What Middle Class?
A Teach for America intern wrote generously and passionately about what she learned in her week in a New Orleans school before evacuating for Katrina but she and the MSM, esp. the New York Times, made the same mistake—that New Orleans had “the affluent” which means “white people” and “poor black people,” completely missing a group of people the intern must have worked with in the school she spent one week in—the nearly invisible middle class, the teachers in the school, members of New Orleans’ now-invisible middle class. The intern said “there is no middle class” in her school, meaning among the students but the MSM took a similar conclusion further, ignoring that there wss anything but the “affluent” who are all white and the poor who are all black. New Orleans has a middle class—teachers and professors, police officers and firefighters, nurses, social workers, managers, administrators, civil servants, all those who make more than $25,000 a year but less than $100,000 a year, who are black, white, Latino/a, Vietnamese, East Indian, Nigerian, those of us not squeezed but throttled from all directions—inflated and steadily increasing housing costs, a limited number of decent (not good, not great, not award-winning but just plain decent) public schools, steadily expanding and increasingly expensive private schools, rising gasoline prices and insufficient public transportation and car insurance rates that rival what you pay a year in car notes, a middle class now devastated by university and public school layoffs and uncertainty when other jobs will return, if ever. The intern and the New York Times, like many others, suffer from limited knowledge (I do not question their sincerity, good intentions or intelligence) and assume all whites here are rich (there are affluent blacks in New Orleans who do not play for the Saints or Hornets) and all poor people are black (ignoring the whites, Latino/as, Vietnamese and others who also struggle to keep jobs and get their kids a fair, not even decent, education in the public schools). Focusing on the highest and lowest does no one any good and explains why some think there’s no point to or way to rebuild New Orleans—how can anything rebuild with an underclass and an overclass, a city with only maids and the idle rich. No building consists of a top floor and basement only. Walls, support beans, pipes and wiring are needed.
There is no advantage in encouraging the middle class to identify with rich white folks sneaking into Lakeview and the Garden District to retrieve their fur coats and diamond cufflinks. For most of us middle class folks, we struggle, too, but at different things and at a different intensity—we may not be afraid of running out of food on Tuesday but having cars and credit cards doesn’t mean we can absorb a three-month hotel stay, three meals out a day, replacing everything from underwear to coats to pets and not feel anything, not feel ourselves slipping further down the economic ladder. It’s just bullshit.
The small population of rich folks have us to work the details, the poor have us as teachers, social workers, advocates, administrators. There is no New Orleans without us because Mrs. Garden District is not teaching 35 kindergarteners at Guste or geometry at Green Middle School and Mr. Lakeview is not going to repaint your mama’s flood-stained house. It’s bullshit spread by folks who’ve never lived here and have, often, a legitimate agenda independent of location. Yes, there is racism. There is also multiculturalism, whites second-lining to the Hot 8 Brass Band and poor black kids goggle-eyed at the ballet, East Indians cooking gumbo and Vietnamese reporting the news, you name it. We are not all racism or all peace and light but real people, rich, poor and in between, in need, all of us, of real help and real sympathy, not New Yorkers or Seattlers or Oklahomans telling us how backwards we are. There is economic racism in Chicago, New York, Seattle, San Diego, D.C. (walk a few blocks from the White House), Tallahassee, FL. We are real people in real trouble desperate to go the fuck home.
tag: New Orleans, teaching, middle class, Katrina, race