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xmag.com : October 2005 : I Love Las Vegas

It’s Halloween time again—a time to honor the dead, the darkness and, most of all, chaos.
Last month was especially dark and chaotic. Much of it I spent glued to the internet, watching the surreal circus our country became after Hurricane Katrina.
Though absolutely horrific and heartbreaking, there were moments of high comedy. I particularly loved watching the government wanks claim they didn’t know there were thousands of people stranded in New Orleans. Watching the bloated Republican cartel try to pass off responsibility for bungled rescue operations was hilarious. And I thought it was pretty fucking funny when W. said the same exact meaningless bullshit he always says. But probably my favorite episode was the entire country’s shock at the existence of millions of POOR BLACK Americans in the quaint tourist town of New Orleans. Who knew???
Suddenly there was the pressing question of what do we do with hundreds of thousands of homeless POOR BLACKS? Where do we put them? Everybody wanted to help, but many cities (Portland for instance) blanched at the idea of importing POOR BLACKS into their neighborhoods. ‘Cause everyone knows that POOR BLACKS steal televisions… (To which my well-off white girlfriend from New Orleans quipped “You should all be so lucky. Those people are the most generous and wonderful people on Earth.”)
Once upon a time I met some of the now-famous POOR BLACKS of New Orleans. I’d just spent six months studying in Tanzania, the second poorest [black] nation in the world. Still, New Orleans—smack dab in the center of super-rich America—had the poorest POOR BLACKS I had ever seen. Jesus Christ were they poor! I met one poor black kid on the banks of the Mississippi River. He was tap dancing for tourists with caps from jelly jars stuck into his flip-flops with rusty nails. Though the kid didn’t speak English—only a pidgin Patois—he and I hit it off enormously. I thought we were pals. I guess now he’s stealing televisions and bottled water.
Race and class are the elephants in America’s closet. It is remarkable how easily we ignore them. Our society makes POOR BLACKS poor in thought, word and deed. Then when they are really and truly fucked and we are finally forced to take notice, we wring our hands and offer up platitudes while our leaders bluster through press conference after press conference in the vague hope that if we ignore the POOR BLACKS for long enough, maybe they will just GO AWAY.
Two-thirds of New Orleans is black. One-third of New Orleans lives below the poverty line. Of the poor 84% are black. The marvelous city of New Orleans has always been a city of marvelous POOR BLACKS!
I would like our media to remember that even POOR BLACKS have multifaceted lives that are full and rich in ways inconceivable to sheltered white folk. And goddamn if the POOR BLACKS in New Orleans haven’t always been a breed apart. They are a jubilant race, beautiful and tenacious. And if there is any hope of rebuilding the Big Easy, it’s not the engineers and bureaucrats who will do it, it is the POOR BLACKS.





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