Chocolate New Orleans:

[NOTE: See UPDATE below, which discussed Mayor Nagin's follow-up statement. FURTHER UPDATE:

Here's an item about Mayor Nagin's apology for this statement.]

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.

Bob Bobstein (mail):
All your points are theoretically sound, but I think that his comment must be looked at in context. We're dealing with a city that has had a historically huge black population, that's now facing serious reconstruction, and the path of least resistance is for the city to be rebuilt with a substantially reduced black population.

I disagree with his concerns as a policy matter-- the city is underwater and was below sea level, this is going to work misfortune upon many people-- but I don't think Nagin's statement is animated by dislike of nonblacks.

Plus, it's a George Clinton allusion-- Chocolate City and her vanilla suburbs.

Also, there appears to be some grammatical/logical snafu here in your post, maybe the bolded word should be "less"? "That's why, I think, we'd be somewhat more suspicious about an Irish-American who would like his daughter to marry an Irishman than by 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."
1.17.2006 1:22pm
Houston Lawyer:
It will be interesting to see how long he can remain as mayor. If New Orleans is like every other major US city, it is likely that the vast majority of those voting him into office were Black. That constituency was hardest hit by the flood and will be the last to move back. Huge numbers will never return.

Will elections be postponed to keep him in office? Does anyone believe he deserves re-election?
1.17.2006 1:24pm
Huggy (mail):
Mayor Nagin is handsome and well-spoken. Let's pray that God inspires him and grants him leadership skills to rebuild New Orleans in a way that is a blessing for the US and the world.
1.17.2006 1:25pm
DNL (mail):
Nagin, after the fact, claims to be using "chocolate" as a way to demonstrate his desire for blacks and whites living together in harmony, in a city that is, yes, mostly black. Seriously, read the linked article, and you'll findthe whole quote:

"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.

"New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special."

Plausible? Sure. If honest, I see no problem with it.
1.17.2006 1:26pm
Alex R:
I haven't seen Mayor Nagin's remarks in full context, but I would make a couple of observations:

(1) To my ear, the desire that New Orleans be "chocolate" sounds like a desire for racial *diversity*, not for racial homogeneity. "Chocolate" is not the same as "Black".

(2) The concern I've heard expressed by many is that New Orleans, post-Katrina, will become "NewOrleansLand" -- a Disney-fied, tourist-focused, simulation of a real city. In such a situation, New Orleans might be much more dominated by the relatively wealthy white population than it was before Katrina. To me, the word "chocolate" reflects a desire to avoid this outcome, rather than a desire for black hegemony.

I would like to see his words in fuller context to understand if my relatively generous interpretation of his remarks as indicating a desire for diversity is correct. Even if this is not possible, it would be interesting to see how the word "chocolate" is used in similar racial contexts to see if it usually refers to a mixture of races, or if it usually refers purely to African Americans.
1.17.2006 1:28pm
Eric Muller (www):
Never having heard "chocolate" used in this way before, I feel like I need a little linguistic education before reaching a conclusion about what the mayor meant. This article, for example, refers to Washington, DC, as a "chocolate city," but it seems to mean nothing more than a city with a strong black culture--not a city that is all black (which DC certainly isn't) or where people of other races are not welcome. This article is to the same effect: it's a word for a city's predominant cultural identity. Still more on the term here.

Couldn't the mayor just be saying that he's dedicated to preserving the cultural identity of New Orleans?
1.17.2006 1:31pm
Alex R:
Thanks to DNL for posting some context while I was composing my remarks... While he did say in the article that he desired that New Orleans remain majority African American, he also indicated explicitly that he was endorsing racial diversity.
1.17.2006 1:33pm
Mr Diablo:
Actually, Nagin won in a landslide with significant support from the white community.

His comments were not his greatest yesterday, but it is nice to see him actually paying attention to the plight of black residents who want to move back into the city once reconstruction begins. No doubt republican politicians statewide (and nationally) would prefer to see the many displaced black voters stay that way -- in other states -- in hopes of diluting the influence state-wide of New Orleans-based black democrats.

Nagin has not been a great leader for minority communities in the past. Whether his speech yesterday shows a shift in direction will be interesting. He does not seem like someone who governs by the polls.
1.17.2006 1:36pm
Guest2 (mail):
Yet another shameful post from Professor Volokh. You either don't understand what the Mayor was saying (which is bad) or you have intentionally misrepresented it (which is much worse). Please do us all a favor and stop posting about non-law-related topics, unless you've done your homework. We the "audience" have extended you the benefit of the doubt well beyond any reasonable measure thanks to your success in the academic legal world. But your continual, irresponsible use of out-of-context quotes, links to obviously polemical or strictly local news sources, indulgence in cheap rhetorical tricks, and the like, make you and your law school look bad. Frankly, on non-law-related topics you're a hack, pure and simple. Knock it off.
1.17.2006 1:45pm
Sid (mail) (www):

"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans — the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," the mayor said. "This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

So what did this mean? Or can whites call for white majority cities? Obviously not because both are just plain wrong.
1.17.2006 1:54pm
I took it to mean that the rebuilding process would not involve selling out to high-end developers. Let's face it, for them this could be a golden opportunity to "clear out" (to quote a racist realtor I once fired) the area for development. One envisions high-rise condos and Rouse Company malls.
OK, I'm trying. The comments were kinda dumb -- but quoting George Clinton should count for something.
1.17.2006 2:08pm
Never having heard "chocolate" used in this way before, I feel like I need a little linguistic education before reaching a conclusion about what the mayor meant.

Actually, there was a notorious column in the Washington Post a few years ago on this. "Chocolate" in this context seems to mean "black".
1.17.2006 2:15pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I am puzzled that there is any rational concern that developers are in a rush to build in those parts of New Orleans which are below sea level. In fact, that's exactly the problem: until there is a committment to floodproof New Orleans, (which is not likely) you'd be unwise to build in areas which could be flooded again as soon as this coming August -- only 8 months away.
1.17.2006 2:29pm
The concern, I guess, is that only developers would have the clout (to euphemize a little) to get the government to pick up the tab.
1.17.2006 2:33pm
cirby (mail):
Go hit Urban Dictionary, and look up "chocolate." There are dozens of "chocolate" phrases, and many of them seems to refer to "black" (when they're not referring to the actual confection).

Here's one sample from UD:

chocolate city is a large city that has a predominantly black (african-american) population
1.17.2006 2:41pm
cirby (mail):
(sorry about the busted link, it's in there somewhere)
1.17.2006 2:43pm
Fishbane (mail):
Houston Lawyer: If New Orleans is like every other major US city, it is likely that the vast majority of those voting him into office were Black. That constituency was hardest hit by the flood and will be the last to move back.

You must have missed the memo. The new talking points are that liberals are exploiting the race card to be divisive, and only old people died, and liberals are dumb, OK? Oh, and weak on natsec, too.
1.17.2006 2:53pm
JohnO (mail):
Why was Daryl Dawkins called "Chocolate Thunder"? Certainly not bcause of his ethnic diversity. Nagin's after-the-fact clarification is probably not what he originally intended, but I suppose we ought to just accept him at his word and move on.
1.17.2006 3:06pm
Alaska Jack (mail):

But your continual, irresponsible use of out-of-context quotes

Since Eugene's "use" has been "continual," I'm sure you can come up with many more examples. I'm genuinely curious -- what other examples do you have?

- AJ
1.17.2006 3:10pm
therut (mail):
Oh Cool! Can whites now call for a white cultural city and insist that it be kept that way for the sake of diversity. Is Nagin going to post signs saying blacks welcome and just a few quotas of whites. Good Grief if this had been said by any hateful white cracker about keeping a city white for cultural sake it would have been screamed RACIST and riots would have broken out. After all that would just have been a code for white suprememcy talk. DOUBLE STANDARDS really do go both ways. But see I am supposed to take a liberal tolerance stand and just realize that this type of talk by a black is not and can not be racist after all there is all that hidden racism still going on and well balcks are still an oppressed group by the MAN. Wonder why MLK day must be sullied by such remarks in addition to MS. Clintons racial remarks also celebrating a man who white people are supposed to embrace or are we???????????????
1.17.2006 4:44pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
If New Orleans is like every other major US city, it is likely that the vast majority of those voting him into office were Black. That constituency was hardest hit by the flood and will be the last to move back.

First of all New Orleans is definitely not like every other major U.S. city, in politics or anything else. It may be true in Texas That is part of its charm. Nagin was definitely the candidate of the White Uptown establishment (he is the former president of the local Cox cable company) and, I believe, a former Republican. The biggest rap on him before the storm was that he didn't seem all that concerned about the plight of the poor black underclass of New Orleans.

Your implication that the only way black people can get elected is when they run in majority black regions is extremely offensive and racist. Maybe that is the way it still is in Texas, but other parts of the country have progressed beyond that kind of attitude (Barack Obama comes to mind). If that is the way it is in Texas, then the Republicans better give up on having Condi run for president. On the other hand it is nice to know that within the next few years, we can expect fewer and fewer white politicians to come out of Texas as you will soon be the minority race there.
1.17.2006 5:06pm
Sid (mail) (www):
Texas was the first to step up and take in those displaced from New Orleans and many of them have decided Texas is a pretty good place to live and are staying. Right now residents of New Orleans are complaining about about FEMA placing trailors in the city so their residents can come home. They are concerned that their property values will go down. I know because I listened to the city council meeting live.

Please remind me how evil Texans are again.
1.17.2006 5:27pm
Wintermute (www):
EV, you need some learnin' in major Southern city ethnic politics? I could get ya started....
1.17.2006 5:40pm
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
Scott Ott has a different take on the whole Chocolate City thing:

"We're in the very, very early stages of discussions with Hershey," Mr. Nagin said, "It's still in the pre-meeting, pre-phone call stage. But that's what this chocolate city concept is all about. It's literally chocolate, rather than chocolate as a metaphor for something else. It's edible chocolate. It really is."

The mayor said he's long been intrigued by the possibility of transitioning New Orleans' economy from one "reliant upon fickle fads in human debauchery" to something more stable, like chocolate.

"Ever since I saw the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I've thought, 'That's New Orleans'," Mayor Nagin said. "and I thought, 'I'm Willy Wonka'. "
1.17.2006 5:58pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Professor Volokh, I was as disappointed with your comments attempting to rationalize how it would be bad if a white Mayor said "God wanted his city to be white" as a bad thing while if any other ethnicity said it, especially if a black said "god wanted his city to be black (or some other ethnicity) that this would be so less bad that it wasn't all that troubling.

Either we live in a color blind society or we don't. If we don't then its no more wrong for a white mayor to want to preserve their city as white as it is for a black mayor to want to preserve his city as black.

Both are racist comments or both are NOT racist comments. Nagin's explanation is an obvious lie. Your comments justifying to a great extent why its ok for everyone but whitey to be racist is offensive and hostile to whites and white culture. Yes average whites have a white culture and it is either not racist to acknowledge this or its racist for both blacks and whites to speak of their culture.

I'm tired of this bullcrap trying to have it both ways. Just pick a rule and then apply it to everyone. That's all I'm asking.

The use of race baiting on MLK day by politicians from Hillary Clinton to Mayor Nagins is a disgusting tradition that seeks to divide the races, promote hostility betweeen the races, and to gain some political advantage thereby.

I posted these thoughts about the trend of politicians using MLK as a means to divide us rather than trying to find a positive view to unite all Americans in celebrating the spirit of MLK day. In a post on Here I reproduce it below:

Today we celebrate the contributions of Martin Luther King to the USA. He called the USA to fulfill the promise of our founding documents that "All Men Are Created Equal", and challenged the USA to complete that which was begun by Republican President Abraham Lincoln through the emancipation proclamation. The seeds for the end of slavery were planted by Jefferson and the adopters of the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Sect 9 as follows:

Sect. 9. The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

In order to get the unanimous agreement of all 13 original states to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution the founders had to agree that Congress would not move to make legislation respecting the importation of Slaves for 20 years. This shows that the evil of slavery and the need to ultimately resolve the issue of slaves was in the minds and hearts of our founding fathers from the time of creation of our Union. As soon as the constitution permitted, the Congress acted to outlaw the additional importation of slaves by the south. That was the first step to ending the disgrace of slavery. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation was the second step. The death's of approximately 250,000 white males fighting for the Union forces to enforce Lincoln's emancipation proclamation and to maintain the Union was the third step. The passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to our constitution which enshrined, in effect, Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, into the fabric of our constitutional documents, guaranteed due process of law to all persons regardless of color, and guaranteed the right of all citizens of all colors to vote were the fourth step.

But the promise of all these steps culminating in the end of slavery and the guarantee in spirit of the rights of equality in life and at the ballot box for blacks were not effectively carried into the actual lives of people. A system of apartheid and disenfranchisement of blacks developed in the south officially and in the North unofficially. This system remained in place for almost another 100 years until the 1960's civil rights movement led by Dr. King. Dr. King through his organization of massive NON-VIOLENT resistance made the country confront the failure to complete in life the ideas fought and died for in the Civil War and implemented in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

As a direct result of Dr. King's influence, President Johnson pushed for enactment of various enabling legislation intended to end the voter disenfranchisement of blacks and systems of official apartheid that existed under many States' laws and practices. President Johnson was not able to get his fellow democrats to approve this legislation however. The civil rights legislation was blocked by DEMOCRATS in the Senate by a filibuster. Fortunately for the country REPUBLICANS provided the necessary margin of votes to break the filibuster and obtain the passage of the 1960's civil rights legislation supported by President Johnson.

This is the meaning of Martin Luther King day, it recognizes the culmination of 175 years of struggle, debate, war, and death in the final fulfillment of what was begun by the founders with Article 1, Sect. 9, continued by enactments of congress in the early 1800's, enhanced at the risk of the destruction of the country as a whole by Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, solidified in our founding documents by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and finally written in our hearts by the example, struggle, life, and death of Dr. Martin Luther King and those like him.

When viewed in this context, I find that Martin Luther King day is a holiday for all Americans of every color, to jointly celebrate and rejoice in the victory (too long coming) of good over evil. I wish that the actual celebrations we will see on our televisions and in our newspapers and magazines would take this high road, and call for a renewal of these ideals that Dr. King caused to be written in our collective hearts. Unfortunately, Martin Luther King day has been corrupted by politicians and those who seek fame and fortune by flagging the flames of racial divide, the promotion of disunity, and the denial of the positive, substantial, and indispensable contributions of white males and the Republican party, which culminated in Dr. King's affect on the collective heart of our nation. Instead of recognizing that for which this day of celebration and reflection was intended. These race baitors of the left and Democratic party will defile the purpose of today's holiday by turning it into a hate Bush and, in more subtle form, hate whitey day.

I reject the race baitors, and I hope all other thoughtful people of all colors will as well.

Says the "Dog"

Posted by "the Dog" to JunkYardLawDogs at 1/16/2006 01:23:00 PM
1.17.2006 5:59pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Fishbane: I'm hoping that we can keep comments on this blog substantive -- occasional sarcasm is fine, but there's got to be a substantive argument added to it. Obviously you dislike the item by Cathy Young that you link to, but simply being sarcastic about it, without explaining what's wrong with its position (or whatever other position you're referring to), isn't helpful.
1.17.2006 6:12pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Darryl Dawkins called himself "Chocolate Thunder". He also claimed to be from the planet "Lovetron". I don't think I'd use him as an example for much other than the benefits of break-away rims.

1.17.2006 6:32pm
Fishbane (mail):
Eugene -

I apologize if I came off as being snotty toward Cathy or her essay - that not my intent at all, although reading back over it I can see that I phrased myself poorly. (I generally like her and her writing, even when I do disagree with her; she's on my short list of to-read people.)

My intent was to contrast Houston Lawyer and Cathy's differing explanations of events, and was shooting more for irony than sarcasm. As mentioned, upon a re-read, I did rather poorly in that. Again, apologies.
1.17.2006 7:00pm
Of course... once you realize that he meant milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate, he looks like the uniter we all knew he was, deep down.

Though, of course if David Duke said the same thing, some would think it was strange, but others would realize that he meant white chocolate.

And if Nagin was getting really technical, he'd note that proportionally "purer" chocolate is generally available in Europe...

...though I'm not sure what that implies.
1.17.2006 8:31pm
therut (mail):
Junkyardlawdog-----------A most excellent post. One I agree with and appreciate.
1.17.2006 9:24pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
To therut,

Thank you for the kind words of support.

Says the "Dog"
1.17.2006 11:28pm
Erik H.:
Freder said: Your implication that the only way black people can get elected is when they run in majority black regions is extremely offensive and racist. Maybe that is the way it still is in Texas, but other parts of the country have progressed beyond that kind of attitude (Barack Obama comes to mind). If that is the way it is in Texas, then the Republicans better give up on having Condi run for president.

After all, the entire concept of minority apportioning of votes into districts which are "likely" (really, guaranteed) to produce a minority legislator is predicated on one concept: Legislators prefer, and do a better job representing, their OWN race. Otherwise, there would be no need for concern regarding how many blacks/whites are in the legislature. Now, I personally find that concept offensive, but it's an interesting aside to consider.
1.18.2006 9:33am
starimomak (mail):
It seems to me that Nagin was being perfectly rational. 1) His political base depends on black numerical dominance 2) he presumably loves the city in which he grew up and wants it to retain its character. If 500,000 Mexicans were brought in to 'do the jobs Americans won't do' in the cleanup , and they remained, the city's character would change and the political dynamic would change. There would be a lot more banda blaring, and a lot less jazz and blues. Eventually the city would get its very own Villaraigosa too.

Likewise if the city was rebuilt as a boutique city, centering on the French Quarter with the vast stretches of poor neighborhoods turned into parkland (say), that would also change the city's character -- there would be a simulacrum of the atmosphere that has added so much to a truly American diversity, but the spirit would be gone.

Nagin is facing both these dangers. The Bush administration and its big contractor buddies have worked to subvert immigration laws even more than than usual in the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort. Other politicians have broached the idea of not rebuilding the poorer, floodprone areas. It is natural that he should stick up for the city, its people, and its culture as has been. The Katrina disaster should not be an excuse to remake the city demographically or economically -- or at least those who know and love New Orleans should not be vilified for standing up for their own.

Now, it seems to me that the real demon that Professor Volokh is worried about here -- and has worried about in other places, like every time he mentions Paul Craig Roberts -- is that the majority culture in this country would get the same idea. That is, that white Americans will think their culture and society worth preserving. Indeed, the post almost says as much. Hyphenated Americans can express solidarity -- politically, culturally, etc. But 'white people' cannot. Professor Volokh asserts this is because 'white people' are too culturally varied.

This is simply an assertion, of course. It is countered by scholarship from Huntington and David Hackett Fischer. It is countered by the reveal preferences of white people when they move into a majority white school district. It is revealed by the hundreds of thousands of native born American whites who have left California for Oregon or Colorado -- to raise their children in a culture similar to the one they grew up it.

Finally it is countered by the very first substantive Federalist paper, no 2

With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

Professor Volokh and others active in the (neo?) conservative/libertarian movement have tried to rewrite American history to portray the country's founding as lacking a cultural dimension -- as if the founders had Plato's feverish city, devoted to nothing but economics, in mind. He and they are wrong.
1.18.2006 1:34pm
Mary (mail):
Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer-winning columnist at the Miami Herald, shares this on Friday, 1/20: An education in funk, and a used levee for sale. (For me anyway; I almost bought the first "recipe" explanation and never heard of Parliament.)
1.21.2006 8:20am