonstrated our willingness to accept responsibility to change our behavior and to strive to make our communities a more decent place to live.”

Farrakhan is no fool, however. He knows that one act of atonement didn’t magically cure all of our ills. “Although many wonderful things have happened as a result of the march,” he explained during a press conference this spring in the nation’s capital, “ten years later, the masses of our people are slipping further behind. We have a larger middle class. However, the overall condition of our people is worse. We have more entrepreneurs, more college graduates, more persons holding political office, more Black mayors, city councilors, aldermen, state representatives, city managers, more corporate executives, yet the masses have not been empowered or improved.”

Even worse, said the minister, is the reality that “The masses of our people are on a Death March into the oven of social deterioration, broken homes, broken marriages, broken minds, broken spirit, evolving from a string of broken promises by government and leadership that has failed to help our people turn around the misery and wretchedness of our condition.”

It is black men, unfortunately, who are leading our Death March. As several other recent studies have revealed, we are dying off at faster rates than any other segment of the American population. Some of the destruction is self-inflicted, of course. Some of it is brought on by outside forces. Regardless of the cause, the effect has to be stopped.

Black men now have to step up more aggressively and consciously to fight for our lives. If we don’t, no one else will. If we do, we’ll also save the lives of many others in the process – our women, our children, even our enemies.

“The knowledge to correct the horror of our condition is among us,” according to Farrakhan. “The potential force and power to cause us to rise as a people is among us. The finance to fuel our rise is also among us.” All that is needed, he concludes, “is the unity of our leadership and organizations. Our unity, the pooling of our resources, financially and intellectually will solve 95% of our problems.”

Farrakhan’s prescription might sound a little too pat for those of us who have been around the proverbial block a time or two, but his views are complemented by the findings of other black researchers viewing our problems from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

The Crackerization of Black Culture

Economist Thomas Sowell, for example, is a senior fellow at the notoriously conservative Hoover Institution. He says many African Americans have a cultural problem that is hindering their success: they are mired in the culture of nineteenth century lower-class British whites. All we black people have to do, he suggests in his new book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, is to let go of these destructive habits and get our heads right.

“The culture of the people who were called ‘rednecks’ and ‘crackers’ before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity,” Sowell wrote in a recent essay.

“While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people,” he pointed out. “Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South.”


The kicker in the whole scenario, however, according to Sowell, is that “The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only ‘authentic’ black culture – and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with.”


Like Farrakhan, Sowell recognizes that black men need to make an about-face. Where they should turn and what values they should embrace seem to have bedeviled most black leadership, many of whom turn reflexively to religion for answers.


But a new study about Jewish success suggests there might be possibilities for black salvation if we strive to become more secular and modern.  


According to Yuri Slezkine, author of The Jewish Century, “modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. It is about learning how to cultivate people and symbols, not fields or herds. It is about pursuing wealth for the sake of learning, learning for the sake of wealth, and both wealth and learning for their own sake. It is about transforming peasants and princes into merchants and priests, replacing inherited privilege with acquired prestige, and dismantling social estates for the benefit of individuals, nuclear families, and book-reading tribes (nations). Modernization, in other words, is about everyone becoming Jewish.”


Black Christians and Muslims might be put off initially by the suggestion that we can save ourselves by attempting to mimic the Jews. That may be too radical a stretch for our imaginations. But that option beats the hell out of acting like crackers and continuing to be losers.


“Real hope is radical,” social critic Robert Jensen once wrote. “A belief that people are not evil and stupid, not consigned merely to live out pre-determined roles” in miserable conditions “is radical.”  


If that is so, I’m proud to be radical. For I have genuine hope for us – for our women, our children and, most especially, our men.


I’m proud, too, of the mayor’s new-found bravado, his willingness to say he’s for black folk, no matter how staged it comes across. The same goes for the school board president. They are both going to take their lumps from forces in the white supremacist community. But they have stepped up to their responsibilities and set a tone that other black men can support and emulate.


The sisters have always been generally steady. It’s the brothers who can be a little shaky. But the fact remains that just having grown men set the proper tone and back it up every now and then can frequently save a lot of death and destruction that could not otherwise be averted.


Remember forty years ago when the Deacons for Defense and Justice in tiny Jonesboro, Louisiana, quelled KKK attacks on civil rights activists when they exercised their right to bear arms and defend their community?


That development radically changed the tenor of the whole freedom struggle. Grown black men stepped up and said we won’t tolerate this abuse of our people. And after a few scuffles, the Klan stopped.


Let’s hope something similar works this summer in the city. There is a lot of stuff that could turn very ugly very quickly. The men among us have to be clear about what it takes to keep the peace – justice – and what the consequences will be if our enemies transgress these boundaries.


It’s time to take a stand.

Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:33 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 6:15 PM CDT
Sunday, 1 May 2005
Borderline 5.05: On the Verge of a Total Beatdown

On the Verge of a Total Beatdown



After getting hammered on a number of fronts in recent months, a spark of resistance may be the start of a black community turnaround


By J.B. Borders


The Nazi Pope. That’s what did it for me. Ticked me off, made me want to hop a plane to Rome and collar a couple of Cardinals. “What in the fickle finger of fate were you thinking when you voted for this man?”


Almost 68 percent of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics now live in Africa, Asia and Latin America but in mid-April the conclave of the church’s spiritual leaders selected a European as their religion’s new pope. And not just any European, mind you, but a certifiable Aryan, to boot.


Lil Joey Ratzinger, the German priest who selected Benedict XVI as his new papal handle, admits to having once been a member of the white supremacist Hitler Youth organization before winding up in the seminary some years later. It remains to be seen now whether he has truly changed his views about the superiority of the white race or just been in deep cover all these years since reportedly “deserting” the Nazi Army in 1945.


As an isolated event, the pope’s selection should not have been that troubling. It was just another example of white folks acting white, protecting their perceived turf – passing over superior people of color in favor of one of their own. The Vatican, the capital of the Catholic Church, is in Europe, after all. Why shouldn’t Europeans continue to rule it, many “Conservative” Christians argue.


And when viewed in the context of other recent local, national and international developments, the papal selection was just another small cog in the larger machinery that is doggedly and desperately trying to sustain white world domination.


But if it wasn’t obvious to everyone before now, it should be perfectly clear to black folks, at least, that the white world order will not wither away on its own. It will have to be beaten into submission economically, politically, legally, ethically and, in all likelihood, militarily.   


That may not be a pleasant prospect for some of us to face. But it’s time we stopped deluding ourselves.


Colin Powell was too much the good soldier and too fine a colored gentleman to say it in such straightforward terms. And Condi Rice is too happy to be House Girl #1 to even see it, perhaps. But the U.S.-led Oil-Defense-Finance Cabal is determined to hold on to its control of global wealth by any means necessary. That includes using religion, culture and entertainment as propaganda tools and instruments of (m)ass control when bombs and mercenaries alone can’t win the day.


The White Man is No Longer Out to Get Us


In many respects, the psychological warfare – the mind game – has become the most effective weapon in the white supremacist arsenal. “The white man is no longer out to get us,” columnist Darryl James recently pointed out.  “He already has us.”


New Orleanians need look no further than our own back yard for convincing proof.


Consider the outcome of the City of New Orleans’ investigation of racism in the tourist sector. The bandits of Bourbon Street were flat-out busted by the City’s Human Relations Commission for their blatantly racist ripoffs of black customers.


Of course, that should not have been a shocking revelation. Black folks have been getting ripped off for years by car dealers, mortgage companies, corner grocery stores, pawn shops, insurance salesmen, lawyers and practically everyone else who catered to the colored trade. Many Jewish and Sicilian merchants made so much money off us over the years they were able to buy their way into Fully-White Status thanks to the little extra nickels and dimes and dollars we paid for food, clothes, furniture and appliances in their places of business. Now the Vietnamese and Iranians are running the same con in our communities.  


And even in the age of hard-core gangsta culture where we wage all-out war on each other over $10 drug deals gone awry, we grin and bear it when these outsiders, when this system, rips us off for millions of dollars a year.


Nevertheless, what was extremely disappointing in the French Quarter discrimination tests was that instead of punishing the wrong-doers, the Human Relations Commission merely wagged its finger at the Bourbon Street Mafia and said you had better not cheat these children again or we’ll tell everybody who you are. I’m sure every white-trash club owner in the city is quaking with fear behind that one. We’re gonna speak your name in the street.


Where are the SCLC and the NAACP now? Why haven’t they demanded the names of these establishments and called for a national boycott not only of these night clubs but also of the companies that supply their liquor?


Instead, all we got was: “Next time you do it, we’re gonna tell the world who you are.” That’s it? What about all the reparations owed to past customers? Who will defend their right to a fair-priced gin and tonic?


Meanwhile, a predominately white jury told the city’s black district attorney he was guilty of racial discrimination and would have to pay $1.9 million to 43 white folks he fired at the start of his term in office. Lots of these folks don’t even live in the city and likely weren’t doing a bang-up job to begin with, but they weren’t going to give up their long-time hustles to a bunch of you-know-whats without a fight. And guess what? They’re going to get paid. With our money.


At least the mayor is wising up. After getting raked over the coals by the crackerocracy for awarding two moderate-sized contracts to black-owned businesses, his honor called for frank public discussions about racism, and presumably wealth-building, in New Orleans. Good luck making that happen.


About the same time as the mayor was getting his dander up, the police superintendent had all but thrown in the towel and called for an end to the residency rule for NOPD members. “Help me, white folks,” the chief might as well have pleaded. “Help me keep these coloreds in line. You don’t have to live here. Just be willing to take our money, crack our skulls and keep your women and children out of our schools, churches and grocery stores. Please.”


A couple of weeks later, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee dropped his own stink bomb. He said the crime wave in previously bucolic JP is due to refugees from the public housing projects of New Orleans having been disgorged into Metry and the like.  But Lee, (aka The Big Pig and The Chinese Cowboy) stopped short of calling for an end to the residency rule for JP deputies. Apparently, he’s not yet ready to steal black officers from New Orleans to help combat crime in the suburbs.


That’s probably sound reasoning. Since the JP deputies are notorious for ingesting steroids and shooting up sambo-esque figures during target practice, brothers and sisters on that crime-fighting team could be running an extra-high risk of being victimized by friendly fire from fellow officers. “Sorry Jamal and Jamilla, I thought y’all were the crooks from the projects. I unloaded my revolver before I recognized your uniform. But don’t call that racism. Call it an unfortunate combination ‘roids and reflexes instead.”


Fighting Back


Fortunately, all hope is not lost on the local front. At least one group of black leaders has decided not to be quiescent, docile, and conciliatory in the face of forces determined to snatch every stitch we own. The Orleans Parish School Board failed to cave in to pressure to relinquish control of New Orleans Public Schools to people interested primarily in the benefits the system can bring to white and middle-class households, even at the expense of the system’s low-income black majority.


Moreover, the new president, Torin Sanders, has been forthright in articulating his principles and in calling for a return of the board’s authority and responsibility for turning the public school system around.


“It’s our job. We can do it.”


We need more of that attitude. In fact, we need to figure out how to take the school board’s posture and turn it into a movement that might mushroom into a full-scale eruption throughout the city – an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcanic outpouring of indignation, a thunderstorm of self-respect, an infestation of righteous TCB.


We can do it.


Damn the Nazi Pope and the Bourbon Street bandits and the whole white supremacist set-up, too.


We can win this war for control of our minds and our money. Even though we’re on the verge of getting totally beaten down, we can turn this thing around. We can bounce back.


It’s our job. We can do it. Starting here, starting now.

Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:37 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007 6:19 PM CDT
Friday, 1 April 2005
Borderline 4.05: Cuba and New Orleans: Learning a New Rumba
Topic: Cuba and N.O.

Cuba and New Orleans: Learning a New Rumba



A dance of survival has begun between two faded jewels of the Caribbean. Can it last long enough to pay dividends to both sides?


By J.B. Borders


One of my favorite films of the past year is “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which won an Academy Award for best song but deserved even more acclaim and recognition than that. “The Motorcycle Diaries” has one of the most inspiring tag lines ever used to market a film: “Let the world change you…and you can change the world.”


The film is based on the true story of two twentysomething middle-class Argentines who take an eight-month journey through Latin America in 1952. One of the men is a young biochemist; the other is a medical student. They start their trek on an old motorcycle owned by the biochemist, Alberto Granado, whose goal is to make it from Argentina to Venezuela in time to celebrate his thirtieth birthday. The medical student just wants to make sure they carve out a few days for him to visit his girlfriend along the way.


As is often the case in such grand journeys, things don’t quite work out the way they initially planned them. What does happen, however, ends up having more significant impact on the young men than they ever could have imagined at the outset. The travelers not only experience for themselves the beauty and rich heritage of Latin America, they also learn a great deal about the suffering and injustice that exist in that part of the world.  More importantly, as a result of the trip, each of the men develops the resolve to devote his life to changing the conditions that afflict so many of their people.


The young medical student goes on to become one of the most important revolutionaries of the twentieth century, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who, though he was an Argentine by birth, is inextricably linked to Cuba and the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.


Che and Fidel met in Mexico in 1954, where a small rag-tag band of Cuban exiles was plotting to overthrow Cuba’s U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Five years later, they would succeed. Moreover, their success would fundamentally alter the political and social order not just in Cuba but in all corners of the globe as well.


Let the world change you and you can change the world.


Che and Fidel insisted on building a socialist society in the new Cuba. They ran the American Mafia out of the country. They nationalized industries, seized large estates and began redistributing the wealth and assets of the nation.


These actions earned not only the ire of the Mafia but also the enmity of the United States government, which promptly imposed a trade embargo on Cuba and denounced it as a “Communist Menace” ninety miles from the American coast.


Since 1960, the United States government has tried virtually every trick in the book to force “regime change” in Cuba. They have funded military invasions, assassination attempts, negative publicity campaigns, internal discord and economic strangulation. None of it has produced the desired effect.


Even though Che Guevara was killed in battle in Bolivia during an unsuccessful revolutionary war in 1967, Fidel Castro has managed to maintain power in Cuba and to keep the nation on its socialist course of development.


Now, some of the forces in the United States have come up with a new strategy to beat the 79-year-old Castro – trade with him. To her credit, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and her economic development director, Michael Olivier, have capitalized on this opportunity and secured a $15 million trade agreement with Cuba.


For New Orleanians, that’s good news. The city’s cultural and trading ties to Cuba go back to the earliest days of the Crescent City. Havana, Cuba’s capital, was established in its current location in 1519. By the time New Orleans was founded two hundred years later, Havana was already the leading city in the New World and, according to some historians, remained the cultural capital of the Americas for at least a hundred years more.


In many respects, Havana was a big sister to New Orleans for generations and though the two are now poised to be back in stride again after all these many years apart, the presumption is that the relationship will eventually help socialist Cuba – and its eleven million, predominately-black population – change to become more like capitalist America.


But I hope that America, particularly Louisiana and especially New Orleans, will change to become more like Cuba in at least four important aspects.


First, I hope we follow Cuba’s example and make literacy a paramount community priority. The literacy rate in Cuba is 97 percent. In Orleans Parish, more than 30 percent of the population, 150,000 people, function at the lowest literacy level or worse. That is unacceptable even in the second worst state in the greatest nation on Earth.


So maybe Cuba can help us adapt their Yes I Can literacy program to our city. Nothing else seems to be doing the trick. Meanwhile, the Cuban approach is reported to be rapidly increasing literacy in several other nations including Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, and Venezuela.


Second, Cuba is renowned for providing free, high-quality medical care to over 98 percent of its citizens. Maybe they can show us how to fix our Charity Hospital system and neighborhood clinics in exchange for a few boatloads of rice and other commodities.


According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the Cuban government has already stepped up big time to help in the training of African American and Latino medical students. In 2000 Castro himself offered 500 full scholarships for U.S. citizens to study at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, provided the graduates pledge to practice in poor U.S. communities. This past academic year, there were “88 U.S. students enrolled at the school, 85 percent of them members of minority groups and 73 percent of them women,” the NEJM reported.

And lest the scholarships for U.S. students seem like an attempt to curry the favor of the Bush administration, the Latin American School of Medicine has long dedicated itself to training doctors to treat the poor of the Western hemisphere and Africa. Twenty-seven countries and 60 ethnic groups are represented among the school’s 8,000 students. And the Cuban government finances all this education probably for a lot less than Halliburton overcharges the U.S. Department of Defense in an average week. But that’s another story.


Sure, it’s going to be nice to have Cuba’s money circulating in our economy. But money isn’t everything. In fact, I would be willing to give Cuba some its money back if they could help us overcome racism in Louisiana.


Like Louisiana, Cuba was a notoriously racist place just 45 years ago. It had endured slavery and had become infested with exploitative Americans who used white supremacist theories and social policies as a tool to oppress Afro-Cubans.


Today, however, Cuba enjoys a reputation as a country that has all but eliminated racism in its social, economic and political systems. And though the hype has probably outpaced the reality, we could definitely use a good dose of that kind of publicity. Imagine how much hipper a post-racist New Orleans would be.



Let the world change you and you can change the world.


Finally, since Cubans are also known as incurable romantics, maybe they can teach us how to rumba – to dance as couples again, sensuous and attentive to our partners and not merely preoccupied with doing our own thing and being as nasty as we wanna.


I have a notion that if we change the way we dance with each other, we will change the way we talk to each other. And if we change the way we talk to each other, we can change the way we act with each other. And if we change the way we act with each other, we can change the way we feel about each other. And if we change the way we feel about each other, we can love each other more. And the more we love, the easier it is to be just. And whether we appreciate it or not, a more just world would do us all some good right along through here.


So if we can learn to rumba a little with Cuba, there might be more in it for us than just a fatter pocketbook. We just have to be willing to stay on the dance floor until we master a few new moves.


And there’s no telling what that might lead to.


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:40 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:47 AM CDT
Tuesday, 1 March 2005
Borderline 3.05: The Big Razzoo
Topic: The Razzoo Killing

The Big Razzoo




A recent killing dredges up a long history of racial tensions in the French Quarter



By J.B. Borders


I can’t shake the feeling.


I thought I would be over it by now, but it still hasn’t passed.


Every time someone or something calls my attention to the New Year’s Eve homicide at Razzoo’s night club in the French Quarter, I feel this rush of emotions – anger, for sure, but also disappointment over the bungled political manipulation of the situation and a sense of frustration, I suppose, about not being able to reverse this tragic occurrence, this needlessly wasteful loss of a young brother’s life.


I know I should be inured to it by now – unfazed by the death of yet another black man on the streets of New Orleans. There are so many. They pop up so frequently. It’s not supposed to be a big deal. But for some strange reason, this one matters more than most – to me, at least – and I’ve been trying to understand why.


For starters, I have this eerie feeling that I’m connected to this killing in some way that’s not apparent to me yet. I didn’t know the young man, Levon Jones, the 25-year-old college student from Atlanta who was choked to death by three white bouncers at Razzoo after an altercation broke out when, for some reason, one of Jones’ buddies was denied entrance to the club. I didn’t know Jones but I have the sneaking suspicion that if I ask around enough, I’ll know someone who knows someone in his family. And if that turns out to be the case – if I actually know his parents or his grandparents or aunts and uncles – then I will only feel worse.


Like many New Orleanians, my out-of-town friends have this understanding with me: they know they can give my name and phone number to their children and friends and other “good people” who are coming to the city for visits. If anybody gets in a jam or needs some advice about what to do, see, hear or eat when they come to town, they can give me a call.


I make it a point, though, not to impose on the younger visitors, especially my friends’ sons and daughters. I realize that part of the magic of coming to New Orleans when you’re in your twenties is partying like it’s your last days on Earth, uninhibited by the ties and obligations to your world back at home. So I try and give these young adults the kind of latitude I appreciated when I was a young man on the road in a new town on a Saturday night trying to find some fun and excitement.


But with such a huge surge in recent years in the number of black tourists coming to town, maybe people like me need to make more of an effort to let visitors like Levon Jones know that New Orleans can be a treacherous place to party – that it is deadly in ways you won’t read about in the tour books and entertainment guides.


As the father of a man roughly the same age as Levon Jones, I’ve begun to feel an almost parental obligation to help give these young brothers a little advice when they come to town. I don’t want to dampen their fun; I just want them to know they can’t come here and naively wander around these streets and other public spaces unaware of the ancient, long-standing hatreds, fears and prejudices that color some people’s reaction to regular, stand-up black men. White kids can afford to be clueless but our children don’t really have that luxury yet.


Child’s Play

The word “razzoo” has fallen out of regular use these days, but when I was a kid, it was the catch phrase for all manner of good-natured pranks friends would play on each other. In general, though, to razzoo someone meant to snatch some property or possession right from under their noses after momentarily distracting them with a silly ruse of some sort or the other.


We used to pull these stunts a lot when we were playing marbles, especially if we were losing at the time. In the midst of the game, the prankster might point upward and ask his intended victim an earnest-sounding question: “What color does the sky look to you?” Normally, the unwary target would look up and mull the question over for a second or two. The answer, of course, would be “Blue.” Meanwhile, the prankster has snuck some of the victim’s marbles away from him and as soon as he hears the word “blue”, he responds with a cry of “Razzoo.” 


At other times, a mischievous kid would just walk up to someone and snatch a bag of potato chips or a candy bar right out of their hands and run off down the street laughing, “Razzoo! Razzoo!”


It’s amazing how often this foolishness worked and how much it tickled us every time someone succeeded in pulling off such a prank.


It’s ironic that something so tragic should have occurred at a place with such a playful-sounding name. It’s regrettable that the police and so many other people could have stood by that night and merely looked on as the life was choked out of a young man for twelve excruciating minutes. It’s a little too creepy and voyeuristic that it would all be captured on videotape, though I doubt that recording will ever make it to America’s Funniest Home Videos or to Cops, for that matter.


More critically, someone should have anticipated that something like this would happen someday and done something to prevent it. Instead of being so concerned always about protecting white folks from black folks, someone should have developed some sort of contingency plan for protecting black folks from white folks someday, even in the French Quarter. It’s that failure of imagination – that a black man could be a victim and not just a victimizer – that resulted in the death of Levon Jones.


Growing Pains

I know where Razzoo’s is but I’ve never set foot in the place. I didn’t have anything against it before the Jones killing; I just stopped spending time on Bourbon Street ages ago. I’ve outgrown its offerings. The thrill is definitely gone. And for a number of reasons, I’m a much better man for having moved on. But it’s slowly dawning on me that part of the reason this New Year’s Eve killing keeps gnawing at me is that I still have issues with the culture of Bourbon Street.


When I was a teenager in the mid-1960s, my buddies and I would venture down to the French Quarter from time to time. We were not welcome there. Even after we became legally old enough to enter some of the strip joints on the street, the barkers at the front doors of these clubs pointedly told us they didn’t want our business.


Once, five or six of us systematically walked down the street and stood in front of every club just to see how the doormen would react. I guess we had nothing better to do with our time. The doormen were all white and since several of them cursed us with racial epithets, it didn’t take much for us to figure out that they didn’t want us looking at the near-naked white women dancing behind those doors because we were black.  



At that age, however, we didn’t care that the women were white. All that mattered to us was that they were naked. Naked Women! They could have been purple and we still would have been gawking at their uncovered breasts. (In fact, that’s one of the reasons we spent so much time in the libraries back then. National Geographic always seemed to have these photo spreads featuring breast-baring women of Africa and the South Pacific. That we learned some geography or cultural anthropology in the process was purely accidental.)


Sometimes, we would play games and come up with devious means to see how much of a free peek we could get into the strip joints. We would break out of our group, for instance, and try to blend in singly with a group of white male tourists who would invariably assign one member of their delegation to ask the doorman questions while the others took as long a look as possible at the performance inside. Our mission was to get as much of a view ourselves before the doorman spotted us and had to decide how to block our angle of vision without losing this potential sale.


One night a doorman we were pestering opened up his jacket to reveal a pistol stuck in his waist. He threatened to do harm to one of the members of our group. The confrontation quickly escalated. Our buddy lost his cool and became almost uncontrollably incensed. There was some pushing, some cursing and some calls for the police. We pulled our friend away and hightailed it through the crowd and off to a side street before the cops could intervene on the bar’s behalf.


These battles and confrontations on Bourbon Street were part of a larger war that was taking place then in the public spaces of New Orleans – and my friends and I were smack dab in the middle of the mess. If it wasn’t Bourbon Street, it was Canal Street and its various stores and shops. Or it was City Park or the playgrounds on Napoleon Avenue. We were intent then on asserting our presence, our right to be in those places and we scuffled from time to time with those whites who sought to prevent us from doing so.


We always knew these skirmishes could turn deadly but, unlike today, we never started out thinking that we had to kill anybody or be killed to make our point. We just knew we weren’t going to take any crap from anybody. End of story.


Though race relations were slow to change in New Orleans in the 1960s and ‘70s, things did begin to improve considerably on Bourbon Street about 25 years ago. The racial tension was no longer visibly on the surface. More black folks started patronizing the clubs. Other black folks began working as doormen, dancers and musicians. In fact, black folks seem to be doing everything but owning something on Bourbon Street these days, though I can’t say that for certain because I am no authority on the place.



Nevertheless, despite the occasional negative racial vibes that surface during the Bayou Classic and the Essence Festival, I would have been willing to bet anything that the contest for the peaceful integration of African Americans on Bourbon Street was a closed issue. And then came this killing on New Year’s Eve.


Maybe I was wrong to imagine that we had secured anything on Bourbon Street. Maybe that’s the lesson of Levon Jones’s sacrifice. Maybe we still can’t let our guards down, even at play time. For the minute we relax, someone is likely to snatch something of value from us and run off laughing, “Razzoo! Razzoo!”


Posted by jamesbborders4 at 3:43 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 12:50 AM CDT

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