Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yankee Doodling in the Land of the Cotton

Photo by Editor B

While scootering around New Orleans today a pickup truck passed by, and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama was blasting through the windows. There were several southern pride bumper stickers on the truck, most notably the Confederate Flag. As the truck raced by I took a long look at the Jefferson Davis statue on the boulevard named after the president of the Confederacy. I just don't get this Civil War pride vibe. As far as I'm concerned, it would be like wearing a swastika in post-war Germany. Sadly nobody has tagged Mr. Davis' statue with "Slave Owner" graffiti lately, but happily I know they will. I then got to thinking about two incidents recently that baffle me.

First, city councilwoman Stacy Head allegedly called a woman at Jazzfest a "Yankee bitch." The witness of the altercation then goes on to explain that the woman comes "from Kentucky with as strong a Southern heritage (and accent) as it comes." Others furthered the lady's defense in a similar fashion. Thus it seems in post Civil War Dixie, being called "Yankee" is far worse than being called a "bitch." (Note to self: don't try this experiment on Therese).

Second, my contractor and my neighbor have been feuding via email over a broken window on my neighbor's property. Our architect and project manager, stepping in as an abritrator, explained to my neighbor that the contractor is "from New York." My neighbor wrote back saying "that explained a lot."

This all reminds me of creating ethnicity and identity out of dislike. For example, much of what defines Canadians is a dislike of the United States. Cultural identity in ancient Israel came from focusing on a dislike of those not circumcised, even though the material cultures of Israel and her neighbors were nearly identical at times. Similarly here in Dixie, an alleged superior identity is molded out of a stereotype of Yankee blatant straight talk and razor sharp efficiency instead of taking the time for small talk and pleasantries. And those pesky standardized test scores that repeatedly mark Yankees as superior intellectually... well, daaaawwwwlin, those test scores be biased, bless their hearts.

By the way, "bless your heart" in Dixie really means "go to hell." So in the end, like Moses, I'm a stranger in a strange land. I love New Orleans and consider it my home. But people born here will never accept me. Like Joshua Clark writes in Heart Like Water, "If you are birthed in Baton Rouge, say, and move here [New Orleans] when you're two weeks old and stay here until you die at the age of 100, your obituary will state, 'Originally from Baton Rouge, So-and-so moved to New Orleans when he attended...'"

I'm a big Neil Young fan by the way. And I know from the lyrics that blasted out of the southern-pride truck, "a southern man don't need him around anyhow." Same southern man don't need me and my family around neither. But we'se stayin', and my bags are not made out of Katrina soaked carpet.


Anonymous dsb said...

I feel you, Michael. I'm plenty out of sync with with all the Dixie-isms, too, as much as I love New Orleans. We're not going anywhere, either. We just have to keep spray painting Jefferson Davis. It's a balm.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Leigh C. said...

It does take the wind out of you a tad when you realize Jefferson Parish and all the other accompanying Jefferson-named places in this area were not named for the third president of our country but for Jeff Davis. One thing I actually am happy about as a result of 8-29-05 was that Beauvoir was blown to bits. One less shrine to bigotry to worry about...

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While we're spraypainting Jeff Davis, can we please make some headway against those damn "We should've picked our own damn cotton," "David Duke for Mayor," and "Wake up white people" stickers that are all over the place. I've been pleased to see some folks putting "good" stickers over them, but I could see myself wanting to run over the pricks who are putting them up. They sure have a very different New Orleans than I have.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

I just read that Beauvoir is coming back, with a reopening ceremony June 3. Notice the salute to the confederate flag and all the other crap.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Adrastos said...

Uh, Leigh, Jefferson Parish was named for the Virginia slaveowner/President in the 1820's long before the rise of the other slave owner. Uh oh, I sound like a know it all...

4:21 PM  
Blogger bullet said...

Why the animosity towards Jefferson Davis? He was a good man who served the United States in many offices until he sided with his state against the Federal government. Robert E Lee did the same and is still respected by history.

The war may have centered on slavery, but to paint all the participants on the losing side with racism is ridiculous.

You know who really was a tyrannical racist? Andrew Jackson. I haven't heard anyone around here advocate defacing monuments to him.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Leigh C. said...

My bad, Shecky. I'm reading through some River Road history and it does highlight some locations that were named for Jeff Davis.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous KamaAina said...

I know of some Mid-City progressives who neatly sidestep the troublesome thoroughfare by calling it "Angela Davis Parkway".

Any street artists feel like making up some white-on-blue "Angela" stickers to slap over the "Jeff"s on the street signs?

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

First of all, you are a New Orleanian. My observation is, the City attracts all kinds of people. Some, she keeps. Some, she drowns like Yemanya does with her children. Those that return to the surface are magically empowered. Others, she just spits out cold like Robin jarvis. There are yet others who pose as New Orleanians yet who will never be accepted as such even if some out of town media writes them up as being from here (bingler).

A "transplant" is not someone transient, here for a gig, but someone who has set roots and grown, as you have. stop sweating it!

Another note is that I used to joke that my cajun family was far more scandalized by my baby boy's being "half-yankee" than illegitimate. really it was the blond hair!

i never got southern pride though.

10:15 AM  
Blogger mominem said...

Jefferson Davis was always a conniving politician who never in his political career completed a full term in office.

Leigh, you might want to read up on Judah Benjamin, if you haven't already. Local boy, Confederate Secretary of War and later State. If Jeff Davis had listened to him the South might have won.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a newcomer to NO and had never seen the "we should've picked our own damn cotton" stickers. It's funny to me that my original take was that it was a truism. I have to think a moment to see the racist angle. Was that slogan first uttered by a David Duke promoter?

1:26 PM  

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