Posted by: Lawrence D. Elliott | January 20, 2006

Negro Please!

I’m sorry, but the moment I heard the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, proclaim how “New Orleans would become a chocolate city again,” that is what I said. Sort of sent me back to my days growing up in my old neighborhood when I heard something stupid spill out someone’s mouth. And I‘m sure others had similar reactions. It was definitely a foot-in-mouth moment.

Let’s be honest, if this had been someone white saying that “Whatever City” will become a vanilla city again, we’d want to hang him by his family jewels! And it would be justified. So, Mayor Nagin, you’d better wear one of those medieval locking chastity belts and hand over the key to someone you really, really trust because you have put yourself in the same situation!

This really does remind us all how dirty the business of politics can be. I can’t help but believe that Mayor Nagin, coming up for re-election this year, felt he needed to put a spin on a tired old tactic that has been used by cynical politicians throughout history. His plan to pit black against white has a new label—chocolate against vanilla.

And guess what? God himself has ordained it! At least, that’s what the Mayor said!

But really, If it weren’t for the poor timing of his comments, I might have found these comments so ridiculous I would have laughed and proclaimed him King of the Idiots! But I didn’t. It made me sad. It made me ill. Why? Because of all days, a black man—a black mayor of a great southern city—stood up on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and proudly proclaimed his city would basically become a discriminating city—white people would be not be as welcomed as black people. Did he give his life so that we could become black versions of the ugliness we have experienced?

I really do feel for the victims. Yes, I feel for the black victims because they fear that they have been shipped out of the area—many of them to shelters—because they are poor and they are black and the city now has a “golden opportunity” to change its image. The fact that they waited on the cavalry that seemed to not come—at least for a long time—didn’t help matters.

They also fear that the 9th ward, 98% black and the hardest hit by Katrina may be overlooked when it comes to being rebuilt.

But it is also true that there were white victims of Katrina who had suffered damage, experienced hardship, and have made important contributions to the city. To overlook their pain would be unfair. And to tell them they are not as welcome as the black victims is wrong. If the life of Dr. King showed us nothing else, treating someone beneath another because of race is against God’s law. If Mayor Nagin had really had a conversation with God, he would have been reminded of that important fact.

I am proud to say that my family comes from Louisiana. It’s beautiful place and the folks from that area are among the nicest and kindest people in the world. And when I saw the events as they unfolded, tears came to my eyes. And when my wife and I found out that my sister had 17 members of her extended family in the middle of that catastrophe, we felt we had to do something. My wife sent out emails, made phone calls, did whatever she could. And the kindness flowed!

• A housekeeper who found out what had happened and brought several bags of clothes.

• A real estate office filled one of their staff rooms full of clothes.

• A mortgage office whose workers donated so much that I couldn’t take any more. I volunteered to deliver any excess to the Salvation Army.

• A friend was chatting with her friend by email as I entered her office. She told her friend of the situation and we got a gift card in the mail.

• A very good friend who donated two grocery gift cards and clothes. This was touching because she had a sister who had made it out in time.

• A single woman and her adult daughter who helped me fill up my SUV with clothes, toiletries, toys for the kids, and many other useful items. Her daughter made a special trip over to donate.

• A group who donated blankets for the each family member to have as their own.

• A gentleman who was making repairs on our home also was touched. When he learned what we were dealing with, he refused to accept his pay. “Give it to the family,” he replied.

• Neighbors who had extra things they could not use dropped by to donate to those who needed it more.

• A family who, after buying a home and discovering the family’s plight, donated the furniture that that been left behind. Enough to fill two or three bedrooms, free of cost!

• A businessman who donated a storage unit to store the furniture donated by the family, forgoing the income he could have made.

• Members of a senior development collecting loads and loads of clothes, toys, pillows, blankets, and many other useful items. So much, I had to make two trips just to take everything.

• And the most touching story was of the computer tucked in the back of the tons of donations from the senior development. When we brought it back to family, there was quadriplegic in a wheel chair who had taught himself to use a computer he had lost in the flood. He planned to continue his education in the computer field. It was old, but he said, “I’ll work with it!”

• And there was Delta Airlines. Who would have thought such a large corporation would have put lives ahead of profit as they did. With 5 family members stranded in Jackson, Mississippi, they discount airline tickets for them by 85%!

And, guess what? People who were not chocolate performed a large portion of these acts!

I could go on and on telling of the many acts of kindness we experienced. We received money from family, friends, and strangers who heard from a friend of a friend. We had many who donated their time just to lend a hand. Whether it was ice pops for the kids or laundry detergent to wash the clothes, people thought of everything. And after making many trips delivering the love we had received, as tired as I was, I felt better about man’s humanity to man than I had ever felt. I know I thanked them all many times over, but I want to thank them again. And the Thank You’s we received when we delivered everything would have brought tears to your eyes. They were the most grateful people I had ever met.

On one my final trips, I was fortunate to have one of nephews with me. Again, I left a kind family’s home with a loaded SUV at almost ten o’clock at night. I felt proud because he was able to see that kindness comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. He acknowledged I know, Uncle, Larry.”

All of my adult life, I always tried to work hard against ugly images I did not create. I know I can’t control what people think or do, but I can do what I need to do to be successful in business and in life. Sometimes, you just can’t overcome those stereotypes no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work. I just choose to be around those decent people who are willing to let the content of my character be seen. Those others I choose to eliminate from life. They can always be trusted to wait for an opportunity to brush the dust off of those stereotypes and present them anew.

You see, sometimes people will throw a wrench into even the best of situations. Sometimes they’re chocolate and sometimes they’re vanilla.

So thank you Mayor Nagin. With the slip of a stupid tongue, you have given ammunition to those who have run out of ammunition of their own.

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