This week my family and I traveled down south from Wisconsin to Louisiana, specifically New Orleans. We originally had difficulty figuring out where exactly we could go considering we are a mixed family. My sister, who is white, suggested we go to Alabama. My father and I, both people of color, became anxious at the thought of traveling down there. My mother, who is also white, put out the idea of Virginia, which I immediately shot down. What with all the rallies and white supremacists around? We found it hard to set our hearts on a place that was safe, and that everyone in our family wanted to go to. Eventually someone threw out the idea of New Orleans which we all decided was a great idea, safe for everyone, and had activities and attractions we all wanted to witness, and experience.
While in New Orleans I noticed many things that were different compared to our small town in Wisconsin. Besides the obvious things including: different weather, accents and drawls, and how hectic the city was, I found that I almost felt safer, a sense of more normalcy.
In my small hometown it was very stereotypical–lots of people knew each other, people who lived there now had grown up there when they were children, very religious, and also very white–Down here in Louisiana it was so diverse! White people, Black people, Hispanic people, Asian people, and everything in between.
Walking down in the French Quarters going from shop to shop I heard at least five languages, I saw people singing to one another and same-sex couples comfortable enough to hold hands and kiss in public, something I rarely saw back home. Everything there was just so diverse, from the culture to the people. Architecture, food, people, and places, everything was different.
You know how in some towns they have city flags on their lampposts, or state flags on them? Well, in New Orleans, they have gay pride flags on their lampposts. Talk about taking steps forward!
But, these differences weren’t all good. In some parts of the city it’s the nicest thing you’ll ever see. Beautiful houses bigger than some churches I’ve seen. Rich neighborhoods filled with mansions that had gates and intercoms, and then one street down, the next block over, was filled with houses that had trash in their lawns and boards on their walls so that there wasn’t a hole from the outside to their living room.
So few of them had window air conditioners, and in this heat it seemed vital to a Northerner like me, but when they did they had cage type things over them so they wouldn’t get stolen. People stood out on their porches with as little clothes on as possible to escape the heat, because at least there was wind outside to combat against the blinding sun and horrible humidity. Another thing that struck me was the amount of homeless people. People who had signs begging for food, people who had dogs with them or who were overheating because of the sun. There were moments in which we passed people that were either asleep or had fainted, or fallen over sick. I could never quite tell which it was.
One thing that was impossible to go unnoticed, yet easy to be put aside for many, was the fact that the rich neighborhoods by the French Quarters and the above ground cemetery where people toured, it was near all white people. And the poor neighborhoods with small, tore apart houses, was all black folk or people of color in general. I’m not gonna lie, there was an occasional black person or family in the rich parts, or maybe one or two white people in the more poor, broken down neighborhoods, but it was still mostly black and white.
This struck me hard because when I really sit down and think about it, even if I do have disadvantages because of my skin or my health or past, I have an amazing life. I have a good education, my family is mid middle class, and we are a family. We have a roof above our heads and food on our plates. We don’t have to put a locked cage around our window air conditioners to make sure it doesn’t get stolen. We don’t have to lock our door at night in case someone tries to break it, even if we do lock it anyways. Though I do endure disadvantages, I have so much privilege that I rarely acknowledge. I have a tenancy to tell people, “Everyone has at least a smidgen of privilege, so accept yours and use it to the best of your abilities.” And after being reintroduced to these types of places and how hard it is for some people, I think I need to take a step back and listen to my own advice.
One day we took a wrong turn and ended up in a poor neighborhood. It was filled with people sitting outside of their houses, the places they slept in wrecked as though it hadn’t been lived in for years and years. When we were in this neighborhood my mom had told my dad, who was driving, “Hurry and get us out of here, this place is scary.” To which I replied, “No, not scary. Just sad.”
Things you can do to help folks in your hometown who need it are simple for most. You can volunteer at soup kitchens or donate food. If you have leftovers you can give them to homeless people outside who need it. Many people don’t give money to homeless folks because of many reasons, so give them food, water, or clothes. Help them get into a homeless shelter or get a job if they don’t have one. If someone who is homeless approaches or passes you, don’t be fearful, be inspired to help. You can easily find numbers for homeless shelters by doing a little bit of research.
Remember, a little can go a long way.