What We’re Saying: We Have Bigger Chickens to Fry

It seems District E Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen got herself into a some hot, popping chicken grease with a ill-spoken statement in an article that appeared over the past weekend in the local daily. On the weekend that marked the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the story was supposed to explore how the hardest hit area of the city–the Lower Ninth Ward–is still “reeling” from Hurricane Katrina. Unlike Lakeview, the French Quarter, Uptown, Algiers and just about any other area of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward has yet to significantly rebound from Katrina’s devastation. And there is something wrong with that.

But wait, never mind that salient fact. Did you hear what Councilwoman Nguyen said about the residents of the Ninth Ward–Black folk–when talking about economic development in the area and the types of businesses that will or won’t consider opening there? Of course you have. It’s everywhere. And we mean everywhere. The story is on the grio.com, The New York Times, MSN, US News & World Report, the Washington Post, thetelegraph.com and has been picked up by dozens of other network affiliates in markets across the country.

Here is what she said: “I think people in the Lower Nine like those greasy fried chicken [places].”

And now, everyone is talking about that New Orleans city councilwoman who “insulted” an entire race of folk with one of the oldest, worn and wretched stereotypes about Black people–fried chicken.

You know what they are not talking about–the very real fact that the Ninth Ward is still just a shell of its former self an entire decade and half after Hurricane Katrina. So yes, we are here to say it–FOCUS, people, focus.

Look, we are not saying that the Councilwoman’s remarks were not off-color. It was a verbal gaffe, for sure. We also do not think she is racist. And rather than go for her jugular because she could not come up with a better phrase to make her point–whatever it was–we would instead like to know her plans for reinvesting in, redeveloping, and reviving the Ninth Ward along with re-inviting those residents who historically have called this area of the city home to to take part in its re-invigoration.

Councilwoman Nguyen has apologized for her statement. It was taken out of context, she says. And we believe her. In fact, we kinda get what she was more or less trying to say. That’s not to say we fully agree, but we get where she was going. Maybe she was just trying to say that it has not been easy task to attract diverse business interests to the Lower Ninth Ward. Let’s not forget that Nguyen has only been in office for just over two years now. That means that for 13 of the 15 post-Katrina years, District E, which includes the Lower Ninth, was represented by someone else. And they apparently had a bit of trouble making things happen for the community too. And we don’t expect it to be easy. We do expect the person who campaigns for the job and wins the most votes to make something happen no matter how hard it is. Otherwise, why run for office?

So back to what we think Nguyen was trying to say: It has been difficult to convince diverse business interests that the Lower Ninth Ward has a customer base that would support their business (ostensibly something other than greasy fried chicken) in a way that makes it a fiscally sound decision to locate there. We don’t agree, but we understand what she was trying to get at. Of course, the issue is deeper than greasy fried chicken. Could it be that a community of people simply grow accustomed to the the offerings that are readily available to them? And if you are in the Lower Ninth Ward, which, like so many other predominantly Black neighborhoods, has been negatively impacted by racist government policies (from redlining to Road Home), post-integration White flight, and then capped off with a no-to-slow government response in the wake of natural disaster, it is no small wonder that there isn’t a grocery store selling fresh fruit and veggies within walking distance. But if there is a convenience store or gas station selling greasy fried chicken on every corner, that’s what you buy.

Lord, we know we are about to make somebody mad. But it won’t be the first time. So here it goes: Black folk–not all of us, but a good few–like fried chicken. So do White people, Latino people, and Asian people, too. And fried chicken is greasy–unless you fry it in one of those air cooker things. But is that really “fried” chicken? Anyway, we digress. Our point is we have bigger fish (and chickens) to fry than Nguyen’s verbal flub. Councilwoman Nguyen is right, people in the Ninth Ward and all of the world like fried chicken. You know what else Ninth Ward residents like and need–more Jobs and economic development opportunities, along with more pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, restaurants that serve all sorts of food, dry cleaners, and just about any thing else that can be legally bought and sold in the name of commerce.

And we would much rather spend our time talking about how we make that happen.

We can start by not waiting for big corporations to come in and save the day. We know the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of New Orleans is real. We have seen it in actions of people like Burnell Colton who opened his Lower Ninth Ward Market at 2036 Caffin Street in the wake of Hurricane Katrina because he saw a void in his community. We need more people like him, and people like Colton need the support of the community.

Want show folk that Black people in the Lower Ninth Ward and every where else, for that matter, like something other than greasy fried chicken? Building, supporting and strengthening our own businesses and communities is where we start.

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