Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Where are all the light-skinned black people?"

In his column today, New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Jarvis DeBerry tells of a very dark-skinned friend who lives in Memphis who was approached by a New Orleans African American evacuee who asked her, "Where are all the light-skinned black people?"

The woman asking the question was totally clueless as to how offensive her question was, which tells you everything you need to know about how racial matters are conducted in some parts of New Orleans. DeBerry correctly pointed out that the evacuee was looking for an equivalent of New Orleans' 7th Ward, where light-skinned African Americans live, attend school and church, and socialize.

A couple of nights ago, I went down to the local Chinese take-0ut to get some dinner. The young Chinese-American woman at the counter was telling me how lawless Bogalusa (a city in Washington Parish) had become since the hurricane had demolished much of the area. That struck me as a bit funny, since Bogalusa has been lawless for as long as I can remember. Anyway, she told me about lootings and shootings, and then said, "It's because of the blacks, isn't it?"

I stifled an urge to say, "No, I think it's because of the Asians." Instead, I gave her some education about Washington Parish and its gun-toting, truck-driving idiots and the law enforcement officials who protect them.

Though racism abounds among white people, we need to be reminded from time to time that it is also prevalent among almost everyone.


At the risk of being ignorant and/or insensitive, didn't NOLA develop a more pronounced intra-race caste system (more members in light-skinned, relatively better off category) than the rural South because of the combination of an organized concubinage system in a large urban/trade center? I gather that light-skinned beautiful free women could become second "wives" to middle-class and wealthy white men, including travelling men who had official white wives on a plantation and wanted a semi-permanent partner and a comfy flat when coming to town. Concubines could accumulate money or property to be passed on to their children. The girl children of concubines were often concubines themselves. Apparently there were well-attended "debutante" balls for newly pubescent potential concubines, so-called "quadroon balls".

historical sidelight aside, the woman quoted was being an ass.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:34 PM  

Yes, Nancy, you are correct. That is how the racial caste system began in New Orleans. But some of the same African American people who want white citizens to change their racial attitudes mimic those attitudes when confronted with other African Americans.

And yes, the woman was a world-class ass.

By Blogger Diane, at 2:00 PM  

Have you been to Melrose? A black woman owned it, and several hundred slaves.

Fascinating place.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:41 PM  

I never have, but I have read its history, and there was a great local public television documentary on it.

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