Monday, August 16, 2010

Party Over Here!

They say (whoever the heck they are) that there's nothing new under the sun. And I -- like most other "adults" (whatever the heck that means) -- have pretty much long decided that this is true.

We shuffle through life (or tear through it, as I am often wont to do) shrugging at one unsurprising situation after another. And then one Saturday morning, while visiting friends in Lafayette, Louisiana, you wind up at the Cafe' des Amis and suddenly, all bets are off.

As many of you know, I moved to Louisiana three years ago and embarked on an adventure that, at the time, had me scared, quite frankly, half to death. I was SO scared, I took the "Eracism" bumper sticker off my car (for fear my inveterate mouth -- both in and out of the classroom -- would get my tires deflated or my car keyed). I was SO scared, I stuck to the lit roads after dark and made it a point not to make eye contact with young White men hotrodding their big trucks down main streets. And I was SO scared (I swear), that I even admitted my fear to a couple hundred Black men and women at a community event early on, talking about how concerned I was that I'd wind up being found out in the woods somewhere sooner rather than later. I have no idea what they thought at the time. And I have, in fact, lived up to my reputation as a rabble-rouser, so maybe now some of them get why I was scared.

But the bottom line is that, while I didn't wind up (yet) being found out in the woods, I have seen and heard plenty that I expected to see and hear. And most especially, a marked lack of social interaction between Blacks and Whites.

Oh, they work together and they wait on each other at Walgreen's. They stand in line together at the DMV counter and sit interminably together in doctors' offices and, to a lesser degree, in church. They'll second line together in New Orleans in a heart beat. And some of them even go to the same schools. But overall, African-Americans and their White counterparts don't socialize more informally much at all. And there's almost a phobia about actually touching.

As a matter of fact, the phobia about touching is so marked, I always make it a point to touch the hand of every Black worker who hands me change. It's a small thing, but I can only imagine the kind of training that goes into producing the knee-jerk practice of carefully laying the coins in the middle of the bills so that there's no actual skin contact. Sigh. And I don't play that.

Anyway, I said all this to help set the stage for my shock and surprise when I entered the bustling Cafe' des Amis to the rollicking sounds of a great Zydeco band -- Joe Hall and the Louisiana Cane Cutters -- whose six members, by the way, represented a range of skin tone themselves. Not only were there wait staff moving through the crowd like ants before an incoming storm and tables loaded with diners relishing the Louisiana-delicious breakfast fare, but the room was fairly vibrating with energy as a sizable dance floor literally rocked with dancers old and young, male and female, Black and yes, my Faithful Readers, White. Together. Laughing and get-ting down.

One Black guy was wearing a t-shirt that declared "I'm here to party," while a White guy leaning against the wall with a frosty Abita beer in his hand (at breakfast, remember) wore one sporting a "Save our coast" message. A couple sitting just in front of me were dressed in motorcycle gear. The woman behind me was wearing serious cowboy boots. And everybody was dancing with everybody.

And I'm not just talking "dancing" here, like kids did on American bandstand. I'm talking full tilt boogie Zydeco. The floor was jammed and the folks were jammin'. (Don't get discouraged at the Whiteness right at first. Just keep watching and you'll see what I mean.)

So, I guess I've seen it all now. Right here in Louisiana. I didn't think it was possible. But if we can do it in the heart of the Southland, folks, we can do it anywhere.

One mo' gin, Joe!

Joe Hall, Lafayette, LA: Phone 337-780-1769


NOTE: I'm having trouble cutting, pasting and embedding today. Sorry.


Will Capers said...

Sounds like some party.

Changeseeker said...

I hope to shout. My significant other (who's Black) said he'd never seen anything like it in his whole life. So it wasn't just me. But I'm grateful I lived to see the day. And it's obviously been going on since who knows when. Veeeeeery interesting, huh?

Z said...

That happens at a lot of the dancehalls and restaurants of this type. The meaning of it is complicated and there are a lot of facets to it.
I don't mean to push but is the racial situation really SO much better in FL than here?

Changeseeker said...

Absolutely not, Z. I didn't mean to imply that (there were lynchings in Tampa in recent years -- obvious, but denied, needless to say). However, unapologetic racism is more openly accepted in Louisiana, which does change the dynamics. I keep polling folks on what I saw at Cafe' des Amis and I have yet to find anyone who has seen anything similar. Last night, I semi-concluded that it may be the Cajun influence, though I've been to the International Music Festival in Lafayette twice and did not get the same vibe at all. The fact is, now that you've cleverly raised the issue, I'd never before seen anything like what I saw at Cafe' des Amis ANYWHERE. So...what do you think produces the possibility of this phenonmenon? (You mention complications. Please tell me more. Either here or in an email, if you would. I really need this input and it did occur to me last night that you might be the one to be able to offer it...)