In his article titled “Resistance in the Key of Life,” Jordan Flaherty describes a culture of activism in New Orleans. He describes a culture that bordered on extinction a decade ago during Katrina and a people who have since embraced their resistance-based traditions. New Orleans, like many major cities in the U.S., has large communities of minorities. But unlike most major cities in the U.S., New Orleans has emerged from the brink of extinction to restore its cultural traditions. At the heart of Flaherty’s piece are the numerous quotes of people who have embraced activism in New Orleans and who accept this as part of who they are and what makes them special. While Flaherty presents a positive picture of the resistance behind the activism in New Orleans, there is an alternative interpretation of his piece in which resistance is an unfortunately reality for a people struggling to maintain a positive culture in the face of police brutality and racial discrimination.
Like a child picking his favorite fruits, Flaherty conveniently chooses those quotes that serve his purpose. The most obvious example is his quote of Kalamu ya Salaam who states “there is a fierce oppositional stance at the core of black New Orleans culture. I’d rather struggle in New Orleans than kick back in New York” (Flaherty 27). This quote may seem to indicate that individuals in black communities in New Orleans prefer their culture of resistance to the culture of comfort. Yet, it is the histories of these people that fuel their resistance. They would not resist if there was nothing to resist against. After all, would these people prefer that racism and police brutality continue in New Orleans rather than live comfortably in a New Orleans free from racism and policy brutality? Of course not. Yet, Flaherty makes it seem as if New Orleans enjoy resisting. That is, Flaherty presents a picture of the black community in New Orleans such that the community enjoys or even lives for opportunities to resist mainstream culture and the forces that act negatively upon it. But it is only because of the racial discrimination and police brutality that a sense of duty has emerged in this culture. This sense of duty obliges black communities in New Orleans to resist. The resulting activism is a symptom of the racial hatred and discrimination.
Similarly, Flaherty presents a history of violence and resistance among black communities. This history is presented like a cultural tradition, rather than the unfortunate result of racial hatred and discrimination. Flaherty’s historical analysis of the resistance and activism suggests that such activism has become an integral part of the culture of black communities. Flaherty refers to events of resistance to prejudiced authority dating back almost a decade. In addition, this historical analysis includes several moments of success among black communities. For example, Flaherty states that the first successfully integrated schools in the U.S. were in New Orleans. While Flaherty presents this achievement and other achievements as evidence of success for the resistance and activism displayed by black communities, they serve more as consolation prizes in the game of life. After all, the few historical achievements of New Orleans concerning racial equality come in the midst of what would be many failures of the New Orleans community as a whole. The response to Hurricane Katrina serves as a staunch reminder of the lack of progress made in New Orleans. Yet, Flaherty’s depiction of Katrina appears to suggest that the survival of the black community in New Orleans is itself a victory. This is deeply misleading. Racism may very well have contributed to the lack-luster response to Katrina in New Orleans. The narrative, then, should be focused more broadly on the greater social realities facing these black communities.
Flaherty presents a heroic portrayal of the black communities in New Orleans. However, Flaherty seems to implicitly suggest that without the struggles faced by black communities in New Orleans, they would not have developed their rich culture. By doing this, Flaherty almost condones the racial prejudices that contribute to the on-going plight of the black communities in New Orleans. Flaherty seems to argue that it is the hardships faced by these black communities that has inspired their immense resistance and proclivities for activities. This positions seems patently flawed. While it seems that Flaherty is trying to spin a positive light on a deplorable situation in New Orleans, the reality is that Flaherty is presenting racial injustice in a positive light. After all, without racial injustice and prejudice, including the resulting police brutality, there would be no reason for the black communities to display so much resistance and activism. Instead, Flaherty could have presented the hardships faced by the black communities in New Orleans as deplorable, while presenting the resistance to these hardships as commendable actions. By painting the resistance and activism as being necessary to the culture development of the black communities of New Orleans, Flaherty unfortunately depicts the black communities in New Orleans as being so dependent on the very sources of their deplorable conditions that their cultural identity may be in jeopardy without such sources. At the very least, Flaherty should have presented a core culture for blacks in New Orleans. This core would focus on the deeper cultural aspects of these communities, depicting their responses to their struggles as being natural reactions given their strong cultural values.
- Flaherty, Jordan. “Resistance in the Key of Life.” The Nation. 31 Aug. 2013: 24-27. Print.