Your City or Your Life: Which are you willing to give up?
There's an interesting story in today's New York Times about the latest wave of New Orleans residents who are giving up on the city. The piece touches on the collective cognitive distortion that has become almost a prerequisite for staying here, quoting local novelist Poppy Z. Brite as saying, "If a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don't desert it just because it can kill you. There are some things more valuable than life."
I think I get what she meant by that -- I know that for some people, this city *is* their life. There's no boundary separating them. And of course I believe New Orleans must be saved, but I don't believe it's going to happen at the hands of people who think their lives are worth less than their city. We've seen the results of that already -- a sort of perverse pride in the city's regressive tendencies (remember when, before Ray Nagin became mayor, we used to measure the success of Mardi Gras by tons of trash produced? Remember when we used to love Ray Nagin?) Talk to just about any African-American male in Central City, and they will speak proudly of 'tha N.O.' just as surely as they'll tell you they're not afraid to die here at 17, 21, 25.
(Reading that reminded of a line from the young doctor to Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland": "If you're afraid of death... it just shows you have a life worth keeping.")
New Orleans City Business deserves kudos for being one of the few publications to interview at length some the kids closest to the city's worst crime problems. The only other place I've seen this population given similar voice was in the documentary "Left Behind: The Story of the New Orleans Public Schools." More on that soon...)
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