I’m a big believer in the part of quantum theory where perception changes the observed reality. I just don’t believe in pure objectivity. You can’t take yourself and your biases out of reporting any more than you can take your own presence out of anything that you do, and this I see as one of the main faults of the mainstream media- the projected illusion of objectivity hides the fact that there are very real biases being played out in coverage- predominantly middle-class white biases. It’s very easy to see that here in New Orleans, but there are others- pro laissez-faire capitalism biases, and pro-big business biases to name a few.
So let’s take that ball and get fully subjective for a moment.
As those of you who read my blog know, I live in the Bywater, the gentrified part of the ninth ward. We are also the only part of the ninth ward that did not flood substantially after Katrina. We are on high ground.
I was born on the interstate, on the west coast, grew up in a place that I cannot in any real way return to, and have lived all over the country. The Bywater is the only place in the world that I’ve ever thought about settling down in. It’s a lot of things- it’s the architecture, it’s the history- most of the buildings in the Bywater were built by similar groups of people as my ancestors (and, incidentally, most of America’s), working-class European immigrants in the mid to late nineteenth centuries. It’s also the way of life- poor and slow, decadent and funky. Maybe it’s even a nostalgia for a time in America that I was born too late to see, and that perhaps looks better from that perspective.
It’s also a network of people, of friends, of bars, of a demographic, of memories that are burnt indelibly in my skull. It is home.
Recently, events in my life have caused me to look for a new apartment. Even though I report on the circumstances of the housing crisis from a semi-detached reporter perspective, it hadn’t fully dawned on me how much my neighborhood had changed until now.
I found one place that was still reasonably priced through an old friend, $450 for a one-bedroom, and was told today by the landlord that I wasn’t professional enough.
The irony of this is that among my friends I’m probably the most ‘professional’. Being a paid reporter with a second job to even out the fluctuations in my freelancing meant nothing. He said he wanted a ‘professional’ person with a stable job, whatever the fuck that meant- for a small dingy apartment with sloping floors and no vent in the bathroom. Right. I can just see the lawyers lining up now.
The other places that I have found are all outrageously expensive- nine hundred dollars for a two-room shotgun and son on.
This attitude on behalf of the landlord is hardly unique to this circumstance. There are people who are not welcome in this neighborhood anymore (where fucking Tom Waits used to live for christssakes) , and apparently I am one of them. If I can’t get a place as a freelance reporter and waiter, what does this say for a black person with a New Orleans public school education who, say, works in a kitchen or a hotel? The other day my friend who is an Emergency Room doctor and is looking to buy a house told me that he’d decided that the Bywater was too expensive for his price range. ???
This neighborhood has never really been affluent in its hundred and fifty or so year history until now. It was the last Bohemia- after the Mission in San Francisco, after Wicker Park in Chicago, after the Lower East Side, Williamsburg and Greenpoint in New York, after countless other neighborhoods went the way of yoga studios, lofts and art galleries it seemed you could still live in the ninth ward on a service industry job, or as a carpenter, or a musician, and many people did in the last twenty years. Only four years ago Morning 40 Federation was writing “Walking Through the Ninth Ward”, and yet when I hear girls in Mimi’s (a neighborhood bar, in the tiny part of the ninth ward in the Marigny) describing the Bywater as the wrong side of the tracks, I have to laugh.
The real “other side” and the color line is now the other side of St. Claude, and if we young white people move there, to a black residential neighborhood, we will not be welcome and will be displacing those who live there. But we’ll end up doing it. As a group, we will have to, or leave New Orleans. You can’t go Uptown, and Mid-City is in the same boat. But what other city will we go to?
I can’t tell you how many people I know are being forced out of the Bywater. One is sleeping on the couch in the room next to me, whose house got sold in April. She says this is just the way that it is, but I asked her where she is going and she doesn’t know either. I know- we’re white, and thus privileged, but we had a sense of home. Maybe it’s a good thing, in that it will radicalize us, that it will make us realize how fucked the economic system we are in really is when we are put us in the same boat as black New Orleans (hmm… wrong metaphor). Maybe we need this. But I for one question the old Marxist maxim that more dire circumstances force real change. Besides, I’m still trying to figure out where some sort of safe ground is.
(To get really shameless- if any of you know of any reasonable apartments anywhere downriver of Canal Street, support independent journalism in New Orleans and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help me find an apartment and I’ll start doing tenant’s rights organizing part-time.)