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48 Ways Racial Life Is Better (Compared to 1959)
By W. F. Twyman, Jr.
“Blackness is Oppression. Nothing else matters." — privileged Black American, April 21, 2018
As I woke up this morning, the disconnect between performance of Blackness and reality grabbed my attention. I do not believe Blackness = Oppression today. It occurred to me a review of life in 1959 might be instructive. Using Black Like Me by John Griffin as my portal back in time, let’s examine the improvement in racial life over my lifetime. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Like_Me
What was the “feeling tone” of Blackness in, say, New Orleans in the year 1959? Was Blackness ideological subscription, dogma or something more real?
The following 48 points defined Blackness in the Deep South in 1959:
Real potential for a severe beating by the Ku Klux Klan if one diverged from racial dogma. No one reading this essay today has been beaten by the Klan.
One could not buy huitres variees in New Orleans. One can buy whatever one likes today in New Orleans.
It is difficult to find hotel accommodations. Today, I can stay wherever I like in New Orleans. I do not give my race a second thought.
Whites and Blacks believed the lighter the skin, the more trustworthy the Negro. We have outgrown those primitive color prejudices in the public square.
Walking through downtown New Orleans is to walk through a land hostile to one’s skin color. I have traveled to New Orleans on three occasions since the 1990s. Not once did I feel hostility based upon blackness.
The paramount question is always how should a black man act? See my answer to no. 5.
Where do I go to find food, water and a bed? When I last stayed in New Orleans, I stayed at one of the most lavish hotels in town. I gave no thought to my race and whether I could find food, water and a bed. Time has moved on, people.
If one boards a city bus, remember to let the white man on first. I traveled on a city bus once or twice in New Orleans. I was way more concerned about the heat and humility than the race of my co-passengers.
A random white feels free to question one in public. In the modern era, I experienced no such racial weirdness in New Orleans. New Orleans has become a modern city.
When one boards a streetcar, take a seat near the back. I had no color consciousness as I boarded a street car and enjoyed the city sights.
Expect no friendly banter from a sales clerk. My experience with sales clerks in New Orleans ran the gamut. Some clerks were talkative. Other clerks were pre-occupied. And still others were sullen. The race of the sales clerk did not matter. Not did my race matter to the sales clerk.
One could not go to the soda foundation. I did not do the soda foundation thing, so I can’t comment with first-hand knowledge. Presumably, racial segregation was not a problem in the 1990s.
One could not order a limeade. See the above, although I do love limeade.
One could not ask for a glass of water. See the above for my personal knowledge and elimination of segregation in public accommodations and restaurants.
One was limited to stale air, tiny segregated hotel rooms when traveling. My last stay was around 2014 in New Orleans. I stayed in a five star hotel that attended to my every whim. The breakfast was opulent. The well-lit courtyard was awe inspiring. Dorothy, we’re not in 1959 anymore!
One was consigned to the ghetto when traveling. My travels to New Orleans have taken me from Tulane University to stately mansions and the French Quarter. I was not segregated to the ghetto, however defined.
The Negro YMCA is the best place to stay in town, if one can snag a room. Let’s just say the YMCA was never on my listing of places to stay in New Orleans.
One of the most common questions and anxieties for the black traveler is Where’s the nearest rest room? In my experience between the 1990s and 2010s, I only thought about the rest room when I needed to go. Having to use the rest room was not a life altering event.
The barriers of race on a city bus are in your face. Look in the eye of a white female passenger and one will be berated in public What you looking at me like that for? As a three-time traveler to New Orleans, I recall zero consciousness of race in the presence of white female passengers.
One presumes hostility from white passengers on a city bus. I presumed pleasantness or lack of interest. Worked for me.
There are no repercussions for a white female passenger on a city bus openly declaring, “they’re getting sassier every day.” In today’s world, this abuse of a black male passenger would be caught on a cell phone camera, downloaded to Tik Tok, and viral within hours. Times have changed from 1959.
One hears open use of the n——- word on a public city bus. Yeah, try that on a New Orleans city bus today. Where’s the popcorn?
If one is a black male passenger on a city bus and one meets the eyes of a white female passenger, other black passengers will view one as stupid. Hmmn, not a thing today in modern New Orleans.
Refreshment for coffee is limited small Negro cafes. Not the world we live in today down in New Orleans.
Black strangers lecture visiting blacks from out of town on how to act in New Orleans. You don’t bother them and they won’t bother you. Man, this stuff is from my grandmother’s generation. No black stranger ever approached me and told me how to conduct myself as a black person in New Orleans in the 1990s, let alone the 2010s. Progress, people. What a concept.
There are white bars. There are no white bars in New Orleans today. If you know of a white bar, conduct the U.S. Justice Department.
Blacks are served from the back of whites bars. Ditto.
There are segregated restrooms on skid row. Ditto.
The paramount concern for black people was the White Man and how to get along with him. Not the black culture and consciousness of modern-day New Orleans.
One has to plan ahead to get a drink or use the rest room. From personal experience, I can say I had zero advance planning stumbling around the streets of the French Quarter.
White tourists will ask black shoe shine workers where can one get black girls. Call me a prude and naïve. I have no personal knowledge of such a thing in modern New Orleans.
One must drink lots of water before walking across town for a room at the Negro YMCA. Thank God the madness of segregation in public accommodations has been buried.
If one arrives at the Negro YMCA and no rooms are available, the desk staff has a handy listing of nice homes where a man could rent a room. Ditto.
White people are fearful of showing black people courtesies. No one wants to be called a n——- lover. Can you believe we once lived in such a world down in New Orleans? My admiration for Governor P.B.S. Pinchback and Major Francis E. Dumas is ramped up.
Dark Negroes = Old Uncle Toms. Huh? This public sentiment held by blacks in New Orleans in 1959 makes no sense to me. I scratch my head and thank the Lord for a higher black culture and consciousness today.
People look up to mulattoes, Valentino types, as heroes. We have advanced beyond skin color as character (I hope).
A black man is viewed as a liar if he claims to be a writer. In New Orleans today, people realize that black people can write. How far we have come, Baby!
A black man may be stalked by a random white boy on the street. I never felt apprehension of battery or assault from any white boy on the street during my times in New Orleans.
Oblivion = Blackness. Black Mayors and Congressmen have been a thing for generations in New Orleans. To be black is not to live in oblivion.
Blacks live on beans and rice. While I enjoy beans and rice, jambalaya was more my thing in the French Quarter. Makes my mouth water. The point is I was free to sample from the abundance of cuisine in New Orleans.
A black man will encounter non-stop, universal discrimination in hiring. There are many laws prohibiting discrimination in employment today. Times have changed from 1959.
Most blacks can only find postal jobs, teaching jobs and preaching jobs. And we are talking the cream of the crop. Today, blacks can be found throughout all levels of employment in New Orleans. There are aggressive diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) policies and programs in place to render the world of 1959 unimaginable.
The whites put blacks low. Today, the aggressive DEI ideology centers blacks and, arguably, place blacks high. The world of 1959 is dead and buried.
The core problem is discrimination against blacks. Today and in New Orleans, discrimination against blacks is not the core problem.
“You can live here all your life, but you’ll never get inside one of the great restaurants except as a kitchen boy.” Today, I have dined and enjoyed some of the best places in New Orleans. I have no personal knowledge of a different world in New Orleans.
Assume looks of disapproval, that one is “stepping out of line,” from random white people. Not my personal experience in New Orleans. As a tourist, I enjoyed southern hospitality.
Looks of frowns and disapproval that can speak so plainly and so loudly without words. To repeat, Griffin is describing ancient history before my birth.
While resting on a public bench in Jackson Square, Griffin as a dark-skinned black man was approached by a random white man. The man said, “you’d better find yourself some place else to rest.” Griffin moved on as he feared racial trouble and that the bench was for whites only. In my travels to New Orleans, I have toured Jackson Square and glanced upon Old Hickory himself. Never gave a racial thought to whether I could rest my weary legs on a bench or not.
Conclusion: There is one way in which things have not changed since 1959. As soon as a color consciousness activist sees one, one will be a Negro and that’s all they’ll ever want to know about you. The activist will look at a black person but not see the individual.
“I argued that there were obvious gains under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and we should be thankful for the better world we live in…The other black professors piled on me like a ton of bricks. How dare I share my pleasant reality as a black dad on the road with my kids? As my friend put it, she had ‘never seen a panel get quite so very animated, as generally most of the folks around here agree with one another.’ And that’s the danger of the echo chamber in the Academy nowadays. I literally tried to engage my fellow panelists as they ran away from me in fear and horror.” — Letters in Black and White: A New Correspondence on Race in America by Winkfield F. Twyman, Jr. and Jennifer Richmond (May 23, 2023), pgs. 34-35.