But carnival was not without a hiccup or two. There were also elements of the celebration that reminded us that while we can raze Confederate-era monuments, removing them from their pedestals throughout New Orleans, we cannot erase hate from the hearts of some New Orleanians.
At best, those Forever Lee Circle beads that were hurled from floats and worn at parties are examples of a blind loyalty to a false idea of heritage and history. At their worst, they are an outward display of the same racial animus and notions of White supremacy that resulted in the construction of the monuments to Confederate leaders and domestic terrorists in the first place.
Even with that, here at The New Orleans Tribune, we are almost inclined to accede on this matter. Heck, throw your trinkets. Wear your beads. It’s not as if the monstrosity of stone chiseled in the likeness of Robert E. Lee is going to magically reappear in Tivoli Circle because a few knuckleheads decide to wear a cheap, plastic chain with the shape of Gen. Lee’s statue dangling from it around their rednecks. That’s all you got? Well, if wearing that knick-knack somehow gives a feeling of moral superiority and power, knock yourself out, honey.
To be sure, that is the posture we would like to take if only it were that cut and dried. Unfortunately, it is not.
First of all, we are bothered by the reaction to these beads. As we understand it, they sold out fast. Of course, there were a number of progressive krewes that banned the throw from their parades. But still, the Forever Lee Circle beads sold out. And they were thrown from floats at some parades and worn at some balls and parties. In fact, social media is abuzz with folks anonymously patting themselves on the back and others trying to figure out how they can order more of the infamous beads even after Mardi Gras. That’s way too many New Orleanians for our taste holding on to the confederacy. Let it go already.
Did we mention that New Orleans is celebrating 300 years? Now is the time to reflect on our past as a city, state and nation and vow to appreciate and hold on to those things that actually make us better and stronger while casting aside those things that do not. Statues carved to honor of men who were traitors to this nation and erected for the expressed purpose of declaring White supremacy’s stronghold on a community and terrorizing Black folk in the years that followed Reconstruction do not strengthen us one bit.
Mardi Gras is not a time to push an agenda—especially one steeped in history of hate, supremacy and exclusion.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly, we are troubled by this ugly turn at Mardi Gras because it is an external indication of what brews in the underbelly of our city.
And whether we want to admit it, the Carnival season in New Orleans is steeped in power and influence. Many of the oldest krewes boast memberships that include the city’s business, civic and social “elite”. In other words, these are the people with the power to help change our city for the better for all.
The question is whether they have the inclination.
We have a really hard time believing that anyone who is so bothered by the removal of confederate statues that they give their nod of approval to Forever Lee Circle beads is equally as bothered by and ready to act on the high-double digit Black male unemployment rate that besets the city or moved by the issues of pay equity and minimum wage that disproportionately affects Black people or perturbed by underlying issues of inequity and institutional racism that feed our broken criminal justice system.
We could be wrong, but we doubt it. If we were wrong there would have been no law suits attempting to stop the removal of those statues, no double-truck ads in a local daily criticizing Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his support to remove the monuments, no threats of violence against contractors who took on the job, no protests. If we were wrong, there would have been no Forever Lee Circle beads.
With the removal of the four confederate statues razed last year after years of wrangling over the issue, those beads and other trinkets of the same ilk that were thrown from floats and worn proudly this Mardi Gras serve the same purpose as the statues that once stood across the city. They remind us that there are those who will never stand with us and those who don’t want to see us move forward as one city.
It is an unsettling fact that we have known all along. The removal of those statues could not change that.
Maybe, one day, we can.