Can this street fracas be mediated?
An article in The Advocate on May 8 entitled Angry N.O. Block party clash goes viral caught my attention. First because I saw such mediation potential, and second because it’s an only-in-New Orleans story.
A white woman, a newcomer, gave a block party in the Seventh Ward and a Black man took umbrage at the way she did it. For those of you “not from here,” a newcomer in New Orleans means your family hasn’t lived in that particular neighborhood for generations.
Let me get my full disclosures out of the way. One, I’m not on social media and I have no idea who said what about this incident. When I hear “goes viral” I think COVID and I worry about whether you have gotten your vaccine. I did, however, look at the video when I heard that a gazillion people had seen it.
Two: Byron Cole, the offended one, his mom and I had respect for each other. I was over at her house after Katrina when the city was still closed. She was Cloroxing the sidewalk and creating a little zone of safety and cleanliness into which all were welcome. A few weeks later, she was down on her knees begging white priests not to take over our beloved Afro-centric St. Augustine Catholic Church – an effort that ultimately succeeded.
Dyan French Cole – known to many as Mama D – could disrupt a meeting, for sure. But I always said she raised righteous indignation to the height of an art form. So, as a mother, a contemporary of Mama D, and writing this the day after Mothers’ Day, I’ll take a point of elder privilege, Mr. Cole, and remind you that your mother never used repeated sexist slurs to make her point. She was an artist, as I said.
Point three of my full disclosure: I am white.
Thank God no one was hurt at this street party. Here are the only-in-New Orleans reasons I think the conflict could have gone a better way. We all love a party, especially after being cooped up in our houses for a year. We claim our various experiences honestly, even across race lines, going so far as to punctuate these revelations with bodily gestures – mooning, dancing, twerking, fingering. And we live right up next to each other.
The encounter started off promisingly enough with an offer to share food and information. Referring to Janna Perry-Holloway’s car blocking off a street, Cole said, “I can’t get through here – it’s a one-way, sweetie.” Let me point out to out-of-towners that while “sweetie” might be a put-down in your neck of the woods, in New Orleans it’s generally a term of endearment. Also, an onlooker wants to help. But it deteriorated from there. Go watch the video if you can stand it: https://www.dailydot.com/irl/gentrification-karen-new-orleans-stephan-cole-video/.
So many important issues to be discussed here: who is at home on North Dorgenois Street and who belongs; real feelings about gentrification and roots; who has access and who needs a permit. Are a white woman and a Black man treated differently when the police show up?
I am a volunteer mediator for Community Mediation Services. If I were mediating this conflict I would use a statement from each as a jumping off place: Cole said, “I want to coexist with everyone but not as second-class citizenry.” Perry-Holloway said she set out to have an outdoor, Jazz Fest-style party for anyone who cared to come and she hoped the neighbors would be drawn to the music.
I would begin my exploration by asking what does co-existence mean to Cole and to Perry-
Holloway? What are the symbols and actuality of “second-class?” I suspect that these two have a lot to learn from each other.
In mediation, questions like these can be explored with guidance and guidelines. Mediation is confidential with participants sometimes coming up with their own solutions and almost always a better understanding of the situation. Often there are ideas about how to repair harm. It is available to everyone on a sliding fee scale.
Come on, New Orleans. Just because our emotions are ramped up due to COVID, let’s not squander the opportunity for greater understanding of our real differences.
Orissa Arend is the author of Showdown in Desire: the Black Panthers take a stand in New Orleans, and a pillar of Justice and Beyond.