geoffrey gauchet

We're Still a Blank Slate

The other day, NPR started a new series called “NPR Cities: Urban Life in the 21st Century” and they chose New Orleans to kick things off. That’s pretty cool. Everyone loves national attention for their city.

The story talked about ideas people have for the city, and how entrepreneurs came to the city to start something. It focuses on Neighborland.com a good bit, which is a site for people to passively suggest things in the city and then whine over glasses of wine about the fact that nothing happened. 

The NPR story is a fluff piece and speaks to pretty much no one that is actually from New Orleans. I get the angle of talking to new comers, to show that the city has opportunities for everyone, but they could have thrown in a commentary from someone that has seen more than 7 years of this city.

That’s not the part that outraged New Orleanians, though. Nope, the first sentence that reads: “New Orleans became a blank slate after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.” The phrase “blank slate” got citizens angry in the NPR website comments, and on Twitter, and Facebook.

My question is — why? Why does calling New Orleans a blank slate anger you? Why is it a bad thing? Just a little heads up: New Orleans was a blank slate after Katrina.

Our entire infrastructure was destroyed — power plants damaged, gas lines filled with water, missing streetlights, damaged streets, missing businesses, etc. New Orleans was given a chance to start fresh. And we fucked that up.

How many times did our mayors (Nagin and Landrieu), our other leaders, and ourselves say things like “We will rebuild New Orleans better than she was before!” Do you know what that means? That means New Orleans was a (wait for it…) blank slate that offered us the opportunity to start fresh and fix all the problems we had before. Problems with our schools, or infrastructure, our government, our crime — these were all things we said “Hey! We’ll see Katrina as an opportunity to make this city great!”

But guess what — our schools are still terrible and are losing funding, it’s been 7 years and we’re just now getting around to fixing all the streetlights, our government officials are still getting indicted, and our crime is at an almost all-time high.

As far as I see it, we’re still a blank slate.

I know there were some outsiders that claimed Katrina was like “Sodom and Gomorrah”, cleansing our city of its evils. Now, I know those people meant our laissez-faire attitude toward, well, everything and all of our vices and debauchery, so I can see how that phrase could be insulting. But, you know what? Katrina should have been like “Sodom and Gomorrah”, cleansing us of our evils like crime, corruption, and poor school systems. 

The problem is, we’re all too afraid of destroying the culture of the city to make any real changes. Guess what — poor test grades and murder aren’t a culture. You can’t get upset every time some news outlet says something about New Orleans that you don’t like. Firstly, you look like a jackass, and secondly, you’re helping nothing. 

NPR meant nothing malicious with “blank slate”. (I will agree the overall story was lackluster and pretty much sucked) All that phrase means is that we had an opportunity to be better. And we’re the same. Just a little less wet.

Though, to be fair, we have slightly changed in that there’s a greater sense of community than there was 7 years ago. My point is that we should grow from a terrible situation, and I feel that’s what a “blank slate” means.

If your car has some dents and dings in it, and then you get in an accident and you have to get your crushed front end fixed, you may as well hammer out the dents in the side panels while you’re at it, right?

We, as a city, worry too much what other people say about our city. We need to calm down. This is “A Streetcar Named Marge” all over again. 


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