Plays and Useful Idiots
By J.B. Borders
mayor’s race is about the next four generations for black folks, not
simply the next four years
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
And yet, that’s precisely the issue
being contested in the New Orleans mayoral election in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 3 June 2006
J.B. Borders is a social commentator
and cultural critic. He is also president of J.B. Borders &
Associates, a management consulting firm specializing in
strategic planning, fund development, and program implementation
and evaluation for nonprofit organizations. Borders was the
founding editor of the New Orleans Tribune and an erstwhile
editor of The Black Collegian Magazine. He has also served as
managing director of the National Black Arts Festival and
executive director of the Louisiana Division of the Arts.
Borders earned a bachelor's and a master's degree at Brown
University, where he co-founded Rites & Reason Theatre in
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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story
of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government
By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer
American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest.
* * * *
P.B. Young, Newspaperman
Race, Politics, and Journalism in the New South, 1910-1962
By Henry Lewis Suggs
P.B. Young, the son of a former slave, published the Norfolk Journal and Guide , a black weekly, for more than 50 years, until his death in 1962. From a circulation of a few hundred in 1909 to a circulation of 75,000 during the 1950s, the Guide became the largest press in the South. This book explores P.B. Young's personal history and charts his positions on a variety of social issues.
Historians have largely neglected the Guide and its editor. Henry Lewis Suggs, mainly using Young's personal papers (heretofore closed to scholars) and the files of the Guide, fills that historiographical void . . .The book will almost certainly remain the definitive study of P.B. Young.—David B. Parker,
Another neglected figure in black history has been rescued from obscurity in this biography of Plummer Bernard Young . . .Suggs has thoroughly researched his subject.—Theodore Kornweibel, Jr.
* * * * *
A History of the Black Press
By Armistead S. Pride and Clint C. Wilson
work, Dr. Wilson chronicles the development
of black newspapers in New York City and
draws parallels to the development of
presses in Washington, D.C., and in 46 of
the 50 United States. He describes the
involvement of the press with civil rights
and the interaction of black and nonblack
columnists who contributed to black- and
white-owned newspapers. . . . Through
reorganization and exhaustive research to
ascertain source materials from among
hundreds of original and photocopied
documents, clippings, personal notations,
and private correspondence in Dr. Pride's
files, Dr. Wilson completed this compelling
and inspiring study of the black press from
its inception in 1827 to 1997.
This is a major and noteworthy contribution
to scholarship on the African American
press. As Washington Post columnist Dorothy
Gilliam concludes in the foreword, “Pride
and Wilson’s comprehensive history is a
lasting tribute to the men and women within
the black press of both the past and the
present and to those who will make it what
it will be in the future.
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences
in which writers and scholars worked together to promote,
disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking
people of African descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
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shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
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black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
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update 16 March