‘Chocolate City’ Dreams and Vanilla Realities
By Mumia Abu Jamal
If the major corporate media is to be believed, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, committed a deadly political faux pas when he recently made comments about the future of the town as a “chocolate city.” The media, which loves to stir up white fears for circulation gains, launched into the term like it was the reincarnation of Black Nationalist, Kwame Ture, shouting “Black power!”
But the reaction to comments such as these reflect more about those who hear them, than those who say them.
Ray Nagin may be many things (an imbecile, and worse—a politician!), but a Black Nationalist, he ain’t. But because he was speaking to a predominantly Black audience of survivors of the Katrina disaster, he knew that many among them (especially those near 40 or older), would immediately recognize the phrase from the 1970s-era musical group, “Parliament Funkadelic.”
The group, headed by the brilliant musician, George Clinton, were, perhaps, after James Brown, the major purveyors of Funk, a bass-heavy, humor-laced music form, that used a code when filling stadiums across the country during the 1970s and ’80s. They laced their songs with spoken words, before Rap exploded, which were references to places like Harlem; Detroit; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C.—sites where Blacks form majority populations.
It was in the realm of Black music, not Black politics, where sweet dreams were born of “chocolate cities,” where Blacks led lives of freedom, of autonomy, of peace and plenty.
But dreams rarely meet reality.
And while music often lent heft to our loftier dreams, the dull drudgery of politics has often given rise to nightmares. Witness Katrina—a failure, at every level, of the nation’s political elite!
It is beyond ironic that the corporate media cared more about the utterance of “Chocolate City,” than the horrendous and vile treatment of chocolate bodies. People exploited, targeted, ignored, families ripped apart, damned, by those who claim to be their “public servants.”
The media, which, according to some reports is whiter (or is it more vanilla?) today, than it was 20 years ago, points a finger at words—and ignores acts.
What was worse; Mayor Nagin’s utterance of a wish for a “chocolate” New Orleans to be reborn; or his escort, with high police officials in tow, of media mogul Oprah, to the Superdome, thick with tales of mass rapes, baby rapes, and young armed gangs of marauders—all lies?
And yes, irony of ironies, there were armed gangs going around shooting and looting—many of whom were cops!
When poor men, women and children needed supplies, transport, safe housing, food, water, medical care, and safety, the city’s, the state’s, and the federal government’s response was armed National Guard, fresh from Iraq, war-crazed, with arms and minds pointed at Black Americans, as if they were “the enemy.” Or nothing.
More damning than any ethnic utterance, is the image of hundreds of empty buses, their roofs barely breaking through the water, unused, and ultimately useless.
A media that cared about the loss of human life would’ve made that a centerpiece of a critique of a city with roots as much in Africa, as in France. It was New Orleans, after all—if not chocolate, at least mocha—where the beginnings of a multi-cultural America could be found. In defense of the City, in the War of 1812, were poor whites, free Blacks, French remnants, and even occasional Indians arrayed against the British, who wanted to seize the port. The Battle of New Orleans, more than any treaty, ended British imperial hopes of a sub-Canadian American colony.
The real tragedy is that New Orleans was a chocolate city, with families reaching back centuries into its ante-bellum past. They provided its music, its spirit, its charms, and its soulful cuisine. They provided a culture as diverse as Louis Armstrong, and voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau.
The real tragedy is that for many of them, they are Gone With the Wind, and Rain. Some, never to return.
—Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, January 22, 2006