With its traditional jazz funerals, second lines and Black Masking Mardi Gras Indian ceremonies, New Orleans is a city that knows how to pay tribute to its dead. Cultural societies incorporate tributes to their members who have passed away into their Carnival season parades, but as the pandemic stretched into Mardi Gras 2021, clubs have had to confront the fact that some of those tributes may not happen until 2022.
The official line from the city has been that the holiday is “not canceled,” “just different” and Mayor LaToya Cantrell has actively welcomed visitors. At the same time, the city has instructed locals to celebrate the season at home with their immediate families. Many see the city’s messaging as evidence of dangerous deference to tourists. This tension predates the pandemic and isn’t unique to Mardi Gras, but the collision of the two in 2021 has raised the stakes and an outcry.
In 2016, Black women received 61 percent of all abortions provided in Louisiana. While Black advocates on both sides of the abortion debate say they consider systemic racism and the deep-rooted socio-economic differences that may lead Black women to choose abortion more than white women, they approached these societal problems in fundamentally different ways.
As the city expanded, the low-lying, swampy area promised space and opportunity. Black families moved there en masse, and services like grocery stores, malls and jobs followed. But the growth stalled and the far-flung, sprawling region started suffering from disinvestment and white flight. Crime and blight followed. After Hurricane Katrina hit, many businesses never reopened. Hotels, schools and stores shuttered. Now, residents complain about feeling forgotten. That feeling hasn't subsided as a pandemic sweeps the world.
The New Orleanians responding to the COVID-19 disaster by starting food relief programs don't think of it as charity. They think of it as solidarity. Mutual aid. Some groups that have stepped up, like Familias Unidas, were already doing this work. Others, like the NOLA Tree Project, were doing entirely different work. And others didn't even exist before the coronavirus hit. They came together in the crisis.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Louisiana had one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country, with one in five people at risk of going hungry.Second Harvest projects that will increase to one in three people. In the month following business shutdowns in Louisiana, there was a 400 percent increase in applications for SNAP benefits over the previous month. And emergency calls for food aid to the United Way more than doubled compared to this time last year.