We Are At War: We’ve Seen “the” Video, Let’s Talk About the Problem—Unchecked Gentrification

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Just about all of New Orleans is talking about the viral Instagram video by community activist and declared mayoral candidate Byron Cole. Cole recently took to social media to document an illegal block party in his 7th Ward neighborhood, where an event organizer, who has since been identified as Janna Perry-Holloway, illegally blocked a section of North Dorgenois Street. Cole is the son of the late Dyan “Mama D” French Cole, a longtime community activist.

The beginning of the video mostly showed Cole walking up the street toward the event and talking about what he calls a double standard in the city. He also referred to elderly neighbors he said called him with concerns about not having access to the street. To Cole, the whole scene was evidence of gentrification’s unsettling and disrespectful impact on the city, in general, and his neighborhood, specifically—a neighborhood that has been historically occupied by Black residents for generations. He was visibly mad about it. He ought to be. And so are we because gentrification has gone unchecked in New Orleans for too long.

How do we know that? Why would we say that? Here is our evidence: Some random White lady actually thought it was okay to block a city street in a historically Black neighborhood with her personal car for a private party in a 7th Ward neighborhood, forcing residents to make a block or two just to get to their own homes. We wonder what would happen if some Black folk shut down a street in Lakeview or in one of those exclusively White neighborhoods in Uptown New Orleans, obstructing access to residents there . . . just saying.

Cole

Things seemed to escalate when Perry-Holloway approached Cole, asking him to discuss the issue and inviting him to the party, billed as a neighborhood Jazz Fest-like event with live entertainment. Cole was clear, he was not interested in joining her and her friends. In fact, during the recording, Cole specifically said he was not going to go closer to the crowd because he did not want to be in their company or interact with them. He didn’t want tacos or margaritas. But after Perry-Holloway approached him, he definitely had some questions. He wanted to know where she was from. Cole said his home had belonged to his grandmother. In other words, he grew up in the neighborhood, and he knew she wasn’t from the community. 

At any rate, Cole wanted the car moved. He wanted her cited and said he had already called the police. He wanted an explanation as to why Janna Perry-Holloway thought it was okay to block the street with her personal car for what was essentially a private and illegal event. But when she suggested that anyone inconvenienced by the closed street could just go around, things really went left . . . or right, depending on one’s perspective. That’s about the time that Cole’s anger turned to all-out indignation. He cursed Perry-Holloway, calling her the b-word and more as he told her to move her car. And just before she moved it, Perry-Holloway mooned Cole—yep, “mooned” as in bent over, raised her skirt, and exposed her buttocks.

As New Orleanians discuss the video, much (way too much as far as we are concerned) is being made of language Cole used toward Perry-Holloway. It’s true—he used some choice words. Would we have used them? Probably not. But the words are nothing we have not heard. They are nothing most of you haven’t heard; or, if truth be told, haven’t used when provoked. And quite frankly, there are times when “pretty please” just won’t do. Cole was angry. And we understand why. What we don’t understand is why Perry-Holloway, who claimed to be so concerned about vehicle traffic near the young children at the illegal event, thought raising her skirt and revealing her entire behind for all of the ‘Gram to see was okay with those same children nearby. By the way, we absolutely would not have done that either. All in all, it was quite a scene.

As a side note, the narrative of the 7th Ward once being a community that has always attracted people of all backgrounds is being spread to quash concerns about the encroachers and newcomers. New Orleans’ 7th Ward and many of the nearby communities have primarily been home to hardworking  Black people since before the Civil War, all through Reconstruction, through Jim Crow, and into modern times. And now, encroachers want in because of the area’s proximity to downtown and services, among other reasons. And yes, the encroachers are typically wealthier than longtime residents of the area. And yes, most of them are White. And yes, we are angry that they come in with a brazen sense of entitlement.

To be sure, everybody’s talking about this video for a variety of reasons. The goodie-two-shoe types are debating about whether Cole went too far by using vulgar language. Then there are those who suggest that Cole was justified for being angry, but he lost his moral high ground when he cursed Perry-Holloway. There are even those who suggest that because New Orleans is a party town where there is always a second line or block parties, perhaps Cole was making a big deal out of nothing. So, yes, she was wrong for not having a permit, but his response over the top, these critics say. Couldn’t they have worked it out as neighbors? Well, if they were looking for the kind, forgiving Negro that would be easily diverted from his mission, they watched the wrong video.

Oh, and folk are definitely talking about her showing her natural behind.

The Issue is GENTRIFICATION

But what we’re not hearing enough about is the real issue that prompted the encounter— unchecked gentrification in New Orleans.

This 7th Ward neighborhood that is at the center of this video is in close proximity to The New Orleans Tribunes office. It’s essentially in our backyard. And we have seen with our own eyes how gentrification has impacted this community. We have watched interlopers try to shut down a longtime neighborhood bar on Bayou Road(a bar that had been built by Blacks some 60 years ago) because it didn’t fit their gentrified vision of a neighborhood that is as old as New Orleans itself.

This is one of the things that actually prompted The Tribune’s publishers to invest in property along Bayou Road, including that building that houses the bar. So that, through ownership, they could preserve the authentic integrity of the community and make affordable commercial spaces available to Black small business owners.

A scene from three years ago at Bayou and Bell. Authorities were called on a fruit vendor.

We have watched forces come together to runoff a young entrepreneur that sold fresh fruit in the triangular park at Bayou Road and Bell Street, with accusations that his street vending was just not the right look for the neighborhood. Of course, that couldn’t’t be further from the truth, considering the road’s history as a center of commercial exchange, especially between Natives and people of African descent. Mannie King has since moved on to leasing space for his Froot Orleans inside Circle Food Store on St. Bernard and Claiborne.

Even now, there is a movement afoot to disperse a group of friends and neighbors  who gather at what is now Callioux Park to catch up  with each other, pitch horseshoes or play checkers after work. This group—mostly older Black men—is not bothering anyone  when they gather in this public space. They are respectful. They don’t park their cars to block the street, and they sure don’t show drop their pants to reveal their behinds, which is more than we can say for Perry-Holloway. But as more newcomers encroach on the space, these men have been targeted for removal.

So let’s recap. They don’t wont us to sell fruit in the park. They don’t want us to operate our neighborhood bars. If they are the final decision makers, we won’t be allowed to gather in the park for a friendly game of horseshoes. But somehow, for some insane reason, they think their privilege gives them to right to shut down public streets with their private automobiles for their private parties. Then they dismissively say the neighbors  can just go around if it inconveniences them. In the end, that’s what they want—our culture, our history, our neighborhoods and our homes with us out of the way. To be sure, if we go around and keep going around (and watch our language) we will look up one day and find ourselves completely shut out.

These are the ugly truths of gentrification.

A scene for a 7th Ward neighborhood.

And they are just the tip of the iceberg. In 2019, New Orleanians saw skyrocketing property value assessments that resulted in doubled tax bills for thousands and threatened working families’ ability to maintain their homes. According to one local real estate site, the average sales price for homes in the 7th Ward neighborhood grew from $154,000 in 2019 to $220,000 in 2021. That is a 42 percent increase in just two years. And while homeowners want to see their value of their investment increase, a 42 percent increase in just two years makes little sense and could spell disaster for families trying to maintain their homes once those “increases” start to impact the value of their homes and property taxes. As rich gentrifiers eye the 7th Ward and other parts of the city, inflating property values, it becomes increasingly difficult for those who have called New Orleans home for generations to remain. Working poor families are pushed out. Street vendors are pushed out. Small neighborhood business owners are pushed out. Old men socializing in the park are pushed out. Authentic New Orleans is pushed out.

It is WAR

Like Cole, we are angry about it. And we don’t think he has to be nice about his fight to save the neighborhood from the ravages of gentrification. Much is being made of the curse words Cole used, but the words that continue to ring in our ears are the ones he said when he Perry-Holloway know exactly why he didn’t want a taco or a margarita and why he hadn’t walked down the street to make friends. He walked down the street to expose hypocrisy and privilege. He told Perry-Holloway that they were “at war”. And he is right. When she blocked the street, she declared war. When she invited her friends and family over to the neighborhood for a so-called mini Jazz Fest with no permit and with no regard for the people who call it home and have called it home for generations, she declared war. We know, the former First Lady Michelle Obama tells us when they go low, we should go high. But it’s hard to go high with a knee on your neck. So we just cannot take issue with Cole for refusing to operate under the weight of oppression.

It’s time for the people of New Orleans to rise up and protect their neighborhoods, their homes, their history and their culture without fear or hesitation. And we don’t have to be nice about it. And we don’t have to “go around” because there is nothing at all nice about gentrification. Cole is right. It is WAR.