Thursday, March 22, 2012
Identity Politics in New Orleans
As I prepared to come to New Orleans I didn’t expect the profound impact that this trip would have on me. I first became aware of issues that faced New Orleans in an interpersonal way, through a friend I met while I was studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador last fall. He was also there studying and through our emerging friends I learned about the political, cultural and social climate of New Orleans from an insider’s perspective and also from the perspective of an individual who has experienced many different walks of life within New Orleans. After that I knew one thing: I HAD to come to New Orleans.
As I am very interested in identity politics and identity development issues, New Orleans is a very poignant place to come. The consequences, privileges and significance of various identities can be very visible in a public way, but are also marked by less obvious undertones of both everyday interactions and the sociopolitical climate within the area.
Conversations of the race, class, and other identities have been abundant throughout the trip and I am thankful to have a community of people to discuss these very complex issues with. To discuss further, identity politics play out both in interpersonal and structural ways, but is heightened to a further level when considering the duality of the image of New Orleans in itself. New Orleans in some ways is a city in crisis, but despite that it still works tirelessly to maintain a facade of being a laid back city welcoming guests to come enjoy, relax, and take in the many shops, restaurants and tours. However, despite hardships and the fact that being from New Orleans means many different things for many different people, there is a superseding theme: everyone whom I have talked to has expressed their love for living here and the deep investment they feel regarding their heritage here, whether that heritage is new or old.
Learning about the injustices people face in New Orleans have both made me feel motivated and empowered, but also seem overwhelming and exhausting. The issues are so multifaceted. Katrina itself caused many problems, but also led to an exacerbation of many pre-existing issues such as the crime rate, poverty, and a lack of access to critical resources.
The interfaith aspect of the trip has shed light on the community response to these types of issues. To be honest, I do not have much background in learning about various faith systems, but I feel as if my time here has exposed me to how faith-based initiatives are making a lot of positive contributions to communities. These contradicts a lot of media messages that seem to focus on more extreme hate-based church presence in the community.
Overall this trip has posed many questions I will continue to ask myself as I return back to Minnesota. Some of these questions are:
What is my place in helping to rebuild a community that I am not inherently a part of?
How do I learn about others’ realities and stories without being voyeuristic or patronizing?
What are more holistic ways of solving complex issues like poverty?
How do my privileges/identities influence the type of work I can do in communities that don’t have these privileges and my place and manner of doing this work?
How do I raise awareness about what I say in NOLA in MN?
What attributes/social problems that exist here are similar to issues that exist in Minnesota?
How do I not forget what I saw and how do I do justice to the narratives I heard?