A flawed model of diversity?

I went to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans a couple of days ago to witness an NFL match. I have to say that I really don’t understand the pull of the NFL. There can surely be fewer slower sports – but I do accept that the Americans love it.

The Superdome itself is altogether more impressive. It is the largest fixed domed structure in the world and can seat 80,000 people. For those of you interested in detail, its steel frame covers 13 acres, and the dome itself is 273 feet high and has a diameter of 680 feet. In the past 6 years, $336m dollars has been spent on it – partly in post-Katrina repairs and partly in upgrading it.

The Superdrome came to prominence for many people back in August 2005 when it was designated as – and became – “a shelter of last resort” for local people when Hurricane Katrina ripped into New Orleans. 30,000 evacuees sought shelter there.

It turned out to be hardly a place of shelter. Part of the roof blew off exposing it to the elements. Furthermore, the plumbing system broke down and so people relieved themselves anywhere in the building, as a result of which the stench was revolting and the potential for disease immense. There were also reports of serious gang related crimes taking place within this supposed place of safety. It became the focal point for the very public and systemic failure of America’s response to the catastrophe.

At the time of the disaster, I was in in Orlando, Florida, around 500 miles from where all this was happening. I can recall watching the scenes unfold on a TV in a hotel lounge. I can also recall being shocked at the time at the complete lack of interest that the majority of Americans present had in it. They continued to tuck into their snacks and meals as if it was of no concern to them. Perhaps it wasn’t of any concern – and perhaps this was partly due to the fact that the people I was with were predominantly white people, and those affected were predominantly black people. As one of the TV commentators asked, “Is this really happening in  America?” I wondered what some of the other hotel guests were asking themselves.

When President Bush went to New Orleans a couple of weeks after Katrina, he made a speech addressing a number of issues. One issue was that of the racial divide. He said, “As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”

As I sat there in the Superdome, I tried to picture, feel, hear, smell, what it would have been like exactly 6 years ago that day.  It was futile as an exercise, although it did allow me to focus on how recent it was – and wonder whether it would ever happen again, knowing that Hurricane Lee was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as we sat there.

My attention returned to the game, and all the associated activities. I had seen in the Programme that at half time there was going to be a performance by the ‘610 Stompers’. They were billed as a local group of men from professional backgrounds who excelled at innovative ‘moves’. When they duly arrived my son and I were not sure whether they were a serious or a comedy act – their ability to co-ordinate themselves made it difficult to tell.

I was more interested in the ethnic make-up of the group. Of the approximately 50 men performing on the pitch, every one of them appeared to be white. I could not see one black person in the group. I was surprised and somewhat taken aback. Why would the main New Orleans sports team – with so many black players and supporters – be associated with and sponsor a group made up of all white men?

Chatting to a local about other matters, I brought up the situation I had witnessed together with my surprise. I was interested in his thoughts. He didn’t see an issue with it. He described to me a model of diversity that wasn’t around integration, but was more around living within a racial group and living side by side with other racial groups – working with people from other groups but not necessarily socialising or living with people from those other groups. I asked if he thought that this was workable and whether it would remove the racial discrimination that Bush had recognised. He thought so. I am not convinced.

Is this a viable model? Can it work? Is it perhaps a model that can be argued as workable but one that will actually maintain the status quo?

I wonder if anyone else there had similar thoughts to mine? The New Orleans Saints were terrible and lost 32 – 7. Perhaps they were thinking about it and that’s what put them off – but I think not. But perhaps someone needs to think about it.

Paul

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One Response to “A flawed model of diversity?”

  1. Prissy Ebdon says:

    Fantastic post. Some good points you mention in there.

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