There Really Is NOTHING Normal About This Place
It is no “lively update” about the changing face of post-Katrina New Orleans. It was stepin-fetchit for the new millennium. As for it being a commentary on local race relations, it was a sad one—a slap in the face.
And we were especially troubled by what we saw as less-than flattering portrayals of others in the film—video of Pastor Corey Watson, for whom we have the greatest respect, climbing on furniture and fixtures while delivering a sermon in a fashion that is quite common for many Black churches; or of a visibly upset Stephanie Mingo, a housing advocate and former St. Bernard Housing Development resident, who was understandably distraught over the loss of her home, ranting and raving; or even former city sanitation director Veronica White, cast as the belligerent and angry Black woman, who was rightfully defending her work ethic and her name. Those scenes would not be unnerving at all if taken as individual events squarely within the context of their occurrences. But in this film, they appeared to purposefully placed to paint them all as unreasonable opponents, presumably, of Stacy Head, who just were not as rational or nearly as right as she. To be sure, this film seemed to be very much about about overhauling Head’s image. And we just can’t see her as the “colorblind anti-corruption crusader”, the new leader for a new New Orleans, while everyone else in the film just shouts and screams or parties in the streets. Let’s get real.
And let’s be clear. We aren’t angry at Stacy Head—at least not any longer. But we are not happy with this film, and unlike so many in our community, we never forget. We remember what she has done. She instigated and antagonized. She thumbed her nose at poor people when they were at their lowest. She bullied and belittled municipal employees. She attacked Black business owners as incompetent and unscrupulous with not a shred of real evidence to back up her claims. So no, we are not fooled by self-reinvention.
The film was maddening, disheartening, and disappointing. It was insulting in its depiction of people’s—especially Black people’s—unconsciousness to the reality of their condition. No matter what is going on or happening to us or through us, it is nothing a good old plate of red beans and rice, a Second Line or Saints football games cannot remedy. Who needs fairness and equity or justice and a modicum of respect when we have Mardi Gras? Is that really who we are? Is it really how we want to be seen?
The Center for New American Media, Midnight Films and PBS should all be ashamed for their participation in this foolishness.
We even hated the title—”Getting back to Abnormal”. It is denigrating to suggest that there is something intrinsically odd with the way people live their lives here when we know that New Orleans is full of people doing the best they can with what they have (which is usually never enough).
We suspect it was a play on the title of another documentary, “New Orleans: Getting Back to Normal”, produced in 2011. But we still hated it…until…we realized it was true. It hit us like a Mack truck. This film is actually on to something.
Even Stacy Head has picked up on the bizarreness that permeates New Orleans and has bent it to her will. She knows this place ain’t normal, and she uses the fact to her advantage. Well, we never said she wasn’t smart. And why shouldn’t she use it, especially when New Orleans and New Orleanians lend themselves to this perversion.
This city that has beckoned us time after time no matter how far away from its boundaries we have traversed is different, to be sure—and not in any strategic or positive way. No, we now know and accept that it is strange and deviant.
It just ain’t normal to sit back and observe injustice after injustice and not act.
It’s not normal to let others use your community and marginalize your community over and over again and then forget it or forgive it. Or worse, thank them for the pleasure. Who does that?
It can’t be normal for elected officials—both Black and White—to sit back and do nothing or even to be complicit in the wholesale theft of public education, the elimination of neighborhood schools and the usurping of school buildings and education funding for profit.
And normal certainly does not come to mind when we consider what happened here with public housing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Tearing down the remainder of the city’s housing developments when so many poor people wanted to—no needed—to get back home has got to be the most one of the most aberrant things we have ever witnessed. It was trumped only by the city’s recent move to push the homeless out from underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway.
It is not normal for so many people to be so selfish and self-centered that they often abandon and ignore what is best for the whole to protect their personal pocketbooks and bank accounts, selling their souls to proverbial devils for pennies on the dollar.
There were a few protests and press conferences—all but ignored by the mainstream media—in the wake of the shooting deaths of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen. But why didn’t we take to the streets in mass protest like it was freaking Super Sunday. It just ain’t normal to be so acquiescent.
It is not normal to have rogue cops back on the force with back pay as is the case with Travis McCabe who was convicted then later “cleared” of falsifying reports related to the murder of Henry Glover.
Need more evidence as to just how abnormal this place is:
• There should have never been a protracted battle to determine who the next state Supreme Court chief justice was to be.
• Federal prosecutors should be taking far less pride in convicting Ray Nagin for his so-called crimes (cell phone bills, trips, lawn service) and paying far more attention to the murderous cops who will get new trials for their roles in the Danzinger Bridge killings thanks to misconduct on the part of their fellow prosecutors. Talk about abnormal.
• Having a police chief who uses “oops” as an excuse for his department not immediately releasing the fact that one of its officers has shot an unarmed man in the head—let alone waiting several days to confirm it—has got to be one of the most ridiculously irregular acts perpetrated ever. Coming in a close second is the fact that there was no convergence of angry citizens and conscious leaders on NOPD doorstep once this fact was revealed.
In our community, we turn our backs on one another, sitting silently while those who do take a stand for what is right and fair are marginalized and disregarded not only by forces outside of our communities, but by those within who choose to remain silent when their voices could make a difference.
This city is not normal and its people suffer for it because while our ingenuities and creativeness are celebrated, we endure some of the worst levels of economic disparities in the country; we suffer from continued poor educational outcomes (stop believing the so-call reform propaganda because our children are still being left behind); we suffer from high poverty, high crime, high incarceration, high rates of homelessness. We suffer and we mask it with noise—with food and music and a barrage of “who dats”, and “where ya ats”, “yeah, ya rights”, and “let the good times roll”, except these times ain’t good at all.