[NOTE: See UPDATE below, which discussed Mayor Nagin's follow-up statement. FURTHER UPDATE:
If only it were just the name of a new dessert (a la Baked Alaska) — but unfortunately it's not. Rather, it's New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's aspiration:
It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be, a chocolate New Orleans. And I don't care what people are saying uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.
I don't think this is quite identical to a white politician talking about wanting a "lily Savannah" or some such, but closer to a Chinese-American politician or an Italian-American politician making similar statements about his own ethnicity. While black Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Italian-Americans are hardly entirely culturally homogeneous, there's enough of a shared black American/Chinese-American/Italian-American culture that such references may be seen chiefly as a form of mild cultural chauvinism, rather than outright hostility to other groups. Whites in America, on the other hand, are so immensely culturally varied that aspirations to making some place white or whiter are almost invariably aimed chiefly at derogating other groups, and not at affirming a nonexistent shared white culture. That's why, I think, we'd be somewhat less suspicious about an Irish-American who would like his daughter to marry an Irishman than about a white who would like his daughter to marry another white — I wouldn't be wild about either, but the former seems more animated by excessive love of the Irish, while the latter seems likely to be more animated by dislike of nonwhites.
Nonetheless, Mayor Nagin's sentiments surely aren't very good, either. Cultural chauvinism of this sort may not be the same as outright racism, but neither is admirable, especially when a government official engages in it. (Note that this isn't just a broadly applicable "what a wonderful group you folks are!," which is pretty normal in American politics and mostly unobjectionable because it can be said equally to a wide range of groups, but rather a statement ascribing one color to a city, state, or nation.)
What's more, this isn't just a moral or symbolic concern; it's also a serious practical matter: To thrive, New Orleans has to have investment of time, money, effort, and commitment from nonblacks as well as blacks; the sad fact is that for various reasons black areas already tend to draw less outside investment than they need to thrive. Would expressly stressing — not just as a descriptive matter but as a matter of the local government's aspirations — that those areas are and should be "chocolate" mitigate or exacerbate that condition?
Thanks again to InstaPundit for the pointer to this story.
UPDATE: Thanks to Bob Bobstein for the correction — I originally wrote "more suspicious about an Irish-American" when I of course meant "less." Whoops!
UPDATE: Reader DNL points to a CNN story in which Mayor Nagin elaborates on his comments:
Pressed later to explain his comments, Nagin, who is black, told CNN affiliate WDSU-TV that he was referring to creation of a racially diverse city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, insisting that his remarks were not divisive.
"How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he said.
Well, I appreciate Mayor Nagin's clarification; his second statement suggests that his intentions were far better than those I inferred from the first statement.
Yet whatever his intentions, it seems to me that the meaning that most people would have drawn from the original statement would have been quite different; it just seems to me that that this isn't really how most people would understand references to "chocolate." There are lots of phrases that are generally understood as referring to racial or ethnic diversity or mixing (melting pot, rainbow, salad bowl, and more). "Chocolate," as best I can tell, isn't usually one of them. Still, as I said, at least I'm happy to hear that Mayor Nagin's intentions were good, even if his expression was somewhat inapt.