Racists Say the Darndest Things

My question about what was really on the MySpace image for the late Dinerral Shavers’ 16-year-old student was wishful thinking. Apparently it’s a machine gun. That said, the Hot 8 drummer whose band has suffered so much loss of life received the sendoff he deserved. The heartbreak is apparent in every picture of his second line, as is the pride in cultural traditions.

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund (nomrf.org) is collecting donations for his son, 7-year-old Dinerral, Jr. Now back in our home away from Sweet Home New Orleans, the sympathy is soothing, but it’s like you’re describing life on Vesuvius to residents of the Garden of Eden. NOLA.com and WWOZ are my lifelines to home like all displaced New Orleaneans, and here’s one of the responses to the recent violence in the city. I’ve omitted his name in case you live in his town, find him and decide to kick his ass:

PL of BM writes:

"The majority of the violence seems to be happening in New Orleans because of the blacks that are comming (sic) back into the city. Expect more problems with the blacks as more of them return to New Orleans.

I was told by many people I know who live in New Orleans, the first Mardi Gras that was held after Katrina was the best they had attended in years because there weren't nearly as many blacks attending in the crowds, hardly any. Didn't have to dodge any bullets or constantly watch your back."

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Dalton. We lived in a hopeless time and decided it was a good idea to rob our hometown bank again in broad daylight while simultaneously robbing a bank across town and telling our friends how cool the whole thing was going to go down. My mom says the Dalton Gang fell in with a bad crowd. I’m hard pressed to know who that would be.

Bluster. Hopelessness. A dying culture. Being morons. None of the gangster outlaw tradition is black or white but the festering scab of New Orleans racism picking at itself is the elephant in the room. The elephant is the size of a Blaine Kern float. And the scab is the size of Algiers.

For 10 years I heard offhand racist comments in the south until I realized that yelling Yankee Yankee Yankee would stop an incoming salvo. Yet New Orleans is so integrated that some neighborhoods mix mansions with shotgun houses. This does not happen in Chicago where homes range from Gold Coast to Cabrini Green and never the twain shall meet.

I used to think New Orleans was a hotbed of racism, but while living there I realized it was one of the only cities in America that talked about it so constantly. Dating back to the first American Free People of Color, it is a world unto itself. It produced souls like Ernie K-Doe, the Emperor of the Universe. His passing was a great loss but wax Ernie still makes an occasional appearance thanks to Antoinette.

There is a fine line between New Orleans life and death. Our cemeteries are things of beauty. A second line is a party, a dance, a sendoff and proof that you were loved in this world.

I hold dear every life lost to 8/29 and will never resign myself to the cultural vaccum PL of BM writes about. I hope to Jah his statement does not hold true for Mardi Gras 07.

"There weren’t nearly as many blacks attending in the crowds. Hardly any."


A House Not Meant to Stand

Yesterday a house collapsed onto another house in Central City.

So far, no one knows what caused the collapse or if anyone was living in the house at the time.

It takes a minute to absorb the fact that no one knows if anyone was living in the house, because I am now back in a midwestern town where each home is accountable to the home next to it. That has not been the case in Central City for a long time. It is what Tennessee Williams called "A House Not Meant to Stand."

Dinerral Shavers' funeral is today in Central City. One of his myspace messages from a 16-year-old is: "R.I.P shavers dude u was da coolest teacher at da skool man gone but not forgotten." The photo is either a gun or a sophisticated can opener, I hope it's the latter.

There is such a need for hope right now, you can almost hear the sucking sound of it leaving with each murder of 2007. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund talked with police about our sponsoring Dinerral's second line, but they were so concerned about potential violence we decided to use the money for more musicians' grants.

There were more than a dozen murders in the last week, six on Thursday.

Dinerral's second line will take place anyway because you can't wash away culture ingrained that deeply. It's his well-deserved last gig. But it's where gangs sometimes try to settle a grudge among the chaos.

The role of a spy boy was originally to look up the street for rival gangs. Big Chief Tootie Montana helped bring peace to the tradition of Mardi Gras Indians. He changed the competition into who had the prettiest suit, and Big Chief always won. He died in City Hall protesting arrests of Indians on Super Sunday, their springtime march.

Dinerral was caught in the crossfire of a teen allegedly aiming for his stepson. He probably saved his family's life, driving away from the shooter and toward safety as he died.

It took an hour for the ambulance to come as he lay in the street.

Dirges are played at the beginning of a second line, but at the end you sing "Didn't He Ramble" to give the departed a joyous sendoff. We are singing the dirge this week. "Didn't He Ramble" is a long way off.

Chief of Chiefs Tootie Montana said it all with his last words on this earth at the New Orleans City Council.

"This has got to stop."